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NC State forward DJ Burns Jr. (30) celebrates with his teammates after making a shot while getting fouled late in the second half of the Elite 8 South Regional Championship game of NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at American Airlines Center in Dallas on Sunday, March 31, 2024. NC State defeated Duke 76-64. (Chris Torres/Tribune Content Agency)
NC State forward DJ Burns Jr. (30) celebrates with his teammates after making a shot while getting fouled late in the second half of the Elite 8 South Regional Championship game of NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at American Airlines Center in Dallas on Sunday, March 31, 2024. NC State defeated Duke 76-64. (Chris Torres/Tribune Content Agency)

2024 Men’s Final Four Preview: UConn/Alabama, NC State/Purdue set to meet in Arizona

College basketball’s biggest stage takes place on Saturday, where two exciting national semifinal games take place in the desert

After an already eventful NCAA Tournament, the grandest stage is yet to come, as the Final Four is only days away. The four programs — UConn, Alabama, NC State and Purdue — all come into the weekend with different storylines, but with one similar goal: to cut down the nets as national champions.

UConn is the favorite, as it’s defeated all four of its East Region opponents handily, most notably beating Illinois by 25 in the Elite Eight. The defending champion Huskies are looking great and some think that there would be no team that could stop them. 

Alabama will certainly give it a go, and give it a go with a very powerful offense. The Tide pulled off a major upset against UNC in the Sweet Sixteen, showing that they’re not a team to overlook and might be UConn’s toughest test yet.

Purdue enters as another heavy favorite, as the Boilers were dominant all season and secured four solid wins so far in the tournament. Zach Edey has been about as good as he’s been all season, which has most fans believing they are a team of destiny to win it all.

NC State will face the Boilermakers and is possibly the fan favorite of this year’s Final Four. D.J. Burns and company have taken the country by storm during their improbable run, but it's a run the Wolfpack hope continues into Monday's final game.

All these teams have proven that they belong with great runs so far in the tournament, which should make for an exciting Final Four at State Farm Arena in Glendale, Arizona. With UConn and Purdue being dominant all season to Alabama and NC State being surprise teams, there are so many storylines to track so, without further ado, let’s break down Saturday’s matchups. 

Saturday, April 6: No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 11 NC State; 6:09 p.m. ET on TBS

The first matchup of Saturday’s action features the Boilermakers and the Wolfpack in a matchup that some may consider “David and Goliath” esque. 

Purdue comes in as the midwest regional champions, beating No. 16 Grambling, No. 8 Utah State, No. 5 Gonzaga and No. 2 Tennessee along the way. Zach Edey was sensational in each and every one of those games, scoring at least 23 points and 14 rebounds in every contest. 

Although it’s mainly been the Edey show, other players have stepped up along the way too. Braden Smith is one of those guys, getting at least six assists in every tournament game, while Lance Jones has been there for the Boilers whenever they need a big 3-point jumper. Along with other starters Fletcher Loyer and Trey Kaufman-Renn, with bench players Mason Gillis, Camden Heide and Ethan Morton, Purdue is hitting its stride at the right time and is looking like a team that could be the top team in the nation come Monday.

On the other side, NC State may have not been the juggernaut Purdue was throughout the season or may not have the expectations of entering the Final Four, but the Wolfpack have played every bit as well as the Boilermakers. NCSU faced No. 6 Texas Tech, No. 14 Oakland, No. 2 Marquette and No. 4 Duke on its way to Arizona and looked great every bit of the way. 

D.J. Burns is the obvious star, scoring 29 in the Elite Eight game against Duke, but D.J. Horne has been similarly great. The senior guard has scored in double figures in every tournament game so far, including a 20-point performance in the Elite Eight. This surprise run is no joke and NC State would even tell you that it’s no Cinderella at all. Nonetheless, both D.J.s along with other key players Casey Morsell, Mohamed Diarra, Michael O’ Connell, Jayden Taylor and Ben Midlebrooks, are here in the Final Four and poised to shock the world.

The obvious matchup to lookout for is Burns against Edey, as those two have arguably been the most talked about players all tournament, but it goes further into the X’s and O’s. Edey loves to grab offensive rebounds, while Burns’ rebounding is not one of his strong suits, which should make for a very interesting battle on the glass.

It’ll also be intriguing to see how the Boilers attack Burns when he’s on offense. Burns is known for his elite footwork in the post, including pump fakes and an elite dropstep. Edey is obviously freakishly tall, but when Burns makes Edey move down low to guard him, it could cause problems for the 7-foot-4 big.

As for guard play, the Smith vs. Horne matchup will be key. Both these guys make a major impact on their teams, so if one shuts down the other, that will certainly change the outcome of the game. Look for Smith to try to stop Horne’s 3-point shot and Horne to stop entry passes to Edey, as both of those are key facets in their games.

This one is undoubtedly a very intriguing game, not only because of the one seed vs 11 seed storyline, but also because of the basketball itself. This game is filled with talent on both sides, so we could have a Final Four classic in the making here.

Saturday, April 6: No. 1 UConn vs. No. 4 Alabama; 8:49 p.m. ET on TBS

The second matchup pits the East Region champs, No. 1 overall seed, UConn, against West Region champion, four seed, Alabama. This one may not have the same exact intrigue as the first game, but the contrasting styles and electric offenses on both sides will surely make this game one fans won’t want to miss. 

UConn comes in as the favorite, and rightfully so, as the Huskies have dominated their way to the Final Four. UConn beat No. 16 Stetson, No. 9 Northwestern, No. 5 San Diego State and No. 3 Illinois, all in blowout fashion.

Alabama's Nick Pringle (23) celebrates after the Crimson Tide advanced past Clemson, 89-82, in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Tournament at Arena on Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Los Angeles. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images/TNS)

Several different players have stepped up throughout the tournament, as UConn boasts a balanced attack where anyone can get hot and impact a game at any time. This was all put on display during the first four rounds, as a new player stepped up in multiple different games. 

In the second round, Tristen Newton took the lead with 20 points, while in the Sweet Sixteen Cam Spencer led the team with 18 points. Donovan Clingan was the main man in the first round, as well as the Elite Eight, most notably scoring 22 in dominant fashion against Illinois. Along with Newton, Spencer and Clingan, other major players include Alex Karaban, Stephon Castle, Hassan Diarra and Sampson Johnson. All these guys have allowed their team to look almost perfect going into this weekend, something they hope will continue as the Huskies look for their second straight title, and sixth overall.

The team tasked with stopping UConn is Alabama, a fast-paced offense and a team that can score at will, especially from 3. The Tide beat No. 13 Charleston, No. 12 Grand Canyon, No. 1 North Carolina and No. 6 Clemson on their way to get to Arizona and are West Regional champions.

Similarly to UConn several different players can step up for Alabama, although Mark Sears has taken the lead in most of the tournament games. In the first round, second round and the Elite Eight, Sears had over 20 points and even had 30 points in the first round matchup. 

In that game, the Tide scored 109 points as a team, the most in the 2024 tournament. This is classic Alabama basketball, as offense is the name of the game and 3-pointers are its specialty. Another key player is Grant Nelson, a transfer forward who scored 24 points against North Carolina. He, along with Sears, are backed up by Aaron Estrada, Rylan Griffen, Latrell Wrightsell and Nick Pringle, all of whom have stepped up in different moments during the tournament. All these guys can score at will, especially if they play at a fast pace, something that Alabama will almost certainly try to do against the Huskies.

Speaking of pace, that is the primary difference between the two teams and something that fans will look out for. Alabama plays with the seventh-fastest pace in the country, while UConn plays with the 293rd-fastest pace. This is an obvious and significant difference between the teams, which should make for an interesting battle to decide which pace controls the game. 

Another thing fans should look out for is the battle of guards, in Newton vs. Sears. Both of these stars are very talented, which will obviously make for an interesting matchup, but the most interesting facet of the matchup may be the 3-point battle. Newton will try to limit Sears beyond the arc, but Alabama has seemed to find a way to get Sears open throughout the tournament regardless of defense. 

Lastly, the battle of Clingan vs. whoever Alabama decides to throw at him down low will certainly be important. He dominated against Illinois, so many expect him to do the same here. Nonetheless, this one, with the contrasting styles of offense, will be one to look out for, and should be a very solid national semifinal matchup. 

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