By NOAH TRISTER AP Sports Writer
After a 2022 Final Four that included Kansas, North Carolina, Duke and Villanova, this year’s version has a couple surprises from Conference USA and the Mountain West — and not a single team seeded higher than fourth.
That said, is there really that big a difference between the past two Final Fours?
In one sense, not really. Last year’s foursome finished No. 3, 8, 10 and 16 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. This season’s quartet is ranked No. 1, 14, 17 and 22 entering the semifinals. So it’s a bit worse in the aggregate, but not as much as the names might suggest.
Here’s a deeper look at UConn, Miami, San Diego State and Florida Atlantic, using advanced stats:
Pomeroy Rank: 1
Strengths: UConn lost six of eight during a slump that began Dec. 31 and lasted through much of January. Aside from that, the Huskies are 27-2. They rank third in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency and 11th on defense. While they have many strengths, they’re especially tough on the glass, ranking second in the country in offensive rebounding percentage.
Weaknesses: The Huskies have basically two warts on an otherwise pristine statistical profile. They turn the ball over a lot (232nd nationally in turnover percentage) and they aren’t very good at getting to the free throw line or keeping opponents off it.
In This Tournament: Well, UConn’s weaknesses haven’t really gone away. The Huskies are at minus-14 in turnover differential in this tournament and minus-12 in free throw attempts. But it hasn’t made much difference at all since they’ve been so dominant in other ways. It’s probably not a great sign for the other three teams that UConn reached the Final Four so easily without really overperforming in these areas.
SAN DIEGO STATE (31-6)
Pomeroy Rank: 14
Strengths: The Aztecs are ranked fourth in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Only one team — Arizona back in November — has reached 80 points against San Diego State. The Aztecs have held their last eight opponents under 65 and gone unbeaten during that stretch.
Weaknesses: San Diego State is 75th in adjusted offensive efficiency. No other team in the Final Four is lower than 24th. None of the other Elite Eight teams is lower than 36th. You get the picture.
In This Tournament: The stat that jumps out about the Aztecs’ last two victories: Alabama and Creighton shot a combined 5 of 44 from 3-point range. Over the course of the whole season, San Diego State opponents are shooting a horrendous 27.9% from beyond the arc. Even by that standard, 5 of 44 feels like an outlier — but if it continues, the Aztecs could very well win the whole thing.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC (35-3)
Pomeroy Rank: 17
Strengths: No, the ninth-seeded Owls aren’t the lowest-ranked Final Four team, at least per Pomeroy. In fact, FAU is an impressively balanced group, ranking 24th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 30th on defense. The Owls are tough inside the arc defensively, holding opponents under 45% shooting from 2-point range.
Weaknesses: FAU’s run to the Final Four doesn’t quite measure up to what the other three teams have done. The Owls’ four wins were by a combined 19 points. By comparison, each of UConn’s victories has been by at least 15. And unlike San Diego State and Miami, FAU didn’t have to beat a No. 1 seed.
In This Tournament: Offensive rebounds have been plentiful in FAU games so far. The Owls have 59 in their four wins, but they’ve allowed 48.
Pomeroy Rank: 22
Strengths: The Hurricanes have several efficient offensive options in Isaiah Wong, Nijel Pack, Norchad Omier and Jordan Miller. As a team, they can score in a variety of ways — they’re shooting 36.9% from beyond the arc, 54.5% inside it and 78.0% on free throws.
Weaknesses: This is sort of the opposite of San Diego State — a great offensive team that is pretty weak defensively. In fact, Miami is 104th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency.
In This Tournament: There have been some signs of defensive improvement for the Hurricanes. They held Drake to 56 points in the first round and then limited Indiana to 69. Houston scored 75 in the Sweet 16 but shot just 37.5% from the field. In the Elite Eight, however, Miami needed to be excellent on offense to beat Texas 88-81. That may be the type of game the Hurricanes will have to win if they’re going to prevail this weekend.
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister
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