The college basketball world will be focused on Houston, where the men’s Final Four will tip off Saturday.
The Cinderellas have taken over the sport in the last two weeks and now four teams who each surprised are ready to play and have left busted brackets along the way.
Florida Atlantic, a school of about 25,000 students located in Boca Raton, Florida is making only its second NCAA Tournament appearance. The Owls blitzed through the East Region and will take on San Diego State, who are also making their first Final Four berth.
In the second semifinal, UConn will take on their former Big East Conference foe Miami. The Huskies are used to being in this position, making their sixth Final Four appearance in the past 25 years with four national championships, the last coming in 2014.
The Hurricanes took care of the top two seeds in the Midwest Region to make their way to Houston. Led by ACC Player of the Year Isaiah Wong, Miami is looking to break through with its first title after making the Elite Eight last season.
Follow the madness: Latest Men’s NCAA Tournament College Basketball Scores and Schedules
Follow along for live updates throughout the night:
After being down by as many as 14 points, the San Diego Aztecs tied the game at 65 points with 4:26 left on the clock in Final Four action. The team came within two of the Florida Atlantic Owls multiple times, but senior forward Aguek Arop made the jumper that finally leveled the score. San Diego has 11 offensive rebounds compared with Florida Atlantic’s seven, which is helping the Aztecs in their comeback.
The Florida Atlantic Owls have maintained their lead through the second half, but not without a fight from the San Diego State Aztecs. Brian Dutcher’s team is within two after going on a 16-4 run, capped off by a pair of free throws from Matt Bradley. The senior guard had a key three-point shot in the run. The Aztecs are down 60-58 with 9:05 on the clock.
San Diego State also had a short 5-0 run to start the period that shook the Owls’ momentum.
With South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark facing off in the women’s Final Four on Friday night, ratings were expected to be high.
They were record-setting for ESPN, the network announced Saturday.
ESPN, which broadcast both NCAA Tournament semifinal games, said the LSU-Virginia Tech early game averaged 3.4 million viewers with a peak of 5 million across network platforms. That was up 57% from last year’s early game.
Iowa-South Carolina averaged 5.5 million with a peak of 6.6 million, up 72% from last year’s late game.
Both games drew record audiences for a college basketball game – men’s or women’s – on ESPN+, the network said.
— Mike Brehm
The Florida Atlantic Owls are up 40-33 over the San Diego State Aztecs at the half. The Owls’ lead was as large as 10, but Keshad Johnson made a 3-point shot with 39 seconds on the clock to keep the difference single digits.
“We’ve been able to open up some gaps and drive those gaps,” Owls head coach Dusty May said on the CBS broadcast. He said his message to the team in the locker room will be to keep playing, “frame by frame, possession by possession.”
San Diego State is shooting 13-of-29 from the field, but has gone 5-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Aztecs senior guard Matt Bradley is the game’s leading scorer with 11 points. He’s made three treys. For the Owls, freshman guard Nicholas Boyd has nine points.
Florida Atlantic and San Diego State are playing in their first Final Four game. The Owls made a statement first, going up 5-0 with a three-point bucket from Nicholas Boyd and a jumpshot from Johnell Davis. The Aztecs crept ahead with back-to-back baskets from Matt Bradley, but Florida Atlantic took the lead again with a 16-3 run. The Owls are up 21-17 halfway through the first half.
The first national semifinal between Florida Atlantic and San Diego State tips off at 6:09 p.m. ET on Saturday.
The second game between UConn and Miami will begin 30 minutes after the first game finishes, at approximately 8:49 p.m. ET.
The winners of the two semifinals will meet in the men’s national championship game, which will be played on Monday, April 3, starting at 9:20 p.m. ET.
Miami coach Jim Larranaga has elite March Madness dance moves
The Miami Hurricanes football team of the 1980s won three national championships and was known for its dance moves, flips, touchdown celebrations and sack celebrations.
The men’s basketball team carries on the legacy as this season, head coach Jim Larrañaga has led his players to the program’s first Final Four. Since taking over the Hurricanes in 2011, he has led Miami to four Sweet 16 appearances and back-to-back Elite Eight berths, including this year’s run.
All along the way, he has shimmied and two-stepped along with his team in each victory celebration, delighting fans across the country.
“It’s really about March Madness is the big dance,” Larrañaga said on CBS’ Final Four Show. “You have to have fun. And everybody loves dancing.”
– Victoria Hernandez
The NCAA men’s tournament field has been whittled from 68 to four in a matter of two weeks of postseason games. The remaining quartet arrives in Houston with just one of the top 16 seeds remaining. That school, No. 4 Connecticut, will be joined by three first-time Final Four participants – No. 5 seeds San Diego State and Miami (Florida) and No. 9 Florida Atlantic.
Here’s who the USA TODAY Sports has to win:
FAU vs. San Diego State
- Dan Wolken: FAU
- Paul Myerberg: SDSU
- Eddie Timanus: SDSU
- Erick Smith: SDSU
Miami vs. UConn
- Wolken: UConn
- Myerberg: UConn
- Timanus: Miami
- Smith: UConn
In the era of the transfer portal, the most pressing concern for FAU is retaining a talented but overlooked roster put on national display during four successive NCAA men’s tournament wins.
“Without a doubt, it’s going to be fluid every single day,” coach Dusty May said. “And until the ball is tipped up next season, you may not know truly who your roster is going to be, and it’s part of it. Luckily, I’m still relatively young and have a lot of energy, because I don’t think there’s going to be a day where you can just relax and not fear your phone buzzing.”
– Paul Myerberg
San Diego State’s Final Four run traces back to the glory and heartache of the Fab Five era at Michigan, where current Aztecs head coach Brian Dutcher was an assistant under Steve Fisher.
“I’ve heard from all five of them,” Dutcher told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. “They texted me ‘Good luck,’ ‘Congratulations,’ ‘Go get ‘em.’ “
– Brent Schrotenboer
HOUSTON — Nine minutes before Saturday’s second national semifinal is scheduled to tip off, Connecticut center Adama Sanogo is going to eat.
It won’t be much. Maybe just some oranges and coconut water, but he will get something in his stomach. And that’s going to be a lot better than what Sanogo had to deal with last weekend at the West Regional in Las Vegas.
“I’m not trying to think about it,” he said. “The more you’re thinking about it, the more it’s hard to do it.”
Sanogo, a native of Mali who has arguably been UConn’s best player during the NCAA men’s tournament, is Muslim and currently observing Ramadan, a month where he is not allowed to eat or drink from sunrise to sunset.
– Dan Wolken
The assistant confined to a wheelchair helps explain the makeup of the men’s Final Four.
More specifically, to understand how fifth-seeded San Diego State earned the school’s first trip to the Final Four where it will be playing Saturday against Florida Atlantic in Houston, it helps to know Mark Fisher, who serves as an assistant to Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher.
He is the son of Steve Fisher, the retired basketball coach who won a national championship with Michigan in 1989 and took the school back to the Final Four in 1992 and 1993 with the celebrated “Fab Five.”
More importantly, Mark Fisher, 44, has no use of his arms and legs.
But before tip-off here is some essential reading to get you ready.
– Josh Peter
HOUSTON — In May of 2008, Craig Angelos was looking for something that would give Florida Atlantic basketball a spark. So he drove two miles from campus and went to church.
The purpose of the trip wasn’t prayer, even though the program could have used some. Angelos, then FAU’s athletics director, had gone to meet with Mike Jarvis, the former George Washington and St. John’s coach who had moved to Boca Raton and become an influential member at Spanish River Church. They did the interview right there in the pastor’s office.
“He was a great coach, but I also thought, he’s part of this 6,000-member church right by FAU,” said Angelos, now a senior deputy athletics director at Long Island University. “So if we have any of his friends come to games, maybe 100 or 200 or even 1,000 because they want to support their fellow church member, that’s a huge plus. In Boca, you need a guy who can do more than just coach.”
HOUSTON — The University of Miami birthed one of the great basketball-to-football conversions of all time when Jimmy Graham, a four-year basketball role player for the Hurricanes, picked up football as a graduate student in 2009.
NFL scouts saw enough of Graham’s size, speed and athleticism in that one year of college football to make him a third-round draft pick. He went on to catch 713 passes in the NFL, make five Pro Bowls and become one of the best tight ends of his generation.
People who watch Miami for the first time Saturday when they play Connecticut in the Final Four may get flashbacks when they see center Norchad Omier, a 6-foot-7 block of steel whose physical profile suggests he could be a big-time NFL prospect.
– Dan Wolken
Here are some stories to get you ready before tip-off.
WHO IS TAKING THE TITLE?: See USA TODAY staff’s Final Four staff predictions
EXPECTING SURPRISES: Five bold predictions for the men’s NCAA Tournament’s Final Four
ANOTHER RUN?: Three ways Florida Atlantic’s team can stay together
30 YEARS LATER: Fab Five legacy lives with San Diego State at Final Four