O’Donnell: History says UConn won’t make Final Four

THE GOOD NEWS IS that the carnage of 2023 NCAA men's bracketology is as far in the distance as last season's White Sox season opener.

The better news is that if hoop-a-thon history remains any accurate predictor of future happenings, March Madness should show a marked return to normalcy in the next three weeks.

That freshened normalcy, however, will be tempered by one major bracket buster based on recent past performances: Danny Hurley and UConn will not return to the Final Four.

The big gulp comes courtesy of the fact that in the last eight NCAA tourneys (2015-19 and 2021-23), of the 32 teams that have made a Final Four, only North Carolina (2016-17) has strung together consecutive appearances.

WHERE THE TOP-SEEDED HUSKIES (East — No. 1) will get waylaid remains to be seen. But Dame History indicates it has a 96.9% chance of happening.

Joining Tristen Newton and Co. in the throw-out bin are San Diego State (East — No. 5) and Florida Atlantic (East — No. 8). Jim Larranaga and Miami (Fla.) — the fourth Final Four team last spring — are already gone. After opening the season 11-2, the Hurricanes staggered home 15-17.

The total seed numbers of the 2023 Final Four — UConn (4), San Diego State (5), Miami (5) and Florida Atlantic (9) — was 23. That's only the fifth time since seeding began in 1979 that a Final Four total has been equal to or higher than 20.

The others: 1980 (21), 2000 (22), 2006 (20) and 2011 (a record 26).

EVERY TIME THAT HIGH FLY 20 has been in play, the following year's total of men's Final Four seeds has been 9 or less. That scroll is topped by champions Louisville (a 2 seed in 1981), Duke (a 1 in 2001), Billy Donovan and Florida (a 1 in 2007) and Kentucky (a 1 in 2012).

So, March Madness '24 teases Chalk City.

Even though Kelvin Sampson of Houston and Purdue's Matt Painter gag more often at this time of year than a spring-break novice in Florida trying to chug a bottle of Malort.

But it all still beats any thought of training camp with Pedro Grifol and the tin-cupping Fail Hose.

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THE QUICK EXIT OF JUSTIN FIELDS from All Things Bears couldn't have been tucked into a much weaker media-response slot.

The Bears made the announcement of the Fields trade to Pittsburgh Saturday night. College basketball conference tournaments and anticipation of Selection Sunday were dominating the American sports marquee.

Apparently Ryan Poles and minions had given up hope of a sudden tornado leveling a suburban downtown or two to bump their transaction even deeper into the recesses of the 24/7 news cycle.

ANALYSTS PORING over Fields' numbers with the Bears miss a critical part of the young man's impossible years at Halas Hall.

He came into town an unquestioned winner. He maintained dignity, grace and professionalism throughout. He tried to meld his impressive skill set into the back-to-back dog-yap offenses of Matt Nagy and Luke Getsy.

His most laudatory moment may have been his most organic. That came last September when he finally told all that he was being overcoached. Even then, he did it in such low-key manner that he seemed like an American POW at the old Hanoi Hilton blinking in Morse Code cadence to get a clandestine message out.

FIELDS NOW GOES TO THE STEELERS, where head coach Mike Tomlin was seriously eyeballing him before the 2021 NFL Draft. He will feel love from the sideline, the front office and the fans up on Squirrel Hill.

In Pittsburgh, he'll likely also get the delayed developmental QB season he was denied in Chicago. In the same quarterback room with Russell Wilson, he'll be striving alongside one of the great player intellects in the game. (Wilson, as deeper students know, succeeded Scott Tolzien — Fremd High '06 — as starting QB at Wisconsin in 2011.)

The importance of that visioned apprentice season can't be overstated enough. Tom Brady had it all those years ago in New England (2000), initially fourth on the Patriots' depth chart. Patrick Mahomes greatly benefited from a rookie season with the Chiefs understudying Alex Smith (2017).

Bob Dylan once sang, “Dignity has never been photographed.”

The public persona of Justin Fields during his three interminable years with the Bears came close.

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CALEB WILLIAMS WILL BE on full display at USC's Pro Day today. NFL+ airs live beginning at 12:30 p.m. with the NFL Network offering more coverage starting at 7 p.m. Rhett Lewis and Steve Wyche host.

Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears each week on Sunday and Wednesday. Reach him at All communications may be considered for publication.

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