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Final Four teams, ranked by ability to win it all in men’s March Madness

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - South Regional
Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Let’s rank the teams in the men’s Final Four by who’s most likely to win it all.

The Final Four is set in the 2024 men’s NCAA tournament with some incredible storylines building to a perfect crescendo.

The UConn Huskies are rampaging through the field while seeking to become the first back-to-back national champion in the men’s game since Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators in 2006-2007. The Purdue Boilermakers fully avenged their historic first round loss to a No. 16 seed from a year ago, and now want the storybook ending that Virginia once got a year after suffering the same embarrassment. NC State is on a Hollywood run of its own, riding an unlikely ACC tournament championship just to make the field as a No. 11 seed, and then keeping the magic going all the way into the Final Four. Alabama has no need for narrative non-sense when it has the power of math on its side, ready to out pace-and-space any challenger in its way.

Let’s rank the teams in the Final Four by who is most likely to win it all.

4. NC State Wolfpack

All Virginia needed to do was hit one free throw, and NC State’s season would have been over in the ACC tournament semifinals. Instead, UVA missed, Wolfpack guard Michael O’Connell hit a buzzer-beater for the ages, and one of the most unlikely Final Four runs in history was born. It took five wins in five days just to get NC State into March Madness. They’ve won four more games on their way to the Final Four, none more convincing than their Elite Eight win over in-state rival Duke. NC State was humming like a well-oiled machine to close out the win, with 55 points in the second half created off the type of selfless ball movement that has inspired this run from the very beginning.

D.J. Burns is a March Madness star for the ages, a throwback hefty lefty with soft touch around the rim and tremendous passing vision when the double team comes. D.J. Horne has been the slippery guard pacing the offense in the backcourt, hitting pull-up jumpers and slicing his way to the rim. With O’Connell as the team’s designated floor spacer, the rest of the roster plays aggressive defense and gives up nothing easy inside. The run this team is on is already made for Hollywood, and with two more unlikely wins, it will go down as one of the greatest college sports stories ever told. — ROD

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - West Regional Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

3. Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama head coach Nate Oats plays to the math, and the Crimson Tide’s arrival to the Final Four is his ultimate proof of concept. Oates has revitalized the program by spamming three-point attempts while playing with a breakneck pace, and it came together for a glorious offensive onslaught in the final minutes of the Elite Eight win over Clemson. The Tide finished 16-of-32 from three-point range and dropped 54 second half points to overwhelm Clemson and punch the program’s first ever Final Four ticket. All they have to do now is defeat a burgeoning juggernaut in the UConn Huskies who appear destined for back-to-back national titles.

Alabama has a legitimate superstar at guard in Mark Sears, a Second-Team All-American who raised his game to impossible heights in this tournament. He ripped 7-of-14 shots from behind the three-point line in the win over Clemson. With three or four other shooters next to Sears at all times, Alabama’s offense can usually produce a good shot. Sophomore forward Jarin Stevenson knocked down five threes in the Elite Eight off the bench, while Rylan Griffen and Aaron Estrada have provided key shot-making all year. Alabama’s best chance against UConn is another outlier shooting game, but the fact that they can generate those shots so easily at least gives them a chance. The UConn bigs better be ready to run, because Bama never takes its foot off the gas. — ROD

2. Purdue Boilermakers

Purdue’s season was in real jeopardy of slipping away when Santiago Vescovi grabbed an offensive rebound and found Dalton Knecht for a wide open corner three. Knecht’s shot gave Tennessee an 11-point lead with about five minutes left in the first half of the Elite Eight, and marked the first time Purdue had really been tested on its dominant tournament run. That’s when Purdue ripped off a 15-2 run to take the lead going into halftime before eventually wrestling away a win the program wanted and frankly needed so badly.

Purdue needed this to absolve itself of being the second ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in last year’s tournament. Purdue needed this because its consistent excellence under Matt Painter had yet to yield a Final Four trip. It needed this because Zach Edey is an all-time great college player, and this is his last dance. Naturally, it was Edey who carried the Boilermakers all night, scoring 40 points, grabbing 16 rebounds, making the game-winning block on Knecht, and playing all but 33 seconds of the game. We are witnessing a college basketball apex predator at his absolute peak, and it’s thrilling to watch. With an improved supporting cast around him, the Boilermakers’ entrance to the Final Four is nothing like a fluke. They’re not done yet. — ROD

Illinois v Connecticut Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

1. Connecticut Huskies

At this point, it might take something special to deny Connecticut a second-straight title.

It might take perfection.

Over the past two weekends four teams have given the Huskies their best shot, and four teams saw themselves lose by double digits. The latest? Illinois on Saturday night. The Illini hung tough for the first 18 minutes or so, and when Marcus Domask hit a jumper with under two minutes to go in the first half it pulled Illinois even at 23-23.

Connecticut scored the next 30 points to turn a close game, into yet another rout.

The Huskies can just beat you so many different ways. Their guard play has been stellar all tournament long, but on Saturday what truly stood out was their effort on the defensive end. Freshman Stephon Castle was given the main task of shadowing Terrence Shannon Jr., who entered averaging 23.5 points per game, including 28.3 points in the Illini’s first three NCAA tournament games.

Shannon scored just eight on Saturday night.

Then there is the big man down low, Donovan Clingan, who set a career-high with six blocks in a single game earlier in the tournament. He nearly matched that on Saturday, with five blocks to go with a number of plays down low where he forced awkward shots and generally disrupted the Illini offense. “He was Bill Walton-esque with his effect on the game tonight,” said head coach Bob Hurley after the win.

Standing in their way of another title game? Alabama. It will take something special for the Crimson Tide to deny the Huskies a spot in the title game.

Perhaps something perfect. — MS

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