I really like this Final Four and think it’s going to be one of the more fun ones going in. While I’m coming to the realization that Florida Atlantic is a lot better than even I thought 2 weeks ago they contribute overall to an underdog feel in this final four. This is the first NCAA Tournament no number one seeds advanced to the Elite 8.
We’ll take our lumps on not being as high on FAU later, but for Miami we have been higher on than anyone doing rankings I’m aware of before the season and before this tournament. I personally picked them to make the Final 4 in my one and only bracket (93 percentile). They went through both the number one and number 2 seed so this was a legit strong run.
We had Miami ranked 11th in our preseason rankings and they were 28th the AP Poll in the preseason and as low as 50th in other places. We also wrote a feature about them that posted December 21st when they had just broke into the AP Polls, and laid out the case as to why they could be a contender.
Before the season Miami’s top 4 players Norchad Omier, Isaiah Wong, Jordan Miller, and Nijel Pack really popped in ADJeff (our adjusted efficiency model) as one one of the best collections of a high end talent there was among 4 players. During the season their starting lineup with those 4 and Wooga Poplar was the 2nd highest in net rating behind only Houston.
Jim Larranaga is also one of the best coaches in the game and several of their players including two key ones in Miller and Wong had deep tournament experience getting to the elite 8 last year. When you have the 2nd best starting lineup in a tournament setting where teams trust less players and the benches don’t matter as much you are at an advantage was my thinking behind picking them for the Final Four.
Back in December when that article was written Pack only had an 11 PER and was averaging 11ppg and shooting 32% from three. I really expected him to take off the rest of the season after underachieving over the start vs a poor SOS. If and when he rounded into form I thought they would have a knockout level punch as well as the rest of the team was playing. That happened and he finished the season since that article was written he shot 64-147 for .435% from three and averaged 15.2 points in the last 22 games and was much closer to the player I expected in the preseason.
San Diego State
The Aztecs are another team we were a little higher than in the preseason consensus (15th at TRN) than most. I personally picked to beat Alabama and make the Elite 8. (Losing to Arizona though in the Elite 8) We expected San Diego State to have the best defense in the nation and when you have a great defense and a player that can go get buckets like Matt Bradley I think that’s a tough combination. I was also skeptical and wrote about how reliant Alabama was on the three point shot and feared it would go dry at some point. 3-27 vs the Aztecs that’s what I expected to happen vs their defense. We also picked them in our 2nd Chance Picks for the Final 4 after Arizona was eliminated and also had the Furman upset in their side on our bracket.
The Huskies are our favorite in a tier to themselves right now with how they are playing. We picked them and Gonzaga to make the Elite 8 but with Gonzaga winning in both our original Bracket and 2nd chance. I did think whoever won that game would be the favorite though and the way UConn one I think they have to be a big favorite. They were ranked 23rd in our preseason poll a little higher than the 27th vote getter in the AP. This is a team with everything that appears pretty unstoppable right now.
We were wrong on Florida Atlantic most of the season. In the preseason we had them ranked 26th in our MID MAJOR POLL. We expected them to improve some bringing back most of their top players, but who could have seen this one coming after going 16-15 vs D1 last year with 132 NET ranking. They went from that to 33-3 currently and a 13th NET rating even before this run.
We’ve come around to the fact that they are likely this level team and it’s not a fluke but even before the NCAA tournament our preseason thoughts were shading our expectations still. You have to, studies show that the preseason consensus usually still matters. The teams that were higher ranked in the preseason usually do better overall over time. So this is our big miss as I had Memphis taking them out in the first round, which they nearly did losing by a point.
FAU is a good team who I’d personally like to see win it all because I’m an underdog at heart. They certainly have the least in facilitates, support, resources and stature. It would be a nice story and encouraging for all mid major level programs. They have a team that is certainly capable of winning this after watching all of their games, but I’m still leaning towards them being the least likely.
My power rankings would go 1st Tier UConn, 2nd Tier San Diego State & Miami, and 3rd Tier FAU. It should be a fun Final 4 and we know will get at least one non P6 that the finals.