Coppola’s Column: Men’s final four showcases unique group of teams 

Gampel Pavilion experiences a whiteout as Men’s Basketball levels Providence College 87-69 in Gampel Pavillion on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. Their next game is at Madison Square Garden in Queens, New York, versus St. John’s University on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. Photo by Izzi Barton/Daily Campus.

The Elite Eight wrapped up this past weekend, to an arrangement of shocking results. Three of the four games saw the lower-seeded team win out over the higher ranked squad. The UConn vs. Gonzaga game, which was expected to be a close affair, resulted in a near 30-point blowout by the Huskies. Creighton and Texas, who both held relatively large leads throughout their games, watched as San Diego State University and University of Miami flipped the script. Meanwhile, Florida Atlantic University defeated a hot Kansas State team in a thriller that came down to the final minutes of the game. 

For three of these four advancing teams, it marks their first appearances in the Final Four. FAU is the lowest seed left in the tournament, ranking in at a No. 9 seed. The program only began in 1988, and became Division I in 1993. They’ve been season champions of their conference once, in 2011, and conference tournament champions in 2002. 2002 was the only other time in their history they’ve even made the NCAA DI tournament, before being eliminated in the first round by Alabama. 

This year’s team was expected to be out in the first round once again, but with visible determination made their way past Memphis, Fairleigh Dickinson, Tennessee and now Kansas State. With a game centered around shot contesting and rebounding, FAU has found a formula that fits their personnel perfectly.  

They will be matched up against San Diego State, a team that became a NCAA Division I school 24 years before FAU did. The Aztecs made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 2011, led by Kawhi Leonard, and 2014. Prior to this year however, they had never made it to the Elite Eight, much less the Final Four. Out of the three years they made the Sweet Sixteen, this was the lowest they were ranked and seeded. 

That does make sense on the surface, with only one player that averaged over 10 points per game during the regular season. Despite this, that questionable offense was backed up with a very solid defensive presence. They scored the 25th-fewest points in the country, and a big part of that was thanks to forcing the third-lowest three point percentage. 

This matchup will certainly be a defensive and gritty affair. They’ve played a combined six games against ranked opponents this season, with Florida Atlantic going 3-0 while SDSU only went 1-2. It could very well come down to the wire, and while SDSU is currently favored, Florida Atlantic has a huge chance at another surprise. 

UMiami has a much longer and greater history than FAU, though that isn’t saying much. They’ve been ranked higher in four other seasons: 1960, 1999, 2013 and 2016. In 2013, they even had the national player of the year in Shane Larkin. NBA legend Rick Barry had also played for the college back in the 60s, and had his number retired by the team. 

Prior to this year, Shane Larkin was the last Miami player to be named to an All-American team. Isaiah Wong ended that drought, with his third consecutive season averaging over 15 points and four rebounds. He formed a dynamic duo with Jordan Miller, a former transfer from George Miller who also is averaging over 15 points per game alongside six rebounds. The pair lead a unit that is very good at getting buckets and takes advantage of opportunities from the stripe. Their defense can leave much to be desired at times, but so far their offense has made up for it. 

The new favorites of the tournament, UConn, has certainly been here before. With four National Championships in the last 25 years, they’ve established themselves atop the college basketball world. Coach Dan Hurley, in his fifth season, is looking for his first national championship of his reign. This is his best season to date, both in terms of AP ranking, seed and the distance they’ve gone in the tournament. 

This is on the back of junior Adama Sanogo, a vicious presence in the paint, and Jordan Hawkins, who’s elevated his shooting even more throughout this tournament. They are one of the best rebounding and passing teams in the country, and also happen to be one of the best defensive squads as well. If they can continue this dominance on both sides of the ball, it would be safe to say Miami will become the next victim of this machine. 

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