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Men's college basketball: FAU, San Diego St. to tip off unexpected Final Four

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Sophomore guard Johnell Davis (R) and Florida Atlantic will face San Diego State in a 2023 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament national semifinal at 6:09 p.m. EDT Saturday on CBS. Photo by Mauricio Paiz/FAU Athletics
Sophomore guard Johnell Davis (R) and Florida Atlantic will face San Diego State in a 2023 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament national semifinal at 6:09 p.m. EDT Saturday on CBS. Photo by Mauricio Paiz/FAU Athletics

March 29 (UPI) -- Florida Atlantic, San Diego State, Miami and UConn will take the court Saturday night in a Final Four not many could conceive at the start of March Madness. The men's basketball tournament semifinals will air on CBS.

Both games will take place on a court built inside NRG Stadium, the home of the Houston Texans.

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The No. 9 Florida Atlantic Owls will meet the No. 5 San Diego State Aztecs at 6:09 p.m. EDT. The No. 5 Miami Hurricanes will battle the No. 4 UConn Huskies in the second game, which is expected to tip off at 8:49 p.m.

"It's pretty surreal," FAU junior guard Bryan Greenlee told reporters Saturday after the Owls beat No. 3 Kansas State to clinch their Final Four spot. "There is a lot of excitement and happiness for the unit we have, and everyone gets to experience this together.

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"We also have hunger to go finish it off."

The Owls (35-3) ranked outside the Top-30 in most oddsmakers' predictions of tournament title favorites. The Boca Raton, Fla., based school will join San Diego State (31-6) and Miami (29-7) in making first Final Four appearances.

UConn (29-8), which has won four national titles, made five previous Final Four appearances.

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Ticket prices for each matchup ranged from $85 to more than $20,000 as of Tuesday afternoon on the secondary market.

This year's Final Four was accurately predicted in just six entieis in the NCAA.com bracket challenge. With their Elite Eight victories, Miami, UConn, Florida Atlantic and San Diego State formed the first Final Four in history without a Top-3 seed.

The Huskies, who were among the Top-10 favorites for the title, are favored by 5 1/2 points over the Hurricanes. The Aztecs are 2-point favorites over the Owls.

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"There is never a guarantee," Owls coach Dusty May said after the Elite Eight. "You are relying on faith. You believe it's going to happen, but you never really know.

"In this era where everyone wants the whole pie, these guys continue sharing the pie every day and this was the result."

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FAU vs. San Diego State

Senior guard Darrion Trammell, the Most Outstanding Player of the South Region, will lead the Aztecs into the national semifinal against the Cinderella Owls.

The Aztecs opened the tournament with wins over No. 12 Charleston and No. 13 Furman. They then upset No. 1 overall seed Alabama in the Sweet 16. The Aztecs slipped by No. 6 Creighton on Sunday to snag their ticket to Houston.

They are known for their stingy defense and ability to score on fast breaks. Senior Matt Bradley led the Aztecs with 12.5 points per game this season. Fellow guard Lamont Butler, who scored 18 points in an Elite Eight win over Creighton, also could factor into this matchup.

"I've talked about depth being our greatest strength," Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher told reporters Saturday in New York. "Depth isn't a strength unless they embrace it. This team embraces it."

The Owls also are led by guards, with sophomores Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin running their offense. Davis scored a team-high 17.3 points per game through four tournament games. Junior guard Greenlee also chipped in during the run, making 9 of 18 3-point attempts.

The Owls beat No. 8 Memphis, No. 16 FDU, No. 4 Tennessee and No. 3 Kansas State en route to the Final Four.

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"This is a group of guys that just loves to compete," Martin said. "We love to serve each other, love being around each other and it shows on the court."

UConn vs. Miami

Sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins, the Most Outstanding Player of the West Region, will lead the Huskies against the Hurricanes. Hawkins averaged 17.3 points and made 16 of 31 (51.6%) 3-point attempts through four tournament games.

Junior forward Adama Sanogo, the Huskies' top regular-season scorer, is averaging the most points (20) at the tournament out of the remaining players in the field. Senior guard Nahiem Alleyne, who made 6 of 11 3-pointers through four tournament games, also could factor into this matchup.

The Huskies are arguably the most-balanced team of the four national semifinalists. They rank inside the Top 35 in points for and fewest points allowed during the regular season. They ranked No. 2 in rebound margin and No. 4 in assists.

The Huskies beat No. 13 Iona, No. 5 Saint Mary's, No. 8 Arkansas and No. 3 Gonzaga en route to Houston.

"We put in a lot of work to get here," Huskies junior guard Andre Jackson Jr. told reporters Saturday in Las Vegas. "The last two years, we had first-round exits. To start the season, they didn't have us in the Top 25.

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"We've got a lot to prove. We've still got a chip on our shoulder. We had a goal to make it to the Final Four, but more importantly to win the national championship. That's what we are still pushing toward."

The Hurricanes started their tournament run with a win over No. 12 Drake. They went on to beat No. 4 Indiana, No. 1 Houston and No. 2 Texas, to become the only team at the tournament to knock off three Top 5 seeds.

"I'm loving the experience so far, but we still got more work to do," Hurricanes sophomore guard Nigel Pack, the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Region, told reporters Sunday in Kansas City, Mo.

Pack averaged 18.5 points per game and made 13 of 29 (44.8%) of his 3-point attempts so far this tournament to lead a balanced and strong Hurricanes backcourt.

Junior guard Isaiah Wong and senior guard Jordan Miller averaged 16.5 points per game each through their four tournament appearances. The Hurricanes will likely use their strong ball handling and ability to create shots off the dribble to attack the Huskies.

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