The 2022 Final Four in men’s basketball was, in the end, dominated by bluebloods. This year’s version could be more about new bloods.
Of the 16 remaining teams, only four have won a championship (Michigan State, UCLA, UConn, Arkansas.) Three of those are in the same region, so there’s a high probability that, as we’ve documented before, somebody new will be cutting down the nets in Houston.
To take it a step further, however, seven of the Sweet 16 teams have never even been to a Final Four. It’s been awhile for a couple of others – Kansas State’s last semifinal appearance was in 1964 under head coach Tex Winter, inventor of the Triangle offense. Princeton’s lone Final Four trip was a year later. But for this exercise, we’ll stick with the true newbies.
Here are the seven, ranked in order of their chances to be Final Four-bound for the first time.
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While nothing is ever truly easy in March, the path for the tournament’s top overall seed has opened up considerably. The next three highest seeds have been eliminated, so upcoming opponent San Diego State is the highest-slotted team the Crimson Tide will face in Louisville. The Aztecs play a sound defensive style that could slow Alabama down, but if the Tide can get by SDSU, they’ll be heavily favored in their regional final.
Give Tennessee credit for living up to its seed after being a popular pick as an upset victim in the early rounds. The Vols have also had their way cleared a bit with the top two seeds in their region gone. But should the Vols get past Sweet 16 rookie Florida Atlantic, a possibly more challenging Elite Eight matchup awaits, whether Kansas State or Michigan State emerges victorious.
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Of the seven first-time Final Four candidates, Xavier has the highest seed other than Alabama. But the Musketeers have a significantly tougher road ahead of them. They’ll enter Friday’s game against Texas as slight underdogs, and should they get by the Longhorns, a member of last year’s Elite Eight will await them — either Houston or Miami.
4. Miami (Fla.)
The Hurricanes were a step from the Final Four a year ago, but they’ll have to get past top-seeded Houston to reach that point again. Should they clear that hurdle, either Texas or Xavier will be a formidable obstacle. Miami has the talent and experience to pull it off, but it will definitely have to earn it. Big performances by guards Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller will be crucial.
5. San Diego State
We rank the Aztecs here in Final Four likelihood behind the candidates from the Midwest Region simply because of their task at hand, namely trying to stem the Crimson Tide. To its credit, San Diego State handled upstart Furman with relative ease after staving off a tough challenge from the College of Charleston. But with all due respect, this date with Alabama represents a major step up in competition as the Aztecs try to get beyond the Sweet 16 for the first time.
This is a team that might have Final Four talent but a difficult draw. The Bluejays might very well be underseeded at No. 6, a case they presented quite emphatically in their dispatching of Baylor. But their upcoming tilt with Princeton will not be a walk in the park, even with the Tigers being a 15th-seed notwithstanding. Should Creighton prevail, there would then be a likely date with Alabama, or a San Diego State squad that would be brimming with confidence after upending the Tide.
7. Florida Atlantic
The Owls are the longest of long shots to make their Final Four debut as they continue to fly through uncharted territory. But don’t make the mistake of assuming they’re an easy draw for Tennessee as a 9-seed. Remember, they beat AAC champion Memphis before ending the Cinderella run of Fairleigh Dickinson. They also own an SEC win against Florida from way back in November. But even if the Owls find a way to get by the Vols, they’ll be up against either an extremely talented Big 12 squad or one of the most successful March coaches in tournament history. It’s not out of the question in this wildest of seasons, but it’s a tall order for a Sweet 16 newcomer.