Final Four field is totally nutty, but UConn’s fifth men’s title won’t be a strange outcome at all

As the Huskies’ Jordan Hawkins put it after blowing out Gonzaga in the Elite Eight, “UConn is back.”

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UConn, powered by big man Adama Sanogo, is the favorite entering the Final Four.

UConn, powered by big man Adama Sanogo, is the favorite entering the Final Four.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images


Your old pal told you UConn was going to the Final Four.

OK, fine, so it’s the only good thing about my NCAA Tournament bracket posted after Selection Sunday.

Oh, please, like your bracket was any better.

What an outlier this men’s tournament has been, the only one ever without a No. 1 seed in the Elite Eight and the first one since 2011 — and just the third since 1980 — without a 1 in the Final Four. No matter how Saturday’s semifinals shake out at NRG Stadium in Houston, next Monday we’ll get the first championship game without a top seed since 2014.

With 4 seed UConn, 5 seed Miami, 5 seed San Diego State and 9 seed Florida Atlantic, it’s the second-highest seed total — 23, math whizzes — in the history of the Final Four. In 2011, when third-seeded UConn beat eighth-seeded Butler for the title, the total was 26.

Prediction: It’s going to be the Huskies winning it all again for the fifth time, two more than anybody else since their first breakthrough in 1999.

This time, you can print it.

Come on, you know what I mean.

But this tournament really is way out there. Look at it this way: A 1 seed has won 17 of the last 23 tournaments and 24 in all since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. How many 4s have cut down the nets? Just one, Arizona in 1997. How many 5s? Zero. And 9s? Zero again.

By the way, 2011 also was the last time a non-power-league school not named Gonzaga made it to the title game. It’s a guarantee this time, SDSU or FAU.

But UConn is the best team standing, and it’s not even close.

After his sixth three-pointer in an 82-54 blowout of Gonzaga in the Elite Eight, the Huskies’ Jordan Hawkins popped the front of his jersey.

“I just had to flex ‘UConn,’ ” he said. “UConn is back.”

Splash — nailed another one.


Jim Nantz working a first-round tournament game this March.

Jim Nantz working a first-round tournament game this March.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

“Hello, friends.”

We’ll hear CBS play-by-play icon Jim Nantz’s signature greeting three more times before his decades-long run calling the men’s tournament ends with this Final Four, his 32nd.

Nantz, 63, will continue with the Masters golf tournament, whose telecasts he has anchored since 1989, and the NFL, whose games he has announced on CBS since 2004. The University of Houston alum no doubt would have loved to have the Cougars still playing in their backyard, though he did get to work all three of their tournament games — among his 350-plus called all-time — this March. As a student, he was the PA announcer at Cougars games and hosted then-coach Guy Lewis’ weekly TV show.

He’ll be replaced in the Big Dance big chair by Ian Eagle, who is terrific.

So long, friend. …

The Big Ten hasn’t had a men’s team win it all since Michigan State in 2000 and sent only one team — the Spartans — as far as this year’s Sweet 16. The women’s drought goes back even further, to Purdue in 1999.

So why does the women’s side seem so much more robust? Because it is. Three teams — No. 2 seeds Iowa and Maryland and No. 3 seed Ohio State — made the Elite Eight and Iowa moved on from there. The league, which also produced a No. 1 seed in Indiana, is stronger than ever. …

Viewership of the women’s tournament is up dramatically — by a head-turning 30% in the second round over last year, according to ESPN. The sport is so much more compelling than it was when every postseason felt like UConn vs. the field. …

It’s hard to believe anyone would pony up $80 for an infield box seat to Tuesday’s Cubs-White Sox game at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona, considering it’s the final day of spring training and most of the regulars from both teams will be long gone to Opening Day locales. Does the gouging ever end? Either the top players should be there — even if only for a few innings before skedaddling – or tickets should be heavily discounted. …

Dylan Cease checks in at No. 43 in ESPN’s player rankings.

Dylan Cease checks in at No. 43 in ESPN’s player rankings.

Dylan Buell/Getty Images

ESPN’s brand-new list of the top 100 major league players includes Carlos Rodon, Yu Darvish, Kyle Schwarber, Jose Abreu and Willson Contreras. Anybody heard of those guys?

Fixe Sox — Dylan Cease (43), Tim Anderson (61), Luis Robert (92), Lucas Giolito (97) and Eloy Jimenez (100) — made the list. The only Cub is newcomer Dansby Swanson (54). …

Happy trails to Illinois media relations director Kent Brown, who’s closing in on retirement after 32 years at the school. Through good seasons and bad, always a friendly face. 


NCAA women’s regional finals (6 p.m. Monday, ESPN): Monstrously good South Carolina — 35-0 — takes on Maryland before fellow No. 1 seed Virginia Tech meets Ohio State. Can the Big Ten upset the apple cart?

White Sox at Cubs (2:05 p.m. Tuesday, Marquee): Sit back and really enjoy the spring finale. After all, it’s the last time all year you won’t get aggravated if your team loses.

Lakers at Bulls (7 p.m. Wednesday, NBCSCH): The seemingly play-in-bound Bulls don’t get to be tired after their West Coast swing. Besides, wouldn’t beating the desperate Lakers twice in four days be mighty nice?


From Jim, via Twitter: “No mention at all of Sister Jean in your Saturday story about Loyola’s 2018 Final Four team?”

The words “America’s nun” were right there in the second paragraph, though it was the only mention. How to put this delicately? That wonderful lady has gotten plenty of love from the media. I suspect she would agree it was A-OK that the story focused on the members of the squad who made all that magic happen.


Swanson: He finally hit his first spring homer Sunday, bringing his batting average all the way up to — ahem — .100. Baby steps?

Baker Mayfield: The quarterback just signed with the Buccaneers, his fourth team in a little over eight months. Does the NFL have a transfer portal we don’t know about?

Memphis’ Jamirah Shutes: After her team’s loss in the WNIT Sweet 16, she punched a Bowling Green player in the face in the handshake line. Other than that, her sportsmanship was exemplary.

Gonzaga: It’s one thing to fall short with a Final Four berth on the line. It’s another thing to not even bother to show up.

College refs: They let heavy contact go for nearly 40 minutes, then whistle Creighton for a nothingburger with 1.2 seconds left to give San Diego State the game? Madness, indeed.

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