2024 Final Four: A preview


After nearly six months of play, the 2023-24 college basketball season has come down to just four teams. These teams have battled through just over two weeks of grueling tournament play, each battling through four games to earn their place in the Final Four. Now, only two wins stand between these teams and the summit of college basketball, as the road ends in Phoenix this weekend.

First-seeded UConn (35-3) looks to repeat as national champions after romping through its region. The Huskies boast an experienced and balanced lineup, with all five of their starters having 10+ points per game this season.

UConn is working to become the first team to repeat as national champions since Florida did so in 2007-2008, and it looks like the Huskies have a strong chance to do so. Its metrics are nothing short of elite, being ranked first in Kenpom in adjusted offense and fourth in adjusted defense. With that sort of elite balance, it will take a fantastic all-around performance to stop them.

Perhaps the key cog to their success is 7’2” center senior Donovan Clingan. He averages 12.9 points per game and is critical in UConn’s interior defense, averaging 2.5 blocks per game and thoroughly impacting how opposing teams attack the basket against the Huskies. To upset  UConn, opponents need Clingan in foul trouble early to limit his impact and open up the two-man offense.

To get to the national championship, UConn has to get through fourth-seeded Alabama (25-11). The Crimson Tide run a high-tempo, high-caliber offense through guard senior Mark Sears. The second-team All American has averaged 21.5 points per game this season, shooting more than 50% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc.

Any team looking to beat Alabama will have to shut Sears down, but that certainly doesn’t look to be an easy task. It’s been over three months since Sears last scored less than 17 points in a game.

Guards Aaron Estrada and Rylan Griffen add to the fast-paced, guard-centric offense that has allowed the Tide to average a whopping 90.8 points per game throughout the season. Alabama’s defense came into the tournament ranked outside of the top 100 in KenPom, and despite the early demise of other defensive-lacking teams (namely Kentucky in the first round), the Tide’s defense has stepped up in the tournament and given its offense just enough breathing room to push them to the Final Four.

While Alabama presents certain challenges for UConn, it’s a game that should be won by UConn. Alabama has no defensive answer for Clingan, and while Sears is dangerous, UConn flexed its defensive prowess in the Elite Eight against a high-powered Illinois offense. They won that game 77-52 and held star Illinois guard Terrence Shannon Jr. to eight points on a woeful 2-12 shooting. Illinois plays at a similar attacking pace to Alabama, so UConn should be well prepared to lock down their offense.

On the other side of the bracket stands tournament darlings NC State (26-14), which has won nine straight on their road to the final four. They took the ACC Championship just to make the tournament in the first place and are the sixth 11-seed to make the Final Four in NCAA tournament history. However, history is not kind to the 11-seeds of the past, given that they all fell short of the National Championship.

The Wolfpack are led by the rotund 6’9”, 275 lb. DJ Burns Jr., who has been critical in NC State’s run. He’s captured the heart of the nation by dropping 29 points to help knock out Duke in the Elite Eight. The Wolfpack combine Burns’ power and finesse with strong guard play, with three different guards averaging more than 11 points per game.

The NC State defense has been their strong suit, given elite performances against Marquette and Duke where they held them to 58 and 64, respectively. Getting consistent stops and putting together just enough offensive production to pull through has been the formula. Opponents will have to figure out how to manage Burns in the paint while dealing with quick and agile guards who have done a brilliant job at forcing poor shots from deep in the tournament.

First-seeded Purdue (33-4) stands in NC State’s way of a National Championship appearance. The Boilermakers are still looking to avenge their embarrassing first round loss to Fairleigh Dickinson, and so far in the tournament they’ve done a proper job of it.

Purdue is led by massive star 7’4” Zach Edey, who is averaging simply unmatched numbers this season, with 25 points per game, over 12 rebounds per game and 2.2 blocks per game. Edey’s size constantly provides an impact on both sides of the floor, constantly haggling shooters on the defensive end, and draws an incredible amount of fouls on the offensive side.

Purdue’s Achilles heel last year was the lack of great guard play, but they’ve put together a unit this year that is lethal from beyond the arc. They’re shooting more than 40% from three as a team which is good for second in the nation and serves as a deadly complement to Edey’s interior presence.

The Purdue versus NC State matchup has much more all-time potential than its counterpart. The Edey-Burns matchup will be one for the ages, as neither player has faced off directly with another with that much talent. Burns’ balance and lower center of gravity will prove to be beneficial, but he might struggle to get shots up against the lanky Edey, and might struggle on the defensive end.

Ultimately, the battle of the bigs could end up being a strained stalemate, and the guards will come to the forefront as the squads look for secondary options to pick up the gap in scoring. This might benefit Purdue, as their guards look superior on paper, but in terms of pure creation the gap is much closer than what it would seem. How Purdue shoots from beyond the arc will likely decide this game, and it could be a difficult task given NC State’s recent three-point defense.

We’ve been given two enticing matchups, with a decent amount of potential for chaos. However, if these potential upsets don’t happen, the country will be treated to an all-time National Championship matchup between UConn and Purdue. A potential Edey-Clingan matchup is extremely interesting, and it would bring forward a fun battle between a school looking to defend their crown and a school that has been looking to get over the hump for decades. All in all, there should be fireworks in Phoenix as these four teams fight for the National Championship.

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