Analyzing Connecticut, Miami, San Diego State and Florida Atlantic

Meet your 2023 NCAA men’s basketball tournament Final Four:

But. 4 Connecticut rolled through the West Regional, capping this torrid run with an 82-54 destruction of No. 3 Gonzaga. The Huskies are back in the Final Four for the first time since winning the 2014 national championship.

But. 5 Miami overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half to beat no. 2 Texas 88-81 and reach the Final Four for the first time in program history.

But. 5 San Diego State outmuscled No. 6 Creighton in a 57-56 win to take the South Regional. This is also the Aztecs’ first trip to the national semifinals.

But. 9 Florida Atlantic closed out the East Regional at Madison Square Garden by outlasting No. 3 Kansas State 79-76. The Conference USA champions are making only the second tournament appearance in program history.

With their combined seeds of 23, this group has the second-highest total since the tournament expanded in 1985. The only higher total was 26 in 2011.

The semifinal matchups are Miami against Connecticut and the Aztecs against the Owls.

This unique group boasts a combined five previous Final Four bids since the tournament expanded in 1985, four coming from Connecticut.

HIGHS AND LOWS: Winners and losers from Sunday’s Elite Eight

POSTSEASON LINEUP: Complete NCAA men’s tournament schedule, results

Here’s what you need to know as these teams get set to descend on Houston’s NRG Stadium:

But. 4 Connecticut

The Huskies’ road to the Final Four: But. 13 Iona (87-63), No. 5 Saint Mary’s (70-55), No. 8 Arkansas (88-65), No. 3 Gonzaga (82-54).

This is a team that continues to heat up as they advance deeper into the tournament: Connecticut had spotty first halves in the wins against Iona and Saint Mary’s but put together complete, wire-to-wire games against Arkansas and Gonzaga to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2014. In doing so, the Huskies became the seventh team to win all four games by 15 or more points in reaching the national semifinals.

At the heart of this surge has been the play of forward Adama Sanogo, who struggled shooting the ball against Gonzaga but chipped in a career-best six assists. Picking up the slack was sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins, a future first-round pick who has scored at least 20 points in these past two games. If this pair stays hot, the Huskies are going to be very tough to beat.

Player to watch: Freshman center Donovan Clingan.

As shown in an imposing performance in the opener against Iona (12 points and 9 rebounds), Clingan is a critical player off the bench for the Huskies and a potential difference maker on both ends of the court. The 7-foot-2 freshman is averaging 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game in just 13.1 minutes of playing time, providing huge value as part of the Huskies’ supporting cast around Sanogo and Hawkins.

But. 5 Miami

The Hurricanes’ road to the Final Four: But. 12 Drake (63-56), No. 4 Indiana (85-69), No. 1 Houston (89-75), No. 2 Texas (88-81).

There was nothing cheap about Miami’s first Final Four trip in program history. The four defeated opponents in the Midwest Regional had a combined seeding of 19, including three of the region’s top four seeds. In comparison, San Diego State’s opponents had a combined seeding of 32 and Connecticut and Florida Atlantic a combined seeding of 31. One year after losing in the Elite Eight, Miami clearly learned from that experience and remained poised and in command even as Texas pulled in front by 13 points with 13:30 left in the second half. Slowly and steadily, the Hurricanes erased the Longhorns’ lead.

Player to watch: Senior guard Isaiah Wong.

Held in check in the first half of Sunday’s win against Texas, Wong came alive in the second half and finished with 14 points. The senior All-America pick has alternated between hot and cold during a wobbly tournament but continues to deliver when it counts for the Hurricanes.

Miami guard Nijel Pack (24), forward Norchad Omier (15), and guard Isaiah Wong (2) stand on the court during the team's defeat of Texas in the Midwest Regional championship game of the NCAA men's tournament at the T-Mobile Center.

Miami guard Nijel Pack (24), forward Norchad Omier (15), and guard Isaiah Wong (2) stand on the court during the team’s defeat of Texas in the Midwest Regional championship game of the NCAA men’s tournament at the T-Mobile Center.

But. 5 San Diego State

The Aztecs’ road to the Final Four: But. 12 College of Charleston (63-57), No. 13 Furman (75-52), No. 1 Alabama (71-64), No. 6 Creighton (57-56).

San Diego State is a defensive juggernaut. Terrific throughout the regular season, the Aztecs have taken things to a new level during the tournament:

  • Charleston shot 32.1% from the field and 20.8% (5 of 24) from 3-point range.

  • Furman connected on 32% overall and 23.1% (6 of 26) from deep.

  • Alabama hit on 32.4% and got nothing from star forward Brandon Miller, who was held to nine points on 3 of 19 shooting.

  • And the Blue Jays hit 40% from the field but only 2 of 17 from 3-point range, with guards Ryan Nembhard and Baylor Scheierman going a combined 6 of 18 for 19 points.

It’s obvious at this point that no opponent is going to solve what SDSU does defensively. In a tense, high-pressure environment, this consistency on the defensive end makes the Aztecs a very dangerous matchup in the semifinals.

Player to watch: Senior guard Matt Bradley.

The Aztecs advanced past Creighton despite getting just two points from Bradley, the team’s leading scorer. That’s been a bit of a trend of late: Bradley had six points while battling foul trouble against Alabama and has made just 6 of 27 shots in the past three games. While junior guard Lamont Butler stepped up with 18 points against the Blue Jays, San Diego State needs Bradley to step up in the semifinals against Florida Atlantic.

San Diego State players celebrate after defeating Alabama in the Sweet 16.

San Diego State players celebrate after defeating Alabama in the Sweet 16.

But. 9 Florida Atlantic

The Owls’ road to the Final Four: But. 8 Memphis (66-65), No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson (78-70), No. 4 Tennessee (62-55), No. 3 Kansas State (79-76).

Going by seed, Florida Atlantic ranks among the most unexpected Final Four teams in tournament history. As shown in two games at Madison Square Garden, however, the Owls are capable of playing with and beating some of the top teams in the country and a genuine threat to win the national championship. What FAU has is an extreme amount of reliable depth, especially in the backcourt. With the potential to go nine deep in his rotation, coach Dusty May can mix and match personnel, give opponents multiple different looks and keep his team’s legs fresh deep into the second half.

BIG SHOCKS: Florida Atlantic among the most surprising Final Four teams

Player to watch: Senior guard Michael Forrest.

The only senior in the Owls’ rotation, Forrest was a multiple-year starter before taking on a reserve role this season. After a quiet run of games beginning in the semifinals of the Conference USA tournament — he scored just eight points over a five-game span — Forrest stepped up to spark this Final Four appearance, scoring 11 points against Tennessee and making four clutch free throws in the final seconds to secure the win against Kansas State. He’s also played 17 minutes in each of these past two games after logging a combined 19 minutes in the opening two rounds.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Final Four analysis of UConn, Miami, San Diego State, Florida Atlantic

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