The SEC guide to watching this random as you-know-what Final Four
If you’re a fan of Alabama or Tennessee, I get it.
This Final Four will be painful. And that’s not some predetermined opinion about the lack of blue-bloods in the field, though I do think a team like UConn with 3 national championships in the past 2 decades is closer to that than some admit. FAU and San Diego State will make Alabama and Tennessee fans spend 2 hours saying “that should’ve been us.”
Shoot, maybe even Kentucky fans will be saying that. They might not have lost to those teams, but is it fair to say that any talented team on the left side of the bracket is kicking itself for the way things shook out? Absolutely.
Play Underdog For Heat-Celtics Game 6! Who ya got?
With that in mind, I thought I’d put together a guide for SEC fans watching the Final Four, AKA the place the conference has yet to visit without a ticket in the 2020s.
Was that harsh? Ah, lighten up. There’s always the women’s tournament, baseball, gymnastics, football and virtually every other organized sport that the SEC does some bit of flexing.
Here’s what SEC fans should be watching for this weekend in Houston:
Florida totally gets to claim FAU’s success
Why? FAU coach Dusty May spent 4 years working on Mike White’s staff at Florida. Never mind the fact that May was a former student assistant for Bob Knight. More relevant is that he executed White’s defensive principles at a higher level with less talent.
The Owls rank No. 30 in defensive efficiency, but unlike White’s Florida teams, which notoriously had scoring issues, FAU ranks No. 24 in offensive efficiency. One of those offensive contributors is 3-year starter Bryan Greenlee, who went to high school in Gainesville at The Rock School. He actually spurned the Gators twice because he started his career at Minnesota and transferred back to the Sunshine State after the 2019-20 season.
Throw in the fact that Miami is also representing the state, and the Gators can also claim that they’re in “the college basketball epicenter.”
But as for claiming FAU’s success, I suppose that would be a better argument if Florida actually, you know, beat FAU … instead of losing to the Owls in Gainesville.
On the bright side, the first loss of the Todd Golden era aged like a fine wine.
What’s the only 2022-23 loss that FAU failed to avenge this year? Ole Miss.
There ya go, Ole Miss fans. Something non-Chris Beard related that you can talk about.
FAU guard Brandon Weatherspoon has a familiar name because …
Both of his older brothers were studs at Mississippi State. Nick and Quinndary Weatherspoon were prolific scorers, the latter of course finished 3rd on the school’s all-time scoring list before getting drafted in the 2nd round by the San Antonio Spurs.
So why didn’t Brandon also end up at MSU? That’s a good question. He wasn’t as highly touted as either of his brothers.
MSU actually wasn’t even a finalist for the youngest Weatherspoon brother. FAU wasn’t, either. But Weatherspoon went the JUCO route (Holmes Community College) before transferring to FAU for the 2021-22 season. He played big minutes off the bench for FAU, and he actually forced that key steal in the final seconds of the first round win against Memphis.
Weatherspoon also knocked down this big 3 in transition in FAU’s upset win against Kansas State in the Elite 8:
I saw it coming! I was screaming that’s his shot on the outlet! Congrats @__bloading__ FINAL FOUR DOG! pic.twitter.com/eIVTBIBCO1
— COACH E COLBERT (@coachE40) March 26, 2023
For an MSU team who was as bad of a 3-point shooting team was there was this year, seeing Weatherspoon knock down key long-range buckets for another team might not sit well.
The lone former SEC player in the Final Four is … Hassan Diarra
Kudos to you if you already knew that. As for me, I had to dig that one up.
In my defense, Diarra wasn’t a household name during his time at Texas A&M, though he was a top-100 recruit coming out of high school in Queens (NY). He mostly came off the bench for Buzz Williams’ squad in his 2 years of College Station, which has also been the case for Dan Hurley at UConn.
Other fun fact? Diarra is 1 of 3 UConn players who is currently observing Ramadan, which means he fasts while the sun is up. Fortunately for UConn, it plays the late game on Saturday night so Diarra, star Adama Sanogo and Samson Johnson will be able to end their fast prior to tipoff.
Does the SEC’s best hoops dynasty of the 21st century happen if not for Jim Larranaga?
Stay with me on this one.
Billy Donovan’s repeat champs at Florida in 2006 and 2007 were a buzzsaw that destroyed all in their path. I get that. There might not have been anyone who could’ve taken down either of those teams with how well they played down the stretch in both seasons.
But remember that 2005-06 UConn squad? It was the obvious favorite to win it all that year after entering the NCAA Tournament 27-3. Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams, Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone were all first-round picks who watched their season end in the Elite 8 against Larranaga’s George Mason squad.
?Verne Lundquist (pbp) & Bill Raftery (analyst), George Mason vs. UConn NCAA Regional Final, 3/26/06 in Washington DC #OTD #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/GMkumZFLBP
— Announcer Schedules (@announcerskeds) March 26, 2023
Had that historic upset not happened, Florida would’ve met UConn in the Final Four in 2006 instead of George Mason. Given the Huskies’ front-court depth, that would’ve been an incredibly entertaining matchup with Joakim Noah and Al Horford.
I suppose it’s also possible that Florida could’ve lost that game and still had all 5 starters run it back in a championship season in 2006-07. But it is at least an interesting sliding doors for the last team to repeat as national champs and the only program to do so in the past 30 years.
In other words, Florida fans might want to hate Larranaga for his Miami-ness, but the man might’ve quietly played a pivotal role in allowing the Gators to have an iconic 2-year run.
The Final Four teams went 6-2 vs. the SEC
Here’s that breakdown:
- UConn (3-0)
- W, 82-67 vs. Alabama (in Portland)
- W, 75-54 at Florida
- W, 88-65 vs. Arkansas (Sweet 16)
- Miami (0-0)
- FAU (2-1)
- L, 80-67 at Ole Miss
- W, 76-74 at Florida
- W, 62-55 vs. Tennessee (Sweet 16)
- San Diego State (1-1)
- L, 78-74 vs. Arkansas (in Maui)
- W, 71-64 vs. Alabama (Sweet 16)
So the SEC’s only wins against this Final Four field came back in November, and 1 was that baffling aforementioned Ole Miss win vs. FAU. More recently, of course, were those 3 Sweet 16 losses to the eventual Final Four teams. One of those was UConn’s beatdown of Arkansas, which pushed the Huskies to +59 vs. the SEC in 2022-23, with blowout wins against 2 of the conference’s 3 Sweet 16 teams.
There’s a chance that the national championship is a matchup of UConn and San Diego State, which would feature 2 teams that Arkansas and Alabama faced on neutral sites. Alternatively, it could be UConn vs. FAU in the title game … both of which went into Gainesville and beat the Gators.
Outside of San Diego State winning a national title and making Arkansas fans feel better about that early-season win, you won’t find many bragging rights in the SEC this weekend.
Just don’t be the bitter fan saying “it would’ve been better if (team X) made it”
Because that person is the worst.