The 2023 Final Four is set. Here are the numbers to watch for as FAU, Miami, San Diego State and UConn vie to cut down the nets in Houston.
The 2023 Final Four is on the horizon, and it features some… unexpected names. All of the No. 1 seeds were ousted before the Elite Eight for the first time ever, and none of the top three seed lines found a way to the final weekend.
Two of the most criminally underseeded teams — UConn and Florida Atlantic — have made their way to the final weekend as No. 4 and 9 seeds, though my bracketology had both of them at least one seed higher entering Selection Sunday. Their opponents in the Final Four, respectively, are a pair of No. 5 seeds: Miami and San Diego State.
There are not any of the traditional “bluebloods” in this year’s Final Four, but there is an exciting variation both of programs and playing styles that should make for a riveting three games.
Here is a look at some of the statistics that correlate most with success for each competing Final Four team, as well as a breakdown of how each team has executed in that area during the Big Dance. Let’s dive in.
READ HEAT CHECK
—Final Four team previews: San Diego St. | Florida Atlantic | UConn | Miami
—Boettger: The NCAA Tournament, as we once knew it, is over
—Rauf: Hurricanes are the surprise we should’ve seen coming
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San Diego State Aztecs
Defense is the name of the game for San Diego State. The Aztecs have ranked in the top 30 for adjusted defensive efficiency in all but one of Brian Dutcher’s six years walking the sidelines, currently ranking fourth coming into the Final Four. While interior defense led the way for the past two seasons, SDSU’s ability to shut down the perimeter has been especially impressive this year. These Aztecs have held opponents to 27.8 percent 3-point shooting, which ranks second-best in the country.
San Diego State is 17-1 this season when holding opponents’ 3-point shooting to 28.6 percent or worse. In those games, the Aztecs have outshot their foes by an average margin of +10.9 percentage points. The Aztecs have also been at their best of late, holding each of the last six opponents below the 28.6 percent mark, winning all six. Through four NCAA Tournament games, San Diego State’s opponents are shooting just 17.0 percent from beyond the arc. The Aztecs have held opponents well below their season averages of late:
The Final Four features deadly shooting teams ranked 33rd (Miami FL), 44th (Florida Atlantic) and 59th (UConn) in 3-point percentage this season. SDSU will have its hands full but has shut down perimeter attacks for the majority of the campaign.
Florida Atlantic Owls
Florida Atlantic is a guard-oriented unit that ranks 328th nationally in average height. Only two players in the rotation, 7-1 Vladislav Goldin and 6-8 Giancarlo Rosado, stand taller than 6-4. Yet, that lack of size has not stopped this group from dominating on the glass. FAU ranks 89th nationally in offensive rebounding rate and 51st in defensive rebounding rate.
In the NCAA Tournament, FAU has put to rest the narrative that its rebounding prowess was just a product of its lower level of competition. The Owls have secured a higher rate of offensive rebounds than each of its four opponents in the Big Dance, and three of those teams came from the top seven leagues in the country. Offensive rebounding is a staple under Dusty May, and it has yielded plenty of results.
Florida Atlantic is 18-0 this season when notching offensive rebounds on 30.7 percent or more of its misses, winning by an average of 16.2 points. Its ability to take advantage of second-chance opportunities is up there with the best, ranking 55th nationally in second-chance conversion rate per Haslametrics. The Owls are markedly less dominant when they don’t hit the 30.7 percent mark on the offensive glass (15-3, +7.7-point margin of victory).
So far in the NCAA Tournament, Florida Atlantic boasts a 39.6 percent offensive rebounding rate. If the Owls reach the title game and face UConn, it will be their biggest challenge in terms of size — literally.
Miami pulled off its Elite Eight upset of Texas on the back of Jordan Miller’s superb game. Miller scored 27 points while shooting a perfect 7-for-7 from the field and 13-for-13 at the free-throw line. The free throw mark is especially important, and his performance at the line was a microcosm of how the Hurricanes won that game: by shooting 28-for-32 (87.5 percent) on free throws.
Miami’s season-long free throw percentage of 78.0 percent ranks 15th nationally. As a result of their efficiency at the line, the Hurricanes can pile up points in a hurry by drawing fouls. Miami is 17-2 on the season when notching a free throw rate of 28.6 percent or better.
Most importantly, the Hurricanes have been getting to the stripe effectively down the stretch. They eclipsed that 28.6 percent mark in their NCAA Tournament wins over Drake, Houston and Texas. Dating back to Feb. 4, Miami has gone 9-0 when meeting that threshold and just 2-2 in the four games when falling short.
Isaiah Wong and Norchad Omier are the pieces to watch. Both rank in the top 300 nationally in free throw attempt rate. Miller also showed his capabilities in the Elite Eight. When this team plays downhill and draws fouls, it is hard to beat. The Hurricanes are effective at the line, and all those drives open opportunities for sharpshooter Nijel Pack on the perimeter.
UConn is the heavy favorite to cut down the nets in Houston. The Huskies are the top-seeded team remaining and have jumped to No. 1 on KenPom. Simply put, this team has very few holes when it is playing well — and boy, it this team playing well right now. UConn has size, shooting, playmaking, defense. It checks all the boxes.
UConn is 24-2 this season when shooting a higher percentage than its opponent inside the arc, posting an average margin of +19.8 percentage points in those games. Conversely, the Huskies are just 5-6 when shooting worse on 2-point attempts than their opponents (+1.6 percent margin). If this one season is too small a sample size, it extends throughout the Dan Hurley era. Since 2018-19, UConn is 81-15 when winning the 2-point battle — and 20-38 when failing to do so.
The Huskies are converting at 54.9 percent on 2s in the Big Dance while limiting opponents to 36.6 percent, making for a +18.3 percent margin. In 10 of its past 11 games, UConn has shot better on 2s than its opponent, including all four NCAA Tournament victories. Notably, its only loss in that span came in the one game where the Huskies lost the 2-point battle.
UConn has accomplished this feat while dealing with size, too. Its last three opponents have all ranked top 51 in average height. Connecticut, which ranks 28th, is easily the tallest team in the Final Four; Miami (224th), San Diego State (241st) and Florida Atlantic (328th) are much smaller. If UConn wins it all, its positional size and ability to dominate the paint on both ends will be a core reason why they are cutting down the nets.
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