No. 9 Florida Atlantic beat No. 3 Kansas State 79-76 in the East Regional finals to book one of the craziest and most unexpected Final Four berths in NCAA men’s basketball tournament history.
Making just the program’s second tournament appearance, the Owls now lead Division I with 35 wins and are the first Conference USA team to reach the national semifinals since Memphis in 2008.
Despite the loss, this has been a remarkable season for Kansas State. Picked last in the preseason Big 12 poll, the Wildcats laid the foundation for a long and successful run under first-year coach Jerome Tang.
In the second game Saturday, No. 4 Connecticut embarrassed Gonzaga 82-54 to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2014.
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The Owls and Huskies lead the first round of winners and losers from Saturday’s Elite Eight action:
The hottest team in the tournament has to be seen as the favorite to win it all regardless of which teams win Sunday to round out the Final Four. The 28-point win against Gonzaga marks a new high for the Huskies, who were very good during the regular season but have taken things to a different stratosphere the past two weeks. After dismantling the Bulldogs, Connecticut becomes the seventh team to win all four regional games before the Final Four by 15 or more points. Coincidentally, the last team to do that was Gonzaga in 2021.
Even while struggling from the field, Sanogo continued to spark the Huskies’ with his second double-double of the tournament. The junior forward scored 10 points on 3 of 11 shooting with 10 rebounds and a career-high six assists, taking advantage of Gonzaga’s attention to find teammates Jordan Hawkins (20 points) and Alex Karaban (12 points). Stopping the Huskies entails stopping Sanogo — and the best of luck in that.
Coach Dusty May has pushed back against the Cinderella label, but the slipper fits. FAU has been one of the worst programs in the country since joining Division I in 1993, posting just one season with more than 19 wins and ranking near the bottom of three successive conferences — the Atlantic Sun, Sun Belt and then Conference USA. May has steadily built a winner, however, posting half of the 10 winning seasons in program annals and compiling a deep but very young roster full of overlooked and under-recruited prospects. While the Owls looked the part of a Top 25 team throughout the regular season, this still ranks among the most impressive postseason runs in modern tournament history.
Even in the loss, the Kansas State senior put on a show. With teammate Keyontae Johnson battling foul trouble — the All-America forward scored nine points in 18 minutes before fouling out with just over two minutes left — Nowell took on an even larger role as a scorer, putting up a season-high 21 attempts and finishing with 30 and 12 assists. The former Arkansas-Little Rock transfer averaged 23.5 points and 13.5 assists during these four games and is easily the tournament’s breakout star.
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Every win by the Owls means more money for Conference USA, which is set to earn at least five “units” worth $337,000 each across the next five seasons, or more than $2 million overall. This is a very nice parting gift from Florida Atlantic, which will leave the league this summer for the American Athletic Conference.
This loss won’t overwrite what has been an outstanding debut season for Tang or diminish what seems like an incredibly bright future for the program. But while Kansas State has reached the regional finals three times since 2010 under three different coaches, there is a bitter finality to coming this close to the Final Four but coming up a possession short — leaving Tang and his staff responsible for building off this disappointment as the Wildcats head into next season as an established contender.
Tang knows what it takes to rebound from this moment: With him as an assistant under Baylor coach Scott Drew, the Bears reached the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012 but did reach the Final Four until winning the national championship in 2021.
The Bulldogs were run off the court and into oblivion by the Huskies. What did Gonzaga do well? Try nothing. The Bulldogs shot 33.3% from the field, including just 2 of 20 from deep, and made 12 of 22 free throws. The game went south quickly after the Bulldogs lost forward Drew Timme to foul trouble minutes into the second half; what was then a 12-point lead ballooned to 23 points after a 14-3 Connecticut run. The first national title in program history will again have to wait.
Gonzaga’s longtime coach has won nearly 84% of his games overall but is now 2-3 in Elite Eight games, with no single March moment worse than this shellacking at the hands of the Huskies. With Few in charge, the Bulldogs recruit at a high level, develop NBA talent and memorable college scorers — Timme is just the latest — and play a fast-paced offensive style that can overwhelm the many less-talented teams on a typical regular-season schedule. So what is preventing this program from finally cashing in and winning a championship? If not already, at some point Few will be defined by his inability to get Gonzaga over this last hurdle.