The maddest March in recent memory has produced an unprecedented Final Four.
This is the first time since seeding began in 1979 that none of the No. 1, 2 or 3 seeds advanced to the NCAA men's tournament’s final weekend.
The quartet of teams who will play for a championship in Houston next weekend includes three making their Final Four debuts. Florida Atlantic hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game before this March. San Diego State had never advanced beyond the Sweet 16 until Friday. Miami didn’t get to the Elite Eight for the first time until last season.
Only UConn isn’t a Final Four first timer, though even the Huskies haven’t been a college hoops heavyweight in recent years. Since Shabazz Napier carried UConn to its fourth national title in 2014, the Huskies have endured three losing seasons and had notched only a single NCAA tournament victory prior to this year.
Nearly 10% of Yahoo Tourney Pick’em players had UConn advancing out of the loaded West region, but there weren’t too many believers in the other Final Four teams. Only 2.7% had Miami emerging from the Midwest. Only 0.8% picked San Diego State in the South and only 0.3% had Florida Atlantic coming out of the East.
The seed combination at this year’s Final Four will be the second highest in the event’s history. UConn (4), Miami (5), San Diego State (5) and Florida Atlantic (9) adds up to 23, eclipsed only by the 2011 Final Four that saw UConn (3) and Kentucky (4) joined by party crashers Butler (8) and VCU (11).
It’s no accident that CBS chose to make UConn-Miami Saturday’s second semifinal. It pits a loaded Huskies team that has emerged as a clear favorite to win the national championship against a dangerous Miami team that has toppled the likes of Indiana, Houston and Texas on its way to the Final Four.
The other semifinal pits two teams who hail from non-power conferences but are way too good to be labeled Cinderellas. Conference USA champion Florida Atlantic has 35 wins, including victories over Tennessee and Kansas State in this tournament. Mountain West champion San Diego State rode its elite defense to a Sweet 16 upset of top-seeded Alabama and a narrow Elite Eight win over Creighton.
The absence of college basketball’s top seeds and big brands is likely to be a TV ratings disaster, but viewers with Duke or Kentucky fatigue may enjoy the eccentricity of this year’s Final Four.
Blue bloods dominated last year’s Final Four. This year, it’s all about new blood.