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Latino Stars Headline Two of the Most Improbable Final Four Runs in NCAA Tournament History

NCAA Mens Basketball Final Four - Image Credit: NCAA

NEW YORK– There’s a reason they call it March Madness. After a wild 2022 NCAA Tournament that ended with an epic showdown of the blue bloods in the Final Four (Duke, UNC, Villanova, and Kansas), this year’s tournament couldn’t have been any different. For the first time ever since seeding began all the way back in 1979, March Madness did not see a single number one seed advance to the Elite Eight, including Alabama and Houston, both of whom were two of the top teams picked to win it all going into the tournament.

This year, too, sees a set of teams in the Final Four completely unfamiliar to it all, with only one blue-blood in UConn having ever even made the tournament. Alongside the Huskies are the fifth-seeded Miami Hurricanes, five-seed San Diego State Aztecs, and nine-seed Florida Atlantic Owls, who made one of the most improbable runs to the Final Four in just their second March Madness appearance ever as a Division-1 program. While all four of these squads have made remarkable runs, the Hurricanes’ and Owls’ paths were ones almost no one could have predicted; but the help of two Latino stars are what have kept them alive going into the final weekend.

Going into the tournament, if there was any nine-seed that people thought would be able to make it this far, it was the FAU Owls. Lead by a pair of star sophomore guards in Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin, both of whom are averaging over 13 points per game this season, FAU ran through their regular season schedule, flexing their muscle in the form of a high-octane offense in nearly every game on their way to a 28-3 record, before making quick work of their opponents and winning the C-USA (Conference USA) Tournament Championship over the UAB Blazers.

Going into the tournament, I wrote that Giancarlo Rosado would be an x-factor for this team, and he proved me right. Rosado’s 15-point performance was just enough to get them over the hump as they defeated eight-seeded Memphis in a thrilling finish, as guard Nicholas Boyd scored a layup in the final seconds to give the Owls a 66-65 win, marking the program’s first ever tournament victory. 

Alijah Martin – Image Credit: NCAA

Two days later, FAU was faced with another tough opponent in 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson, who were fresh off of a thrilling victory over one-seed Purdue, the second 16-1 upset in tournament history, and were primed for another victory. However, FAU fought their way to a 78-70 victory, shrugging off head coach Tobin Anderson and the Knights. 

As the Owls moved onto the second weekend, many began to keep an eye on them, but once again, they faced a tough opponent coming off of a thrilling win, this time in the form of the four-seeded Tennessee Volunteers. The first half proved tough for FAU, but they led to a 62-55 win in large part to a huge 18-2 run midway through the second half that provided them with a 10-point lead with just under seven minutes to go in the game.

Florida Atlantic continued their magnificent run all the way to the Elite Eight, where they faced superstar guard and fan-favorite Marquis Nowell and the Kansas State Wildcats in Madison Square Garden. The Wildcats had quickly become America’s team during the course of the tournament, with flashy play after flashy play from 5 ‘8” Nowell, and a thrilling overtime win over the seven-seed Michigan State Spartans to clinch their own spot in the Elite Eight. From tipoff, the game was back and forth, both teams scoring at an impressive rate and clearly putting everything out on the floor. 

Despite a concerning 22 total turnovers, and a 30-piece from Nowell, FAU gained a major edge by absolutely dominating the glass, and out rebounding KSU 44-22, including three big ones from Rosado. Their size showed all game long, and allowed them to outlast the high-flying ‘Cats in a 79-76 win.

As far as statistics go, Giancarlo Rosado of course made his biggest mark in their first round matchup. But the big man has been their rock down low all tournament long, alongside massive seven-footer Vladislav Goldin. Rosado has consistently been one of the first guys off of the bench this tournament, and has shot a whopping 73% from the field thus far, and defensively has 4 blocked shots in as many games. Though he’s been quiet in their last couple of games, Rosado has shown that he has the ability to provide for his team at a moment’s notice, whether it be on the offensive or defensive end. 

Giancarlo Rosado – Image credit: NCAA

On the opposite side of the bracket sit the Miami Hurricanes, who have been on everyone’s radar all season long, and especially so after winning the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) Regular Season Championship. Despite losing to Duke in the ACC Tournament, the Canes were still primed for a solid showing.

But the season was looking like it might come to a close as early as UM’s first tournament game, where they faced the 12-seeded Drake Bulldogs, a team many were saying were a great Cinderella pick. With just 5:40 to go in the second half, Drake was even leading Miami 55-47. But the Hurricanes stormed back to take the lead with just a couple minutes left, and barely held on for a 63-56 win. After a first round scare, the Hurricanes seemed to wake up. 

They made quick work of Naismith Award candidate Trayce Jackson-Davis and the Indiana Hoosiers on their way to an 85-69 win, and continued their success with a huge upset victory over the one-seed Houston Cougars, a game in which they were lead by 26 points from guard Nijel Pack and won 89-75. 

Nijel Pack – Image Credit: NCAA

The Hurricanes then faced their toughest matchup yet: an Elite Eight showdown against two-seeded Texas. Going into the star-studded matchup, star guard Marcus Carr and the Longhorns had been dominating in the tournament. They had solid showings in their first two matchups versus Colgate and Penn State, before a beatdown of three seed Xavier. 30 minutes into the game, things weren’t looking much different: the Longhorns were up double digits against Miami, and seemed to be rolling. 

However, the Hurricanes stormed back during a 12-2 run to tie the game at 72 with 5:26 to go, and didn’t stop there, eventually pulling out an unlikely 88-81 win, in large part to a huge performance from Jordan Miller. The 23-year-old Miller provided 27 points and three boards on perfect shooting. 

Norchad Omier’s impact for this team has been unmatched. Going into the tournament, however, many speculated he wouldn’t even be able to play, especially after suffering a scary ankle injury versus Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinal game just a week prior. But Omier returned stronger than ever, and has been huge for the Canes, scoring 10.5 points per game in their four games on 46.7% shooting. But his biggest role has come on the boards, where Omier has been nothing short of a beast: he has had double-digit rebounds in three of four games, and is averaging a whopping 13.3 rebounds per game. 

Norchad Omier – Image Credit: NCAA

As Miami enters yet another extremely difficult Final Four game against UConn, Omier’s size down low could turn out to be one of the deciding factors between the end of the road or a first national championship for the program.

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