March Madness 2023: Final Four Preview

Updated: 6 Sport

Michael Calabrese breaks down the national semifinals in Houston, Texas.

March Madness 2023: Final Four Preview
Michael Calabrese US Content Manager

Experienced sports journalist, College sports expert and broadcaster, hailing from Pennsylvania

(9) Florida Atlantic vs. (5) San Diego State-1.5 (131.5)

6:09p on CBS

Florida Atlantic had exactly zero NCAA Tournament wins three weeks ago. Now they sit two wins away from the national championship. And they're not the only first-timer story going in the Final Four. San Diego State and Miami (FL) are also making their Final Four debuts this year, marking the first time since 1970 that three of the four teams in the national semifinals are first-time participants. The Owls have been magnificent all season long and arrive at NRG Stadium with a balanced roster and philosophy. Florida Atlantic is top 30 in both KenPom offensive and defensive efficiency, put together more 10-0 runs than just about any team in the country and they've been able to hold up against elite defensive competition (Top 60 D) all season long. The Owls went 7-1 SU against those elite defenses, including back-to-back wins over Tennessee and Kansas State in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. They also rebound incredibly well for a mid-major and bury nearly ten triples per game. This team is a Cinderella in name only.

The Aztecs made the Alabama offense look mortal. Then they mucked up a 40-minute fist fight with Creighton. I'm banking on them doing it again and covering this spread against the plucky Owls.

Mike Calabrese - College Basketball Betting Expert -

On the other side of this matchup is a grizzled defensive-minded team shaped in the image of their head coach Brian Dutcher. The long-time assistant coach (30+ years) spent the majority of his career crafting game plans to slow opposing offenses. As a head coach that game-planning acumen shines through as SDSU is the nation's top-ranked defense in the last month according to Bart Torvik. Dutcher is also a safe bet at the window, having covered north of 58% of his games when he has 4+ days to prepare. The Aztecs have been shaky on the offensive end during their run-up to the Final Four, but Seattle transfer Darrion Trammell has been there to save the day time and time again. In his last three games, Trammell is averaging over 15 points per game with a 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. This is good news because FAU has struggled to defend smaller guards in this tournament. Kansas State's Markquis Nowell scored 30 points in a losing effort and Fairleigh Dickinson's Demetre Roberts posted a line of 20/7/4. This game will really come down to Matt Bradley, the preseason MWC player of the year. Bradley has struggled (22% FG L3) but he is capable of hurting FAU in the mid-range, the only area on the court that they struggle to defend. If he can give the Aztecs 12 or more points, SDSU is a strong bet to win yet another low-scoring affair.

(5) Miami (FL) vs. (4) Connecticut-5.5 (149.5)

8:49p on CBS

The Connecticut Huskies have been an absolute wagon in this tournament. They've laid waste to four straight opponents by 15+ per game. As Bart Torvik's top-rated team, they enter as the nation's third-rated offense and 11th-rated defense. Their size continues to give opponents fits on the glass, evidenced by their offensive rebounding percentage which sits at an absurd 37.4% (3rd). When UConn did step outside of the Big East this season, they posted an historic performance against the spread. The Huskies are 14-0-1 ATS when facing non-conference opponents. Two more covers in the Final Four and they would become the first team in the history of college basketball to go undefeated ATS when facing non-conference opponents. Their surge has coincided with elevated guard play, particularly from Jordan Hawkins. The sophomore wing is shooting a blistering 51.6% from three-point range during the Big Dance. 

Recency bias would tell you that UConn should win this game by double digits without breaking a sweat. But in a tournament dominated by guard-play, Miami won't go down easy and could even entertain the outright upset if UConn's three-point shooting returns to earth in Space City.

Mike Calabrese - College Basketball Betting Expert -

If you're starting to feel bad for the Hurricanes, it's a good time to remind you that they have a soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach who thrives as an underdog. Since taking over as the Canes' head coach in 2011, Jim Larrañaga is the sixth-most profitable underdog among high-major coaches. This season, Miami was 9-2 ATS as a dog, winning seven of those games outright. His backcourt is far and away the best remaining in the field. Isaiah Wong, Nijel Pack and Jordan Miller are all scoring four points or more higher than they did during the regular season. They blitzed Houston and Texas for a Lone Star Two-Step, scoring 89 and 88 points respectively over those conference champions. And beyond their guards, they have one of the best rebounders college basketball has seen in some time patrolling the low block. Norchad Omier has 53 rebounds in four games during their run, and he has a chance to keep the Huskies off the offensive glass. If he succeeds, Miami could flirt with an outright upset. If he gets into foul trouble, as Gonzaga's Drew Timme did, it could be curtains for the Canes. 

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