First, No. 5 San Diego State became the third team to book a trip to this year’s Final Four with a 57-56 win against No. 6 Creighton.
Then No. 5 Miami (Fla.) crawled out of a 13-point deficit in the second half and beat No. 2 Texas 88-81 to win the South Regional and reach the national semifinals for the first time in program history.
The Aztecs and Hurricanes join No. 4 Connecticut and No. 9 Florida Atlantic in what is one of the most unique Final Four groupings in NCAA men’s tournament history.
The Huskies advanced by destroying No. 3 Gonzaga 82-54 in the West Regional. The Owls outlasted No. 3 Kansas State 79-76 to become the first Conference USA team to reach the national semifinals since Memphis in 2008.
San Diego State and Miami lead the winners and losers from the final day of Elite Eight action:
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San Diego State
The Aztecs will reach the first Final Four in program history thanks to a defense that has shut down two explosive opponents in the past three days. After picking apart Brandon Miller and No. 1 Alabama, San Diego State did the same to Ryan Kalkbrenner, Baylor Schneiderman and Creighton, holding the Blue Jays 21 points below their season average. But the Aztecs still needed a late boost to advance, and got that break when guard Darrion Trammell was fouled driving to the basket with 1.2 seconds left and hit one of two free throws to pull out the win.
Down 13 points just over six minutes into the second half and down 10 with 8:53 left, the Hurricanes shattered the Longhorns’ Final Four hopes with the most memorable stretch of play in program history. Driven by senior guard Isaiah Wong, who stirred to life after an unimpactful first half and finished with 14 points, Miami went on a 13-2 run to take a 73-72 lead with 5:26 remaining. And the experience gained in last year’s Elite Eight run paid off down the stretch, as the poised and relaxed Hurricanes made all 13 of 14 free throw attempts in the final four minutes to seal the victory.
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Seventeen years after he led George Mason to one of the tournament’s most unanticipated Final Four bids, Larrañaga is back in the national semifinals with a team very capable of winning two more games in Houston. What the program has done exceptionally well in the recent past is take advantage of the transfer portal and NIL legislation, which helped construct a roster defined by elite-level backcourt play but strong enough in the frontcourt to score 34 points in the paint against the Longhorns.
The state, by the way, not the Gators. With FAU and Miami, Florida becomes the fourth state since tournament expansion in 1985 and the third in as many years to have multiple teams in the Final Four in the same season. The others are North Carolina in 1991 and 2022 (Duke and North Carolina both times), Kentucky in 2012 (Kentucky and Louisville) and Texas in 2021 (Baylor and Houston).
A wonderfully unique Final Four
This is the first Final Four for San Diego State, Miami and Florida Atlantic. Connecticut has been there four times, most recently in 2014. Compare these fresh faces to last year’s Final Four, which featured teams boasting a combined 57 previous trips: North Carolina (20), Duke (16), Kansas (15) and Villanova (six). This is the first time the Final Four has had three first-time members since 1970.
That Texas wasn’t expected to get this far into the postseason after firing former coach Chris Beard in January doesn’t make this loss any easier to swallow. Even after coughing up the double-digit lead, the Longhorns were in position to win the game with a minute left but were stymied by one potentially controversial call — an over-the-back foul on Miami’s Norchad Omier that was reversed and called on forward Brice Cunningham, sending Omier to the line — amid a broader meltdown on both ends of the court. Now university leadership has to address the elephant in the room: Is Rodney Terry going to be the full-time coach or not?
Lovers of aesthetically pleasing basketball
When aliens do eventually arrive on Earth and ask to see our planet’s finest example of college basketball — and this will absolutely happen — our future world leaders probably won’t share clips from San Diego State and Creighton. The two teams combined to shoot 38.8% from the field and scored a combined 113 points, the lowest total of any game in the past two rounds. The Aztecs and Blue Jays were even worse from deep, connecting on just 5 of 30 attempts from 3-point range. That they were able to control the tempo, harass shooters on the wing and slow down Creighton’s offense meant the difference in the Aztecs’ win.
No one saw this year’s Final Four coming, and that includes voters in the USA TODAY Sports men’s basketball coaches poll. Of the three teams currently booked into the semifinals, just one was ranked in the preseason poll: SDSU opened the year No. 20. Connecticut was one of 23 additional teams receiving votes in the debut poll while Florida Atlantic didn’t receive a single vote in the preseason.