Take a close look at the teams in this year’s Final Four. Did you just do a double-take? If not, you probably should have. Obviously, all four teams earned their way to this point in the season. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t among the oddest collection of teams we’ve ever seen in a Final Four. Again, not that the teams don’t belong, but the four names just don’t look right.
Think about it, if you saw that Gonzaga, South Carolina, Oregon, and North Carolina were playing in the semi-finals of the Maui Invitational at the end of November, you may think to yourself, “oh, that could be interesting.” But let’s be honest, there’s something a bit off about seeing those four teams together in a Final Four. Is it the strangest Final Four in recent memory? Let’s examine.
Obviously, North Carolina is one of the blue-bloods of college basketball, so there’s no problem there. But South Carolina has never been to a Final Four and isn’t even a perennial power in the basketball-light SEC. Gonzaga is undoubtedly one of the best mid-majors of the last 20 years, but it took until Mark Few’s 502nd win at the school for the Bulldogs to reach a Final Four. Finally, there’s Oregon, who hasn’t been to the Final Four since 1939 and isn’t even considered among the elite basketball programs on the West Coast.
“I can’t believe this is happening.”
Frank Martin, South Carolina Head Coach
There have been occasional outliers that have reached the Final Four, but they are almost always balanced out by the presence of perennial powers. Wichita State in 2013 was balanced out by Louisville, Michigan, and Syracuse. George Mason’s magical run in 2006 was balanced out by Florida, UCLA, and LSU. Butler’s surprise appearance in 2010 was coincided by Duke, Michigan State, and West Virginia. Even if there’s one team that looks a little odd being in the Final Four, the other three teams generally have a long basketball tradition.
The best comparison may be 2011 when frequent Final Four attendees Kentucky and Connecticut were joined by Butler and VCU. However, compared to this year, that Final Four had two participants accustomed to playing deep into March. Butler was also much less of an outlier after playing in the title game the year before and coming within one shot of winning a national championship.
Even if you equate Gonzaga’s consistent success in March with Butler’s back-to-back Final Fours, this year’s Final Four still lacks the two blue-blood programs that were present in 2011 and nearly every other Final Four. Oregon and South Carolina, while impressive this season, should not be confused with the two-dozen or so programs that have reached the Final Four at least four times, most of whom continue to be among the best college basketball teams in the country year after year.
“I’ve been there 28 years. My first year on staff we won four Division 1 games. And I mean this wasn’t even possible. And each year we got better and better, and then we got really, really good.”
Mark Few, Gonzaga Head Coach
So, to answer our original question, yes, this is the oddest Final Four ever assembled. No one is saying the likes of Gonzaga, South Carolina, and Oregon don’t belong, because they’ve earned their way to this point fair and square, but the fact that all three have reached the Final Four in the same year is quite the anomaly.
Will this oddity lead to a poor Final Four? Absolutely not. This is still anyone’s tournament to win, and the fact that three of these programs are not accustomed to playing basketball in early April will only add to the intrigue of this year’s compelling, if not unusual, Final Four.