2024 men’s Final Four features a quartet of sensational storylines

With UConn favored to beat Alabama by 11.5 and Purdue a 9-point favorite over NC State, the 2024 men’s Final Four is dangerously close to being the first in the history of the tournament to feature double-digit spreads in both of its semifinal games.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to believe that this Final Four will ultimately prove to have the goods. The storylines surrounding each of the four teams left standing are simply too good.

Let’s walk through each one.


There are two primary storylines with this Purdue team.

The first is that the Boilermakers might hold the dubious title of best program in college basketball history to have never won a national championship. They are two wins away from taking themselves out of that conversation forever.

The second, and I think more interesting storyline, is that Purdue is two wins away from mimicking the 2019 Virginia Cavaliers and creating one of the most odd March Madness “trends” in history.

Virginia and Purdue are, of course, the only two teams in the history of the NCAA tournament to earn No. 1 seeds and lose in the first round to 16-seeds. UVA bounced back from being on the wrong side of history in the most extreme of fashions: Going on a thrilling run a year later to capture the program’s first national title.

Like Virginia, Purdue was able to bring back the bulk of its production from the year before despite the March Madness heartbreak and embarrassment.

Like Virginia, Purdue rebounded from its first round shame to win a conference regular season championship.

Like Virginia, Purdue was eliminated in the semifinals of its conference tournament, a year after winning said tournament.

Like Virginie, Purdue earned a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday for a second straight year.

Virginia’s total number of wins when it went to the Final Four? 33.

Purdue’s total number of wins as it heads to the Final Four? 33.

The only stark contrast here is that while Virginia was pushed to the brink in both its Sweet 16 and Elite Eight wins, Purdue’s only real test so far came in its regional final contest against Tennessee, and even that was a game the Boilermakers controlled for the final few minutes.

If Purdue is able to topple NC State and whoever comes next two nights later, the next coach of a team that falls in a 1/16 matchup will have a hell of a pitch to get guys to return for the next season.


UConn isn’t just in pursuit of becoming men’s college basketball’s first repeat national champion since Florida went back-to-back in 2006-07, the Huskies are looking to do so in an even more dominant fashion than their historic run a year ago.

Only three teams in the history of March Madness have been more dominant through the tournament’s first four rounds than UConn has been this year.

The Huskies are also just the third team in tournament history to win both of their two games immediately before the Final Four by 25 points or more.

While the similarities between 2019 Virginia and 2024 Purdue are immense, the same parallels between this UConn group and the Florida team that cut down the net in consecutive years aren’t really there.

What Billy Donovan had going for him at Florida 17 years ago is a near impossibility in today’s college game. His top five scorers from the 2006 national title team — Joakim Noah, Taurean Green, Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Lee Humphrey, Chris Richard and Walter Hodge — all decided to run it back for another year in Gainesville.

Hurley was fortunate enough to return three key contributors from his national title squad, but his two leading scorers — Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins — are both currently playing in the NBA. Without a key transfer addition in Cam Spencer and a freshman in Stephon Castle who has played beyond his years, a repeat likely wouldn’t be on the table.

While their toughest tournament games still likely lie in front of them, what UConn has done already in the Big Dance has bucked recent history.

Four reigning national champions teams since 2011 have earned No. 1 seeds the year immediately following their title — Duke in 2011, Villanova in 2017, Baylor in 2022 and Kansas last season. Only one of them even made it out of the tournament’s opening weekend. In fact, UConn is the first reigning national champion to advance to a regional final since … Florida went back-to-back in 2007.

None of this feels like a fluke. UConn has been a step better than the rest of the country since the season tipped off in November. They aren’t perfect, but their combination of depth, experience, next-level talent and coaching in Hurley leaves them with less boxes unchecked than any team in the country.

The only thing left for them to do is to make history … maybe more than one kind … over the next four days in Glendale.


Debate over the “lack of star power in college basketball” is not a new thing. First it was the ‘90s trend of players leaving early for the NBA in higher numbers, then it was the “one-and-done” rule, and now it’s the transfer portal and NIL.

The reality is that coaches have been the stars of this sport for decades now. Because of the limited shelf life for even the rare college hoops talent who stays in one place for three or four years, the coaches at the best programs are the ones who typically become the sport’s primary protagonists and biggest brands.

After years of anticipating it, we have finally arrived at the “next wave” of great college basketball coaches moment.

The last couple of years have seen Hall of Famers Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim and, perhaps most surprisingly, Jay Wright all walk away from the game. The legends that remain are all starting to show signs of decline. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is still good for a win or two in March, but each of his last four Spartan teams have lost at least 13 games. John Calipari has won just a single NCAA tournament game at Kentucky since 2019, a fact that has Big Blue Nation wondering if it’s possible to sever Coach Cal’s “lifetime contract” in Lexington. Since winning the 2019 national championship, Tony Bennett and Virginia haven’t won a single game in the NCAA tournament.

So who’s up next?

Well, Bill Self is still doing his thing at Kansas, so there’s him. Two wins away from back-to-back national titles, Danny Hurley at UConn seems to be leading the charge of the next wave. Matt Painter is 53, and in the Final Four for the first time, perhaps the dam-breaking moment that allows him to emerge as one of the sport’s leading men for the next 10-15 years. Jon Scheyer is just 36 and took Duke to the Elite Eight in year two.

And then there’s Nate Oats.

Oats is 49, outspoken and a forward-thinker who plays the most modern style of offenses and who hired a third party analytics company and brought them on the road to give insight as the team advanced through the tournament.

Oats won tournament games in back-to-back years at Buffalo, took Alabama to the Sweet 16 in his second year there, and had the Tide positioned as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed last season. The one box he had yet to check was advancing to the sport’s biggest stage.

It’s checked now, and Oats — who got a nice little bump from ‘Bama with the contract extension he signed last month — is now firmly entrenched as one of the coaches who will lead college basketball into this next era.

Two more wins would plant those feet even deeper.

NC State

NC State is back in the Final Four since 1983 and looking to pull off the most improbable run to a national championship since, well, NC State in 1983.

Realistically, this one would actually displace Valvano’s Wolfpack team — and every other national champion in the sport’s history — for the title of ultimate bizarro champion.

Most everyone has heard the story by now.

On March 12, NC State was one loss to Louisville away from one of the most disappointing seasons in recent history, and from potentially firing head coach Kevin Keatts. The Wolfpack came back to knock off the Cardinals on the first day of the ACC tournament in a game that was mostly ignored by the sports world, and which seemed to be almost immediately forgotten by those who had been paying attention.

State hammered Syracuse the next day, then they stunned Duke the day after that, took down Virginia in the semifinals thanks to a wild game-tying shot at the end regulation, and then topped the ACC’s final boss, North Carolina, to claim their first league tournament title since 1987 and punch their ticket to the big dance.

The unbelievable run made the Wolfpack just the second team in college basketball history to claim their conference tournament title by winning game five games in five days. Their company? The 2010-11 Connecticut Huskies, who used the momentum from their insane Big East tournament championship run to vault into six more wins and a national championship.

The Pack, a team that had already lost 14 games before the start of the ACC tournament and which would have been hard-pressed to garner an invite to the NIT, let alone the NCAA tournament, if they’d been bounced at any point in D.C., was a good story, but not that good.

Or so we assumed.

Since that ACC tournament opener on March 12, NC State has looked like — and this phrase gets tossed around a lot this time of the year but it’s rarely been more applicable than it is in this spot — a completely different team. The squad that entered the postseason riding a four-game losing streak has now beaten Texas Tech (by 13), Cinderella Oakland, second-seeded Marquette (by 9), and then hated Duke (by 12) to become just the sixth 11-seed ever to make a Final Four. Their 14 losses are the most of any team ever to play in a national semifinal.

None of the other 11-seeds to make it this far were able to win another game. At this point it’d be foolish to assume that D.J. Burns and company can’t demolish that trend as well.

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