FAU’s surprising Final Four run highlights growing parity in college basketball
The land of the unknown
The 2023 Final Four is poised to be the land of the unknown. UConn is the only team still standing with a national championship to its name. Neither Creighton nor San Diego State has ever been to a Final Four. Prior to last Friday, Florida Atlantic had never even won an NCAA tournament game as a program.
Parity in college basketball
Parity has hit college basketball in a major way, with the advent of the transfer portal and the extra year of eligibility due to COVID among the reasons.
FAU’s impressive run
So in a season and tournament filled with parity, how unlikely was it that FAU — the team with the most wins in college basketball this season — would make a Final Four run? Only six teams seeded lower than the Owls have ever played in a national semifinal, so they’re in pretty rare company. FAU defeated No. 3 seed Kansas State 79-76 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
Surprising Final Four runs
While surprising Final Four runs are not a new phenomenon, with 7-seeds and 8-seeds achieving the feat, Frank Martin’s 2017 South Carolina team and 2011 Butler come to mind as particularly surprising runs.
Underdogs making history
It was a year after the Bulldogs went to the title game and lost in the final seconds to Duke. They were sitting at 14-9 in early February, on a three-game losing streak and hovering in the 60s in KenPom. They didn’t lose another game until the final Monday night of the season, to UConn, beating 9-seed Old Dominion, 1-seed Pitt, 4-seed Wisconsin and 2-seed Florida to get to Houston, where they then beat the 2011 VCU team.
The road to the Final Four
On Selection Sunday, one of the bigger talking points was how underseeded FAU seemed. The Owls entered the NCAA tournament with a 31-3 record and a top-30 ranking in most metrics. But they went out, silenced the doubters and backed up the supporters.
With only six other teams seeded below FAU going to the Final Four, it’s a historic achievement for the Owls. From 7-seeds to 11-seeds, underdogs have made a significant impact on the tournament, surprising favorites to earn a spot in the Final Four.