With no top-three seeds still alive, just one program that has ever made it this far in the tournament (UConn) and a pair of mid-major Cinderellas, this men’s Final Four field is arguably the most surprising ever. Who has powered these four teams to their historic runs? Here’s a look at each team’s unsung heroes, the names you’ll want to know when you tune in Saturday night.
Jordan Miller, Miami
Jim Larrañaga has repeatedly emphasized throughout this season how underrated he feels Miller is among the sport’s best players, and the fifth-year star for the Canes has proved why he deserves more love during this Final Four run. The slashing forward has been the x-factor for Miami in its upset-filled path to Houston, averaging more than 16 points per game on 62% shooting. That strong showing was capped by one of the most impressive statistical performances of the tournament, a 27-point outburst against Texas on 7-of-7 shooting and 13-of-13 from the free throw line.
Miller is, in many ways, the linchpin of Miami’s team because of how effectively he allows the Hurricanes to play small. At 6'7", he’s big enough to guard more traditional power forwards but nimble enough to cover guards and physical enough to help out on the boards. And since very few teams have four high-level perimeter defenders, Miller’s ability to make plays with the ball in his hands forces defenses to make tough choices and often lets one of Miami’s three dynamic guards get a favorable matchup. For Miami to knock off UConn, the Hurricanes will need Miller to exploit mismatches against the Huskies’ defense and help them hang in on the glass against one of the sport’s best offensive rebounding teams.
Andre Jackson Jr., UConn
The only player in the tournament averaging at least seven points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game, Jackson has an unmatched ability to impact the game without scoring. In some ways, he is college basketball’s Draymond Green, an incredible defensive player and passer who has to be used creatively because of his struggles as a shooter. But since UConn has figured out the best ways for him to be effective, the Huskies have taken off, winners of 13 out of 15 games since Feb. 1 and by far the most dominant team in this tournament to date.
When Jackson is at his best, he’s one of the sport's most exciting players to watch. An elite athlete, he is known for his thunderous dunks—and the combination of his high-level hops and passing skill makes him a terror for opposing defenses in transition. Twenty-seven of his 31 assists this tournament have produced dunks or threes, demonstrating just how good the shots he’s producing for the Huskies are. Plus, he’s UConn’s best on-ball defender and is effective at guarding everything from small scoring guards to physical wings and forwards.
Darrion Trammell, San Diego State
After scoring in double figures in just three of his final 11 games leading into the NCAA tournament, Trammell has broken out on the sport’s biggest stage. After a quiet opener against Charleston, the 5'10" guard averaged better than 15 points per game in his next three contests. That included the game-winning free throw in the Elite Eight against Creighton that sent the Aztecs to their first Final Four.
It’s no secret San Diego State is offensively challenged. The Aztecs rank No. 74 nationally in offensive efficiency per KenPom, while the other three teams still standing all rank in the top 25. SDSU is mostly able to overcome that with elite defense, but it wouldn’t still be in this tournament without critical contributions from the likes of Trammell, one of the few Aztecs capable of creating his own shot. His shot-making helped SDSU upset top overall seed Alabama in the Sweet 16, scoring a game-high 21 points in what was his first 20-plus-point game since New Year’s Eve. Final Four foe FAU’s strength is in its backcourt, so SDSU will need a big-time performance from its point guard if it wants to move 40 minutes closer to a national title.
Michael Forrest, Florida Atlantic
Want an illustration of the culture Dusty May has established at FAU? Forrest, a fifth-year senior and the second all-time leading scorer in program history, has come off the bench for the Owls this season. But when called upon, Forrest has made an impact on his team’s historic 35–3 campaign. In FAU’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, Forrest went 4-of-4 from the free throw line in the game’s final 18 seconds to help the Owls pull off the upset and clinch a spot in the Final Four.
What makes FAU so dangerous is how many weapons it has in the backcourt. Alijah Martin and Johnell Davis are athletic and can create their own shots. Bryan Greenlee is a clutch three-point shooter and savvy defender. Forrest is a capable shooter and leader. Seven Owls have scored 10 points or more in a tournament game, showcasing rare levels of depth for any team in college basketball, let alone a mid-major. It’s hard to know which Owl will be the star on any given night, but May knows he can count on his senior leader, Forrest, in crunch time.