60 games have been played, and 60 teams have been eliminated from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. We’re left with the Final Four: the best teams in college hoops, set to face off on Saturday.
But before we dive (like Dennis Rodman after a looseball) into the national semifinal games, it’s a perfect time to look back on the tournament so far. The 2023 NCAA Tournament has provided so many “shining moments” even before the final weekend commences.
We’ve seen upsets, record-setting individual performances, and No. 1 seeds brushed aside like a fly at a picnic. Perhaps the tagline for the 2023 tourney should be “March Madness: Madder Than Ever.”
The average seed of the Final Four teams is 5.7, and no school seeded as high as No. 3 made it. This is the first time in tournament history that’s ever happened.
Of the Final Four teams, only one is a blueblood, big-name program: Connecticut. Both Florida Atlantic and San Diego State hail from small conferences with basically regional appeal. No SEC, team, no Big 10 or Big 12 team, and no Big East team made it into the Final Four.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has offered the opinion that seeds don’t matter at all in the current college hoops landscape. By the time March rolls around, there are teams all over the map who have the experience and talent to make a deep run in the tournament.
Still, higher seeds went 25-7 in the first round, and for all the hype on upsets, only three seeds as high as 10 won in the first round. However, we had one No. 9 (Florida Atlantic) that made it to the Final Four.
For a second time in five tournaments, a No. 16 beat a No. 1: this time it was Purdue taking it on the chin from upstart Farleigh Dickinson, 63-58 in Columbus in the Opening Round. It had previously happened in 2018 when University of Maryland, Baltimore County knocked off Virginia.
“If we played them 100 times, they’d probably beat us 99 times,” FDU coach Tobin Anderson said as his team danced in excitement following their win over the Big 10 champions. “But tonight’s the one we had to be unique. We had to be unorthodox. We had to make it tough on them, just be different.”
When Kansas State defeated MSU in an overtime thriller in the Sweet 16, the smallest fella on the court made the biggest impression. KSU guard Markquis Nowell, who checks in at 5 feet, 8 inches tall, set a tournament record with 19 assists. He had 10 dishes in the first half, and played inspired at the end of regulation and in OT.
Nowell set a tourney record with 54 assists in his four games, the most ever through the Elite Eight. In the Wildcats' loss to FAU, Nowell scored 30 points, almost willing his team to the Final Four, but falling short, ironically.
Any discussion of emerging coaches in college basketball must include the name Dusty May. The FAU coach has done the seemingly impossible: guided a third-tier college basketball program to the national semifinals. Just five years ago, when May accepted the job (his first as head coach), he tried to find a way to quit after he saw the practice facilities. Now, May is on the radar of every athletic director in the NCAA, and won’t likely be in Boca Raton long.
May is near the front of a pack of lesser-known coaches who are coming into focus as several old lions recede into the background. Syracuse’s Jim Boehiem retired this year. That on the heels of the recent sendoffs for Jay Wright, Roy Williams, and Mike Krzyzewski in recent years. Those four all won oodles of college basketball games, and many titles, but they also represented the old guard. New blood is flowing into the game, which only helps make college basketball more attractive to the next generation of ballers.
With three seasons of at least 25 wins on his résumé, Bob Richey is making a name for himself and his program at Furman. This March, the Paladins shocked No. 4 seed Virginia with a last-second victory. Richey won’t likely stay in Furman long, some big program will poach the 39-year old.
UConn’s head coach, Dan Hurley, is no young whippersnapper, but he’s in just his fifth season with the Huskies, and finally recorded his first win in March Madness.
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