March Madness: The 16 most intriguing potential Final Four combinations


With 16 teams still alive in the NCAA men’s tournament, there are 256 potential Final Four combinations left. Here’s a look at 16 compelling ones, some chosen for basketball reasons and others chosen for reasons scarcely related to basketball at all.

1. Chalk Final Four: UConn, North Carolina, Houston, Purdue

Only once have all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. That was 2008, when Kansas, Memphis, UCLA and North Carolina each made it to San Antonio. This is the best chance for a repeat in quite awhile, but it’s still a long shot. There’s only an 18.3% chance all four 1 seeds make the Elite Eight, according to Ken Pomeroy’s projections.

2. Chaos Final Four: San Diego State, Clemson, NC State, Gonzaga

This doesn’t feel like the year for this type of Final Four. The elite teams are just too good. Gonzaga has improved since a 10-point loss to Purdue in the Maui Invitational, but the Zags don’t pressure the ball or force turnovers enough to put a real scare into the Boilermakers. Clemson has an elite inside-outside duo with PJ Hall and Joe Girard, but going through both Arizona and North Carolina will be tough. San Diego State faces the best team in the field on Thursday. And NC State’s magic has to run out at some point … right?

3. The Brainiac Final Four: Illinois, North Carolina, Duke, Purdue

According to U.S. News and World Report, Duke (7), North Carolina (22), Illinois (35) and Purdue (43) are the highest-rated academic institutions in their regions.

4. The Party School Final Four: Illinois, Alabama, Duke, Tennessee

According to Niche.com, Alabama (4) is the NCAA tournament’s top remaining party school. There’s no shortage of fun to be had at Illinois (9), San Diego State (17), Arizona (40) and Tennessee (60), either. Only the South Region can’t throw a good kegger. Would you believe that Duke (152) is the highest-ranked party school of the remaining four teams?

5. The nobody believed in us Final Four: Iowa State, Clemson, NC State, Purdue

If this Final Four comes to fruition, credit the haters for providing ample motivation. Iowa State did not receive a single vote in the preseason AP Top 25. Clemson was an underdog in its first-round game to an 11 seed. NC State needed five wins in five days just to make the NCAA tournament. And Purdue might need to win back-to-back titles to earn people’s trust in March.

6. The mascot fight to the death Final Four: Iowa State, Clemson, Duke, Tennessee

I spent far too long trying to figure out how a Tiger would fare fighting a Wildcat. And looking up what a Tar Heel and a Boilermaker are.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 23: Dalton Knecht #3 of the Tennessee Volunteers shoots the ball against Chendall Weaver #2 of the Texas Longhorns during the second half in the second round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spectrum Center on March 23, 2024 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 23: Dalton Knecht #3 of the Tennessee Volunteers shoots the ball against Chendall Weaver #2 of the Texas Longhorns during the second half in the second round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spectrum Center on March 23, 2024 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht is expected to be a lottery pick in June’s NBA Draft. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

7. Final Four guaranteed to capture the NBA audience: UConn, Arizona, Duke, Tennessee

There is at least one potential lottery pick on three of these four teams: Donovan Clingan and Stephon Castle (UConn), Kyle Filipowski (Duke) and Dalton Knecht (Tennessee). Arizona also boasts a few guys who have a chance to make NBA rosters and an intriguing longterm prospect in KJ Lewis.

8. Final Four guaranteed to have NBA fans changing the channel: San Diego State, Alabama, NC State, Gonzaga

Players like Jaedon LeDee and Mark Sears are All-American good, but there might not be a projected 2024 first-round pick on the floor if this Final Four materializes.

9. Blue blood Final Four: UConn, North Carolina, Duke, Gonzaga

Three out of four of these programs have combined for 16 national championships. Gonzaga is the outlier who doesn’t belong, but its streak of 25 straight NCAA bids and nine straight Sweet 16s overshadows anything Purdue, Tennessee and Creighton have accomplished in March.

10. New blood Final Four: Iowa State, Alabama, Houston, Tennessee

None of these programs have won a national title. Only Houston and Iowa State have reached a Final Four. Houston has been to the national semifinals six times and the title game twice. Iowa State’s only Final Four appearance came in 1944.

11. Best beer cities Final Four: San Diego State, Arizona, Marquette, Tennessee

Must-visit San Diego brewery: Pure Project
Must visit Tucson brewery: Pueblo Vida
Must visit Milwaukee brewery: Lakefront
Must visit Knoxville brewery: Xul

12. Fastest-paced Final Four: Illinois, Alabama, Marquette, Tennessee

Alabama games should come with a whiplash warning. The Tide look to run at any opportunity. They’ve eclipsed 100 points 10 times this season … and surrendered a staggering 117 points to Kentucky last month.

13. No fast breaks Final Four: UConn, Clemson, Houston, Purdue

A 10-point deficit can feel like 20 against Houston. The Cougars have been near the bottom in college basketball all season in average possession length.

14. Defense wins championships Final Four: Iowa State, North Carolina, Houston, Tennessee

Seven of the nation’s top-10 defensive teams are still alive in the NCAA tournament. Only Rutgers, Auburn and Virginia failed to reach the round of 16 — or in Rutgers’ case even land an NCAA bid at all.

15. Coaches who were ballers in their day Final Four: UConn, North Carolina, Duke, Purdue

Dan Hurley (UConn) may not have received as much attention as his brother, but he played 121 games for Seton Hall. Hubert Davis (UNC) is a former first-round pick who spent a decade-plus in the NBA. Jon Scheyer (Duke) is a former McDonald’s All-American who helped lead Duke to the 2010 national title. And Matt Painter (Purdue) played on three NCAA tournament teams at Purdue and became a full-time starter as a senior.

16. My Final Four: UConn, North Carolina, Houston, Tennessee

All four of my original Final Four teams survived the opening weekend, no great feat in a year in which every No. 1 and No. 2 seed reached the Sweet 16 for just the fifth time since the bracket expanded to 64 teams. The pick I worry the most about is Houston. The Cougars have not been their dominant selves of late, ill-timed injuries and foul trouble contributing to a blowout loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 title game and to a close call against Texas A&M in the round of 32.



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