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Photo by Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald/TNS.
Photo by Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald/TNS.

Men's Final Four is set after exciting regional weekend

UConn, Alabama, NC State and Purdue punched their tickets to the Final Four.

After an incredibly entertaining, exciting and, at times, surprising weekend, four teams are headed to Arizona to compete for the national championship. 

UConn was the first team to punch its ticket, continuing the dominance fans have gotten used to over the past two NCAA tournaments. Alabama then clinched a bid in what was a bit of a surprise, as the Tide was overlooked as a Final Four candidate because of its subpar defense. Purdue silenced all the doubters who believed this team was destined to be upset again after losing to a No. 16 seed last year.

Lastly, NC State, the ultimate surprise, showed that in this tournament, anything is possible. 

These four teams had different roads to get to the Final Four. Let’s break it all down. 

East Region (Boston)

No. 1 UConn continues its dominance, wins East Region

Many fans may have thought that the dominance UConn showed during last year’s tournament could not be replicated but, so far, it certainly has, and then some.

The Huskies took a streak of eight straight NCAA tournament wins by 13+ into their Sweet 16 matchup against No. 5 seed San Diego State in a rematch of the 2023 national championship game. They made it nine straight with a 82-52 win over the Aztecs, firing on all cylinders in the second half – something that has become synonymous with this UConn team. 

Cam Spencer led the Huskies with 18 points, followed by Tristen Newton with 17 points. Stephon Castle had 16 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double and Hassan Diarra had 10 points, rounding out the Huskies who scored in double figures. Donovan Clingan and Alex Karaban both had eight points. 

UConn is known for its ball movement to get the best shot possible. Newton and Spencer, particularly, handle the ball with poise and confidence in a way that allowed the Huskies to dominate every tournament game they’ve played.

In the Elite Eight, UConn matched up with No. 3 seed Illinois, which entered the game with almost as much momentum as the Huskies. The Illini had won seven straight before this one. However, playing UConn means there’s a good chance you’ll lose by at least 20 points, which is what happened, with UConn winning 77-52.

This one was close throughout the first half. The score was tied 23-23 with just a few minutes to go in the first half. After that, UConn went on a 30-0 run that spanned the end of the first half and the first seven minutes of the second half. This all but won the game for UConn right then and there, showing how the Huskies can impose their will at any point in the game.

During the run, Clingan was dominant, finishing with a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds. He was truly the driving force for the Huskies with no other player scoring more than 11 points.

This game was a prime example of how one Husky, this time Clingan, can take over a game. That was in contrast to their style of play in the Sweet 16, where UConn used a balanced attack. This shows how coach Dan Hurley’s group can win with ease in multiple ways.

Midwest Region (Detroit)

No. 1 Purdue uses Zach Edey’s historic performances to win Midwest Regional

Zach Edey has been sensational this tournament, scoring over 20 points and 10 rebounds in Purdue’s first two tournament games. The National Player of the Year had two more sensational games to lead his Boilermakers to a regional championship.

Purdue faced No. 5 seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, which some fans tabbed as a possible upset. An upset didn't come to fruition as Purdue used the dominance of Edey to beat the Zags 80-68. This one was close throughout the game, with Purdue maintaining slight control for the majority of the action, but the Boilermakers eventually pulled away.

Edey was again the driving force for Purdue, scoring 27 points with 14 rebounds. In every game in the tournament so far, he has had a double-double. Braden Smith had one as well, scoring 14 points with an incredible 15 assists.

The most impressive stat of all might be Purdue's 24 assists. Coach Matt Painter said that was a focus for his team and a key to avoid an upset.

Purdue then met No. 2 seed Tennessee in the first Elite Eight matchup between a No. 1 seed and a No. 2 seed since 2019. Ironically, Purdue and Tennessee also faced each other in the 2019 NCAA Tournament in an instant classic.

It was extremely close throughout the game, with the Vols and the Boilermakers both making runs during the game and Dalton Knecht and Zach Edey taking the game into their own hands. Knecht, in particular, hit shots at will and ended with a whopping 37 points.

Edey finished with 40 points, a career high in his biggest game so far. Edey also collected 16 rebounds for yet another double-double. Because of Edey’s 40-point performance, many of the other Boilermakers didn't fill up the stat sheet, but they still had complementary games. Fletcher Loyer had 14 points, while Smith had nine and Lance Jones had seven. Jones's late 3-pointer sealed the game.

With Edey showing up like he did in the Elite Eight, it wouldn't be a reach to expect even bigger things from him in Purdue's pursuit of its first-ever national championship. 

South Region (Dallas)

NC State’s Cinderella story continues

Survive and advance. That’s the phrase that became synonymous with NC State’s 1983 national championship team. It's becoming synonymous with this year’s Wolfpack team as well.

After its improbable ACC tournament championship, NC State has continued its winning streak in the NCAA tournament.

NC State led No. 2 seed Marquette for the majority of the game, winning 67-58. 

D.J. Horne scored 19 points and shot 4-of-7 from three. He was followed by Casey Morsell with 15 points and Mohamed Diarra with 11. Star big man D.J. Burns Jr. had just four, which was a disappointing performance, but this showed how NC State is not one-dimensional.

The Wolfpack already faced the Blue Devils twice in March, making this the third matchup between the two programs. Like their game in the ACC tournament, NC State pulled off the upset, winning 76-64.

Burns was sensational in this one, scoring 29 points on 13-for-19 shooting. Horne had 20 points.

Burns was simply special. He has taken the college basketball world by storm and left his opponents in the dust. No one expected this run but this win cemented NC State's run as one of the best of all time because of the improbability of the nine wins in a row.

West Region (Los Angeles)

Alabama uses electric offense to continue its surprise run

Alabama was overlooked all season due to its defense, the 104th-most-efficient to be exact. But that doesn’t matter anymore because the Tide is rolling to the Final Four.

In the Sweet 16, Alabama faced No. 1 seed North Carolina, its toughest test so far of the tournament. It was an extremely close, back-and-forth game with both teams playing high-flying, offensive basketball throughout the game. In the end, though, Grant Nelson made a huge and-one that sealed the game in favor of the Tide 89-87.

Nelson was the star of the show scoring 24 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Aaron Estrada and Rylan Griffen both had 19 points, while Mark Sears had 18.

In the Elite Eight, the Tide faced No. 6 seed Clemson in a matchup that sounds more like a College Football Playoff National Championship. Alabama won 89-82.

This time, it was Mark Sears show. The guard scored 23 points on 7-for-14 shooting from three. Jarin Stevensen scored 19 off the bench, which was a very high number considering his minutes. Nick Pringle had 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Clemson limited Nelson to just eight points. 

Alabama's offense is the reason it has stayed in the tournament and keeps advancing.

This is the first Final Four appearance for Alabama, which may be overdue, considering the recent successes of the program.

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