An unpredictable NCAA tournament didn’t just produce a combination of Final Four teams that no one saw coming.
It also yielded an unusual assortment of Final Four players.
There are no former McDonald’s All-Americans. Only a few are potential NBA draft picks. Some didn’t have any high-major scholarship offers out of high school. Many are on their second stop after transferring from another program.
The weirdest Final Four in recent memory tips off Saturday evening in Houston with San Diego State-Florida Atlantic followed by UConn-Miami. Here’s an attempt to rank the starters on all four teams from 1 to 20:
After Sanogo demolished UConn’s first three NCAA tournament opponents with his efficient interior scoring, Gonzaga sent double teams at him to force him to be a passer. Sanogo responded with a brilliant six-assist, one-turnover performance that surely leaves opposing coaches wondering if there’s an effective way to defend him.
Wong is Miami’s leading scorer and best returning player from last year’s guard-heavy Elite Eight team. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard boasts a quick first step, an ability to create his own shot and improving consistency from behind the arc.
If Kansas’ Grady Dick was the best shooter in high-major college basketball this season, then Hawkins wasn’t far behind. The 6-foot-5 sophomore solidified himself as a first-round pick with his perimeter range, whether pulling up or running around screens to set up catch-and-shoot opportunities. Give him a sliver of breathing room, and he makes you pay.
No fringe NBA prospect has done more to help himself this March than Miller. The 6-foot-7 former George Mason transfer has displayed active perimeter defense and on Sunday against Texas had a Christian Laettner-esque perfect night from the field (7-for-7 from the field, 13-for-13 from the foul line).
Omier embodies college basketball’s paradigm shift from valuing highly ranked incoming freshmen to proven transfers. The Arkansas State transfer wasn’t even a consensus top-200 recruit out of high school. Now he’s maybe Miami’s most important player, a 6-foot-7 double-double threat who is able to defend and rebound against centers who tower over him.
On a deep, balanced Florida Atlantic team, Davis is the closest thing the Owls have to a go-to guy. The 6-foot-4 combo guard can score in a variety of ways, off the dribble, from deep or even posted up. He had 29 against Fairleigh Dickinson in the second round and then delivered an emotional interview after the victory.
San Diego State’s leading scorer has been called upon to take most of his team’s biggest shots all season. The Aztecs will need more than he’s gave them last week when he went scoreless until the waning minutes against Alabama and tallied only two points on 1-for-8 shooting against Creighton.
This play, as Field of 68’s Rob Dauster points out, epitomizes what makes Jackson special. What he lacks in perimeter shooting he makes up for with his playmaking ability, his defense and, above all else, his feel.
This is the quintessential Andre Jackson play.
This pass is not for him. He is not supposed to be there. But he is, and he not only prevents a turnover, he sets up a monster three at the first half buzzer.pic.twitter.com/HlxnGHHkRl
— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) March 26, 2023
Since becoming the face of Name, Image and Likeness across college basketball last spring, Pack has proven to be worth LifeWallet’s $800,000 investment. The Kansas State transfer has brought attention to the company while also spearheading this Miami run, averaging 18.5 points per NCAA tournament game and tallying 26 in a Sweet 16 upset of Houston.
The last line of defense for San Diego State almost turned pro last offseason to make money to support his family in Ghana. Mensah, a 4.0 student and one of college basketball’s premier rim protectors, only stuck around for another season with the Aztecs after landing a paid internship with a financial services firm in San Diego.
When UConn sought to build around its core of Hawkins, Jackson and Sanogo last offseason, the point guard position was one of the holes it needed to fill. Newton, one of the most prized transfers on the market, has filled the void capably, making up for some turnover-prone stretches with his playmaking and outside shooting.
The junior guard has pushed through the pain of the fatal shooting of his older sister earlier this year. Butler is one of the nation’s most formidable point-of-attack perimeter defenders and he can be dangerous offensively too. He had a team-high 18 against Creighton and knocked down both 3s that he attempted.
Miami’s highest-upside long-term NBA prospect has recently shown more consistent flashes of his tantalizing potential. The long, athletic wing is averaging 12 points per game in the NCAA tournament and produced one of the Elite Eight’s most fun moments.
The dynamic 6-foot-2 guard might have both the dunk of the tournament …
… and the ill-advised dunk attempt of the tournament.
Florida Atlantic’s Alijah Martin tries a huge dunk with the game out of hand in the final seconds and hears boos.
FAU head coach Dusty May appears to apologize to FDU head coach Tobin Anderson, who was upset.🏀 #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/Is2rIF8GJx
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) March 20, 2023
The 6-foot-8 freshman is the perfect floor spacer to pair with Sanogo and 7-footer Donovan Clingan. He’s shooting over 40% from 3-point range this season and has hit a couple of big ones during UConn’s Final Four run.
Trammell hasn’t always been an efficient scorer this season, but he has elevated his game in the NCAA tournament. The undersized combo guard who had no offers out of high school dropped 21 points on Alabama and then drew a foul and sank the game-winning free throw to beat Creighton.
For Florida Atlantic’s four-out style to work, it needs a big man who can patrol the paint, rebound and score around the rim. Enter Goldin, who was brilliant in all phases in the Elite Eight against Kansas State. The Russian 7-footer had 14 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two blocks against the Wildcats.
While Boyd has only tallied double figures once in FAU’s four NCAA tournament games, he’s responsible for the biggest basket in the Owls’ Final Four run. His go-ahead layup with two seconds remaining propelled Florida Atlantic to a one-point victory over Memphis way back in the first round.
His most valuable contribution might be his defensive versatility, but Johnson’s soaring dunks often spark San Diego State runs. He might lead San Diego State in “Sportscenter” Top 10 moments, whether in transition or via dump offs and alley-oops.
The former three-star recruit didn’t make an impact at Minnesota, so he returned to his home state. Greenlee has been a perfect role player the last three seasons at FAU as a perimeter shooter and secondary playmaker in the Owls’ four-guard attack.