Ahead of this weekend’s men’s Sweet 16 games, we’re breaking down why each of the remaining teams will and won’t make the Final Four. We’ll go region by region, starting with the East, where Michigan, Florida State, UCLA and Alabama compete for a spot in college basketball’s final weekend.
No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 4 Florida State (Sunday, 5 p.m. ET, CBS)
How it got here: Beat No. 16 Texas Southern, 82–66; beat No. 8 LSU, 86–78
Why it will make the Final Four: The Wolverines have so many ways to beat you. Against LSU, 42 combined points by Eli Brooks and Chaundee Brown pushed them over the edge. Other days, it’s a steady dose of Hunter Dickinson on the interior, Mike Smith putting up 15 assists without a turnover or Franz Wagner lighting it up from distance. Michigan is one of just two teams left in the field that ranks in the top 10 of both offensive and defensive efficiency per KenPom, joining top overall seed Gonzaga. Dickinson is one of the best players left in the tournament and is a tough matchup for anyone on the block. All those factors arguably make Michigan the favorite to escape the East region.
Why it won’t make the Final Four: Michigan doesn’t have quite the same bite without star wing Isaiah Livers, who remains out indefinitely after suffering a foot injury late in the season. Without him, Brown and Brandon Johns are forced into much bigger roles, and while Brown stepped up against LSU, he isn’t the star Livers is. The Wolverines also closed the year with three losses in five games and needed a pair of huge second-half runs to get by the Tigers on Sunday. Their region also hasn’t been as affected by upsets as others: They’ll need to beat a No. 4 seed and potentially a No. 2 seed to get there.
How it got here: Beat No. 13 UNC Greensboro, 64–54; beat No. 5 Colorado, 71–53
Why it will make the Final Four: In its two games in Indianapolis, FSU has defended at a higher level than it has all year long. A Leonard Hamilton staple, the Seminoles actually had struggled on that end of the floor for much of the season but seem to have bought in when it matters most. Add in versatile offensive weapons like M.J. Walker, RaiQuan Gray and Scottie Barnes, and this is a team that has the potential to beat anyone in the country. If FSU continues to defend the way it has of late, it has a very real chance of reaching its first Final Four since 1972.
Why it won’t make the Final Four: Turnovers have been a consistent issue for the Seminoles all season long, which makes sense given FSU often plays without a true point guard on the floor. The Seminoles have averaged 17.7 turnovers per game in their six losses this season, including an ugly 24 giveaways against Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament. Not having a legit go-to guy also hurts, given you’d expect FSU to have to win two close games in three days to get to the Final Four.
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 11 UCLA (Sunday, 7:15 p.m. ET, TBS)
How it got here: Beat No. 15 Iona, 68–55; beat No. 10 Maryland, 96–77
Why it will make the Final Four: Alabama has a rare combination of offensive firepower and high-level defense. The Tide are capable of shooting anyone out of the gym, like they did to Maryland on Monday. They also have a multitude of offensive weapons, with Jahvon Quinerly and Josh Primo coming off the bench to provide even more shotmaking for this unit. But Nate Oats’s squad is still more than willing to get down in a stance and defend, and the intensity it plays with on that end of the floor will likely dictate how far the Tide goes in this tournament.
Why it won’t make the Final Four: Alabama is really hard to beat when it makes threes, but it is definitely beatable when the shots don’t go down. The Tide had been relatively cold lately before the 16-for-33 explosion against Maryland, topping 36% from deep in a game just once in the team’s prior nine games. This team also doesn’t have the March experience that Michigan or Florida State has in the same region—no player on this roster had ever been to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament until now.
How it got here: Beat No. 11 Michigan State, 86–80; beat No. 6 BYU, 73–62; beat No. 14 Abilene Christian, 67–47
Why it will make the Final Four: The Bruins are hot and playing with a lot of confidence after winning three games in five days to start their time in Indianapolis. The sophomore duo of Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr. has been superb, and when both of those guys play well, UCLA is hard to guard offensively. Juzang is a high-level shotmaker who has thrived so far in March, drilling contested shots in the clutch. Meanwhile, Jaquez is a great glue guy who does all the little things and has upped his scoring in March. With those two playing well, UCLA has a shot in most games.
Why it won’t make the Final Four: UCLA has defended better of late, but this is a far cry from the Mick Cronin defenses we were accustomed to seeing at Cincinnati. And the Bruins will certainly be tested by more talented offenses than they’ve seen so far this season in their next two games, including the Sweet 16 test against Alabama.
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