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The news that keeps us Onward On!

The Carroll News

The news that keeps us Onward On!

The Carroll News

Men’s NCAA Final Four Preview: Will the Huskies defend their title?

UConn looks to defend their NCAA tournament title after an impressive collection of games so far.

The Men’s Final Four is set to kick off Saturday, April 6 in Phoenix, Arizona. The stars are aligning for a UConn repeat championship, which would be the first in men’s college hoops since Billy Donovan, Joakim Noah, Al Horford and co. won back-to-back in 2006 and 2007. Is UConn’s continued dominance of March Madness going to last? Will the other three teams continue to work their magic? The Carroll News predicts which questions will be answered.

Team Previews

The Defending Champs
Record: 35-3, No. 1 seed in East Region

Path to Final Four: 91-52 over No. 16 Stetson, 75-58 over No. 9 Northwestern, 82-52 over No. 5 San Diego State, 77-52 over No. 3 Illinois

Upcoming Matchup: vs. No. 4 Alabama

Dan Hurley’s squad has won every game in the past two tournaments by double digits with their closest contest being a 13 point win in the 2023 Final Four over Miami. One could argue that they’ve been even more dominant this time, culminating in a blowout win over Illinois in which they turned a tie game towards the end of the first half to a 30-point lead halfway through the second frame.

Throughout the regular season, Donovan Clingan had some ups and downs, particularly in the first month following his recovery from a foot injury. However, since finishing in the top 10 of nearly every preseason National Player of the Year ranking, he has established himself as the reliable paint-wreath player that we anticipated. During those periods when they were pushed into the starting lineup, Solomon Ball and Samson Johnson both gained a great deal of experience and confidence. Today, Ball and Johnson, along with seasoned player Hassan Diarra, are essential reserves for this offensive machine.

Coach Dan Hurley has his squad ready and prepared for every single game, which is why they are a safe bet to hoist the trophy once again despite a scarce amount of repeat champions in recent memory.

Record: 25-11, No. 4 seed in West Region

Path to Final Four: 109-96 vs. No. 13 Charleston, 72-61 vs. No. 12 Grand Canyon, 89-87 vs. No. 1 North Carolina, 89-82 vs. No. 6 Clemson

Upcoming Matchup: vs. No. 1 UConn

Alabama’s strength can be pinpointed to a high-octane, high-efficiency offense and they have that to thank as the reason they made it all the way to the final four. In three of their four tournament games, Alabama has scored at least 89 points, which is surprisingly a decline in the team’s year-to-date scoring average by a fraction of a point. 20 of the Crimson Tide’s 30 games have seen at least 89 points scored and they have a19-1 record out of those games.

Whether Alabama’s offense can compensate for its poor defense is the key question.

The Tide have averaged 91.9 points scored but 90.4 points allowed since Feb. 7. In addition, they have given up at least 82 points in every tournament game save for the brick fest versus GCU. However, it hasn’t destroyed them yet, so perhaps they can fire their way to two more wins.

NC State
Record: 26-14, No. 11 seed in South Region

Path to Final Four: 80-67 vs. No. 6 Texas Tech, 79-73 (OT) vs. No. 14 Oakland, 67-58 vs. No. 2 Marquette, 76-64 vs. No. 4 Duke
Upcoming Matchup: vs. No. 1 Purdue

Virginia was up by three in the final seconds of their matchup with NC State in the ACC Tournament. One made free throw would have effectively ended NC State’s season. Instead, the Wolfpack turned the odds and won the ACC tourney, barely sneaking into March Madness as an 11 seed. Now, NC State stands two wins away from the most improbable run in the history of March Madness.

After surviving some scares in the first couple rounds to Texas Tech and Oakland, the Wolfpack made quick work of Marquette and Duke, winning both games by at least 9 points. The talk of the tournament has been forward D.J. Burns Jr. who poured in 29 points against fellow conference rival Duke in the Elite 8. Despite having the build of a left tackle in football, Burns has dominated the paint and has shown elite agility for someone his size. Burns has a tall task ahead of him, as he will be standing in front of the soon to be back-to-back National Player of the Year, Zach Edey, of Purdue.

The Wolfpack are in the Final Four just like their female counterparts in the other bracket, marking the first time in which two schools have both their men’s and women’s teams in the Final Four, with the other team being UConn.

Record: 33-4, No. 1 seed in Midwest Region

Path to Final Four: 78-50 vs. No. 16 Grambling State, 106-67 vs. No. 8 Utah State, 80-68 vs. No. 5 Gonzaga, 72-66 vs. No. 2 Tennessee

Purdue has history on their side to win their first ever national title. Why is history on their side? Purdue famously became the second ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed last year when they bottomed out to Fairleigh Dickinson University. The other No. 1 seed to lose to a No.16 was Virginia in 2018 when they got blown out by 20 by UMBC. Virginia responded to that demoralizing loss by winning the national championship the very next year in 2019. Will the pattern continue with the Boilermakers?

Purdue will go as far as soon-to-be back-to-back National Player of the Year Zach Edey will take them and he has carried them a long way so far. In 19 of his previous 21 games, Edey has earned a double-double, scoring at least 23 points and pulling down 14 rebounds in every tournament match.

Though not much else was working, the Boilermakers relied on the shoulders of Edey more than usual against the Volunteers, and after four games, point guard Braden Smith is sitting at 39 points and 38 assists against eight turnovers. On average, Fletcher Loyer scores 12 points and dishes out three assists. Lance Jones has made a number of impressive three-pointers.

Purdue would be the defending champion, not UConn, if Edey was in charge of everything. However, the reason they are still standing and doing well this year is because he has better players as well as improved players surrounding him.

Score Predictions

Final Four: Saturday, April 6

UConn 84, Alabama 69
Purdue 90, NC State 86 (Final/OT)

Championship: Monday, April 8

UConn 79, Purdue 67
UConn Wins!

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