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OPINION | LIKE IT IS: Favorites of the ‘experts’ not at Final Four

by Wally Hall | March 28, 2023 at 3:32 a.m.

When this crazy basketball season started, it appeared the trip to the Final Four would be a short bus drive for the Cougars of Houston, a short plane ride for the Crimson Tide of Alabama, another visit by the Jayhawks of Kansas and a return to the glory days for the Bruins of UCLA.

There was a chance Purdue might need a plane, but that was before the Boilermakers were introduced to Fairleigh Dickinson, which as a No. 16 seed, second place in the feared Northeast Conference with a NET ranking of 301, made pretenders out of contenders.

It was only the second time in NCAA Tournament history a No. 1 seed went down to a No. 16, the other being five years ago when the University of Maryland-Baltimore County knocked off Virginia 74-54.

The encore was No. 15 Princeton beating No. 2 Arizona and No. 7 Missouri and the higher-seeded teams just kept falling until Sunday night and the Final Four became No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic and No. 4 UConn taking on No. 5 Miami.

All the "experts" are saying just mail the championship trophy to the Huskies, who have won their four tournament games by an average of 23.5 points.

Just don't forget 1983 and the unbeatable Houston Cougars, who lost to No. 6 seed (there were only 48 teams then) North Carolina State.

That said, the UConn, which beat Arkansas and Gonzaga in its past two games, is probably playing its best basketball of the season.

It is never a surprise to have a Big East team in the Final Four. That league was created for basketball in 1979 to be headlined on a new television outlet, ESPN. It was realigned in 2013.

Miami, which tied Virginia for its conference championship, comes out of the historically tough ACC, although it has struggled a little the past two years. But the Hurricane comeback win over Texas was really impressive.

Florida Atlantic is officially the third Conference USA team to make the semifinals with Marquette and Louisville accomplishing that in 2003 and 2005, respectfully.

Marquette now competes in the Big East, which it won, and Louisville in the ACC, where it finished last.

John Calipari led Memphis to the Final Four as a Conference USA member in 2008, but later their appearance was vacated by order of the NCAA.

San Diego State is the Mountain West's first member to make the Final Four and these are the same Aztecs who lost to Arkansas in overtime 78-74 last November in Maui, making the Razorbacks 1-1 against Final Four teams.

The Huskies had the best NET ranking of the remaining teams at No. 8, but Florida Atlantic was No. 13, San Diego State No. 14 and Miami No. 35.

The Owls have the best overall record at 35-3, the Aztecs are second at 31-6 while Miami is 29-7 and UConn 29-8. But it safe to say that the Hurricanes and Huskies were in tougher leagues and played more difficult schedules.

Florida Atlantic and UConn did not face No. 1 seeds, and Miami knocked off No. 1 Houston and No. 2 Texas to win the Midwest. San Diego State controlled Alabama for most of 40 minutes and won a dogfight with Creighton to make it to Houston.

The tale of the tape for the coaches is intriguing, San Diego State's Brian Dutcher is 63 and has been a head coach for only five years all the with the Aztecs; Florida Atlantic's Dusty May is 46 and also in his fifth year as a head coach all the Owls; UConn's Danny Hurley is 50 and has been a head coach for 13 years at three schools.

Miami's Jim Larranaga is 73 and has been a head coach 38 years at four schools including George Mason, which he led to the Final Four in 2006.

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