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Stan Becton | | March 26, 2023

Why Florida Atlantic's historic run, UConn's march to Final Four are surprising — but not shocking

The moment FAU clinched its first Final Four berth

The first two Final Four spots were booked on Saturday when No. 9 Florida Atlantic and No. 4 UConn won their Elite Eight games. The Owls and Huskies might have surprised some with their runs to the Final Four, but it shouldn't come as a total shock. Here's why.

How Florida Atlantic surprised us...

Florida Atlantic entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed. Only eight teams had ever advanced to the Final Four without a top-eight seed. The Owls made it nine teams.

Teams seeded No. 9 or below to make a Final Four
Year Team
2023 No. 9 Florida Atlantic
2021 No. 11 UCLA
2018 No. 11 Loyola Chicago
2016 No. 10 Syracuse
2013 No. 9 Wichita State
2011 No. 11 VCU
2006 No. 11 George Mason
1986 No. 11 LSU
1979 No. 9 Penn

The Owls had never won a tournament game before — EVER. Only four teams had ever advanced to the Final Four after entering without a tournament win since 1979. Florida Atlantic made it five teams.

Final Four teams that entered without a tournament win, since 1979
Year Team
2023 Florida Atlantic
2006 George Mason
1983 Georgia
1981 Virginia
1979 Indiana State

In the first round, FAU trailed 65-64 with 5 seconds to play. A go-ahead basket with 2.5 seconds remaining landed the Owls the win. With a close game like that, it's a surprising run to the Final Four for the Owls.

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...but didn't shock us

Florida Atlantic's run to the Final Four shouldn't be shocking. The Owls won the C-USA regular season and conference tournament titles with a 31-3 record. They entered the tournament on a seven-game winning streak and had a 21-1 record through January. Florida Atlantic rose to as high as 19 in this year's AP Poll and entered the tournament No. 25.

The Owls were a good team all year, entering Selection Sunday with the most wins of any team in the country. They were in the upper percentile of the country in 3-point percentage at 37.2 percent, averaged the 26th-most points in the country at 79.3 and were sixth in the country in scoring margin.  Florida Atlantic had the size to go with its shooting in 7'1'' Vladislav Goldin, too. Florida Atlantic was also ranked 22nd in KenPom rankings entering the tournament. All signs of a quality tournament team.

The Owls making a run isn't shocking. They're proven winners. When the tournament came, they played an eight seed and a 16 seed in the first two rounds. Neither of those wins should be shocking.

While Florida Atlantic did land an upset of No. 3 Kansas State to advance to the Final Four, the Owls were ranked higher (No. 13) in the NET rankings than the Wildcats (No. 24). 

Florida Atlantic's Final Four run shouldn't be shocking.

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How UConn surprised us

UConn finished fourth in its conference during the regular season. The Huskies were eliminated in the semifinals of the Big East tournament. They had six Quad 1 losses entering the tournament.

After entering the tournament, only 9.86 percent of brackets predicted UConn to make the Final Four. The Huskies lost in the first round in 2021 and 2022 and didn't make the tournament for the three seasons prior. 

UConn's run to the Final Four definitely had elements of surprise.

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...but didn't shock us

UConn was ranked as high as No. 2 in the AP Poll during the regular season. The Huskies were a top-five team for five weeks and a top-10 team for eight weeks. They only lost two games since February.

Once the tournament started, the No. 1 seed and defending champion Kansas was on UConn's side of the bracket, but the Jayhawks lost in the second round while the Huskies blasted its first two tournament games by an average of 19.5 points. UConn entered the Elite Eight as the only team that had ever won a title before — and then crushed Gonzaga by 28 points.

It shouldn't be shocking for a team thought of so highly, with so much success to advance to the Final Four.

Surprising or not, shocking or not, what matters is Florida Atlantic and UConn are heading to Houston for the Final Four.

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