Worst. Final Four. Ever.
If you haven't already, something you're going to hear a lot leading up to this weekend is that the 2023 Final Four is the worst one in the history of the NCAA tournament.
"There's no national appeal to any of these teams," countless self-appointed media experts will say.
"Nobody cares about these programs," talking heads will shout.
"The TV ratings will be abysmal," purported industry analysts will pontificate.
They're not wrong.
UConn is the closest thing to a blue-blood college basketball program in this year's Final Four. The Huskies are more renown for women's basketball, but they still have four national championships and eight Final Four appearances all-time on the men's side. Those four national titles are all since 1999, and it's more than college hoops mainstays Duke (3), North Carolina (3), Kansas (2), and Kentucky (1) have won over that same span.
But UConn's three counterparts in this year's Final Four are each there for the first time.
None of the four programs are heavyweights in terms of college basketball revenue, either. According to College Raptor, UConn leads the pack in that regard, coming in 20th in Division I for the most recent fiscal year. Here's the full breakdown of the four basketball programs' rankings:
- 20. UConn, $14.57 million
- 34. Miami (FL), $12.65 million
- 89. San Diego State, $6.63 million
- 176. Florida Atlantic, $3.59 million
For context, Duke ranks No. 1 at nearly $26 million in college basketball revenue.
None of these teams command attention from major media markets. The Hurricanes come from the biggest one among this year's Final Four field, but Miami-Fort Lauderdale isn't even inside the nation's 15 largest media markets:
- 18. Miami-Fort Lauderdale (Miami)
- 27. San Diego (San Diego State)
- 32. Hartford and New Haven (UConn)
Florida Atlantic is located in Boca Raton, which may technically fall within the Miami-Fort Lauderdale media market, despite Boca Raton being geographically closer to Palm Beach. And UConn is located in Storrs, Connecticut, which is counted among the Hartford and New Haven market even though Storrs is 20 and 45 miles away from those two cities, respectively.
There are myriad other stats that tell the story of this year's uninspiring Final Four field. Here are just a couple.
So yes, those criticizing this year's Final Four for its lack of a big-time program or media market bona fides have a point. But that's not what makes this year's group the worst.
The real reason this year's Final Four is the absolute worst is because it exponentially worsens the what-if and what-might-have-been aftertaste from Michigan State's heartbreaking Sweet 16 loss to Kansas State.
In the immediate aftermath, most of us were sick to our stomachs over the loss because we recognized the Spartans had just blown a Final Four. But it turns out that it was actually far worse than that.
With San Diego State eliminating Alabama, perhaps the sport's most-talented team with the singularly best player, then Miami taking care of Houston, it's evident that Michigan State would have had a serious chance at bringing home the second crystal basketball of the Tom Izzo era.
Then again, we thought similarly in 2019 only for State to reward our expectations and optimism with a hard-to-watch national semifinal loss to Texas Tech, so maybe the way things shook out this year actually were for the best.
Photos: Michigan State Falls To Kansas State In Overtime Of The Sweet 16, 98-93