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2024 Final Four: Evaluating UConn vs. Alabama, Purdue vs. NC State as March Madness reaches last weekend

After two thrilling weekends of NCAA Tournament action, the 2024 Final Four field is set and a field of 68 has been reduced to a mere quartet. Reigning national champion and No. 1 overall seed UConn will square off No. 4 seed Alabama, and No. 1 seed Purdue faces No. 11 seed NC State in the national semifinals. The Boilermakers are making their first appearance in the Final Four since 1980, while the Crimson Tide are appearing in their first Final Four in program history.

Only one gets to cut down the nets in Glendale, Arizona, on April 8.

UConn entered last year’s NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed with a 25-8 record after losing to Marquette in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. The Huskies didn’t win the Big East regular-season title last year, either, but still managed to go on a dominant run of six straight double-digit victories in the Big Dance.

This year’s version of UConn won both the Big East regular-season and tournament titles to add a couple new pieces of hardware to the program’s expanding collection of trophies and banners. Clearly, the Huskies have established themselves as the team to beat in college basketball yet again.

But March Madness is about the upsets and the unexpected, and those things don’t stop after the tournament’s first weekend. The Sweet 16 was rife with chaos as well, and it would be no shock if the Final Four brings more of it. Alabama boasts the nation’s highest-scoring offense and is playing at an elite level after limping into the Big Dance following some late-season struggles.

Purdue lost last season to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament but finds itself two games away from winning its first national championship. NC State is making its first appearance in the Final Four since 1983 and on the heels of nine straight victories dating back to the ACC Tournament. 

Here is the early look at what’s ahead for the Final Four. All times Eastern

(1) Purdue vs. (11) NC State

Date: Saturday, April 6 | Time: 6:09 p.m. 
Location: State Farm Stadium — Glendale, Arizona
TV: TBS | StreamingMarch Madness Live 

About the Boilermakers 

Zach Edey is the heart and soul of this Purdue team. The reigning National Player is arguably the most dominant in the sport and putting up numbers in the NCAA Tournament that haven’t been accomplished in decades. Edey is the only player to average at least 30 points and 15 rebounds entering the Final Four since Elvin Hayes in 1968. Edey recorded 40 points and 16 rebounds against Tennessee in the Elite Eight for his fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. That tied former Navy star David Robinson for the most in the last 50 years. 

The Boilermakers are statistically the top 3-point shooting in the country and have connected on 41% of their attempts behind contributions from Mason Gillis, Fletcher Loyer, Lance Jones, and Edey’s co-star, Braden Smith. Purdue possesses one of the most lethal half-court offenses in the country and uses Edey as the focal point to slow down the game. Purdue is making its first Final Four appearance since 1980. Matt Painter will coach his first game in the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament at his alma mater after going 19 seasons without a Final Four appearance. After losing to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament last spring, the Boilermakers are on the cusp of their first appearance in the title game since 1969.

About the Wolfpack

NC State is the definition of survive and advance. Earlier this month, the Wolfpack entered the ACC Tournament needing to run the table to have a chance at reaching the NCAA Tournament. After winning five games in five days in Washington D.C. to clinch the ACC’s automatic bid, they won four games over the last two weeks to advance to its first Final Four since 1983. NC State is tied for the lowest seed (11) to reach the Final Four since seeding began in 1979; LSU, George Mason, VCU, Loyola Chicago and UCLA previously reached the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

NC State is a veteran-led team that features March Madness darling DJ Burns Jr. The star big man is a force inside that will have the task of slowing down Purdue’s Edey. NC State guards DJ Horne, Casey Morsell, and Michael O’Connell are part of a unit that turns the ball over 13.8% of the time, per KenPom. That ranks 10th-best among all Division l teams. NC State coach Kevin Keatts was on the hot seat not long ago. Now, he has his team two games away from immorality.

(1) UConn vs. (4) Alabama

Date: Saturday, April 6 | Time: 8:49 p.m. 
Location: State Farm Stadium — Glendale, Arizona
TV: TBS | StreamingMarch Madness Live    

About the Huskies

UConn is on a mission to become the first repeat national champion in college basketball since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Despite losing the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player (Adama Sanogo) and a pair of NBA Draft picks (Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson Jr.), the Huskies have actually improved since cutting down the nets in Houston at the conclusion of the 2022-23 season. 

How did they do it? Star point guard Tristen Newton returned and upped his production, as did 7-foot-4 center Donovan Clingan and reliable forward Alex Karaban. Sixth-year coach Dan Hurley added sharpshooter Cam Spencer to the mix as a transfer from Rutgers, and five-star freshman Stephon Castle has also delivered on the hype he generated as a prospect. Veteran returners Hassan Diarra and Samson Johnson are making substantive contributions, and freshmen Solomon Ball and Jaylin Stewart give the Huskies waves of depth.

The Huskies are elite on both sides of the ball with Newton and Spencer serving as dynamic scoring options from the guard positions. Clingan is a force in the paint on both ends and showing why he is regarded as a potential lottery pick in the 2024 NBA Draft. As a shot-blocking presence in the lane, he is the ultimate deterrent to opposing offenses seeking to attack the basket.

About the Crimson Tide

Alabama is led by Mark Sears. The 6-foot-1 senior guard is in his second season with the program after transferring in from Ohio, and he took on a massive role this season following the departure of 2022-23 one-and-done star Brandon Miller. The Crimson Tide were the No. 1 overall seed last season with Miller leading the way but eliminated in the Sweet 16 by San Diego State. This season, Alabama beat No. 13 seed Charleston, No. 12 seed Grand Canyon, No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 6 seed Clemson to reach the sport’s biggest stage. Sears led the way with his outside shooting and was particularly clutch in the second half against Clemson, when he knocked down 6 of 7 tries from beyond the arc.

The Crimson Tide get a significant percentage of their points from 3-point range and are 15-1 this season when making 12 or more 3-pointers. They have reached 100 or more points on 10 occasions while ranking as the highest-scoring team in college basketball. Defensively, Alabama has struggled at times this season and is just 4-7 when allowing 90 or more points. But when this team puts it all together, it can be lethal. Fifth-year coach Nate Oats has established himself as one of the best in the profession since arriving from Buffalo, and his stardom will only increase now that he’s led the Crimson Tide to the sport’s biggest stage.

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