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Sunday’s 2023 NCAA Tournament Notes

Princeton? In the Sweet Sixteen? Wow!

Maryland v Alabama
 BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA - MARCH 18: Patrick Emilien #15 of the Maryland Terrapins battles Charles Bediako #14 of the Alabama Crimson Tide for a rebound in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Legacy Arena at the BJCC on March 18, 2023 in Birmingham, Alabama.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Aside from Arkansas’s Eric Musselman stripping down half-naked after Arkansas upset Kansas, the biggest (and certainly more welcome) surprise was Princeton whipping Missouri in the Battle of the Tigers.

We didn't think that Princeton was going to pull this off, but not only did they pull it off, they did so with aplomb, winning 78-63.

But what's really impressive is that Princeton crushed Missouri on the boards, 44-30 and doubled up on the offensive boards 16-8.

It didn't shock us that Princeton won, but winning like that? That was shocking.

#5 San Diego State took out #13 Furman and proving once again that in the tournament, defense is better than offense. The Paladins had been averaging 79.6 ppg. but the Aztecs limited them to 52 while putting up 75 of their own. Furman shot just 32 percent. The win over Virginia was impressive, but that was the last stop for Furman.

#1 Alabama and #8 Maryland put on an entertaining show and we saw ‘Bama pull away in the second half before winning 73-51. They basically overpowered Maryland, but we’ll say this: as the tournament moves on, their margin for error will lessen. Alabama made a lot of mistakes Saturday night; it’s just that Maryland made more.

We were never huge fans of Gary Williams, but we will say this for him: his teams were always disciplined. Couldn't say that about Maryland Saturday night but you couldn’t really say it about Alabama, either. Take your pick here: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jay Wright, Nolan Richardson, John Cheney, Scott Drew, Mark Few.

Any of those guys would know how to exploit some of Alabama’s foolishness Saturday night.

So would have Houston’s Kelvin Sampson.

Whatever you can say about Bruce Pearl, and many people say many things, his teams tend to play very well defensively. Many people gave them the nod here because the game was in Auburn, but #1 Houston, despite Marcus Sasser’s groin woes, took down #9 Auburn 81-64.

And they came back from 10 down to win by 17. That’s a 27 point turnaround, and that, dear reader, suggests that #1 Houston is a damn good team. You probably knew that, but they put it on a higher level Saturday night. That team is mentally very tough.

Auburn could have made it much closer if they could have hit their foul shots: the Eagles missed 17 of 36. Houston hit 24-29. Duke fans could be forgiven for wondering how Tennessee only got called for 11 resulting in just seven attempts, of which the Blue Devils hit four.

#10 Penn State fell to #2 Texas, 71-66. The Nittany Lions simply could not stop the pride of Pflugerville, Dylan Disu as the 6-9 center shot 14-20 and grabbed 10 boards.

Disu hit nearly half of Texas’s made shots by himself (14-31).

Chris Collins and #7 Northwestern saw perhaps the best season in Wildcats history come to an end, losing to UCLA 68-63.

The Bruins had a 15 point lead in the first half but the Wildcats clawed their way back into it late, cutting the lead to 64-60 with just :23 left on the clock.

It wasn’t enough though and #2 UCLA staved off the upset. It may have been a costly victory though. Injuries are stacking up. Jaylen Clark is out for the year, Adem Bona is playing hurt and against Northwestern, David Singleton suffered an apparent ankle injury.

If that’s at all serious, it greatly complicates UCLA’s odds.

It’s only Northwestern’s second NCAA appearance and Collins is now 2-2 in NCAA play. That would be considered very weak in a lot of places but for Northwestern, it’s as good as it gets.

Or at least as good as it’s gotten so far.

Here are Sunday’s matches:

  • #11 Pitt vs. #3 Xavier
  • #6 Kentucky vs. #3 Kansas State
  • #7 Michigan State vs. #2 Marquette
  • #5 Saint Mary’s vs. #4 UConn
  • #6 Creighton vs. #3 Baylor
  • #16 Fairleigh Dickinson vs. #9 Florida Atlantic
  • #5 Miami vs. #4 Indiana
  • #6 TCU vs. #3 Gonzaga

We’ll stick with Pitt. The Panthers have shown some real heart this season. The Iowa State game was an offensive disaster; that won’t happen again.

It’s impossible not to admire the job Jerome Tang has done with K-State, but Kentucky has gotten its act together. Incidentally, this is the second same-name nickname match this year (well, unless we’re missing one).

Typically, we’d bet long on Tom Izzo getting #7 past Michigan State past #2 Marquette, but not this time. Shaka Smart has a very good team on both ends. Plus, and yes this is a theme, we suspect the Golden Eagles will be considerably more fleet than the Big Ten’s finest (year in and year out, we mean).

Too bad Rick Pitino couldn’t get Iona past UConn; we could possibly have had the first Gaels vs. Gaels game in NCAA history and certainly the first in the tournament.

Instead we’ll see Saint Mary’s vs. UConn. This is going to be a very intense defensive game. We’re very happy that Aidan Mahaney is still active and watching him try his magic against UConn will be fun, but VCU shut him down on Friday. That might be a major motivation for Mahoney but they haven’t seen a team like UConn. So we’ll take the Huskies.

#6 Creighton vs. #3 Baylor is really intriguing. The Bluejays were very good against NC State but Scott Drew has built a beautiful program in Waco. Plus they’ve been in Denver long enough to have adapted a bit more to the altitude so Drew shouldn’t have as many accommodations as he (and everyone) did Friday. This is not his best team, but he’s really become a great coach, and when possible, don’t bet against great coaches.

The game that everyone likely wants to see is #16 Fairleigh Dickinson vs. #9 Florida Atlantic. FDU’s evisceration of Purdue was nothing short of astonishing, but keep this in mind: unlike Purdue, FAU is not ponderous and elephantine. Fairleigh Dickinson’s weaknesses will re-emerge: this is a short team that’s not particularly good defensively. We think FAU will prevail.

#5 Miami and #4 Indiana tangle in Albany and our money is on the ‘Canes. Norchad Omier is back, but what we saw of IU Friday, while it wasn’t as ponderous or limited as Purdue was, is likely to look the same when Miami gets up to Corvette speed.

This is a general criticism but it’s largely true: Big Ten teams are typically slow and the coaches don’t emphasize speed as much as in other parts of the country.

Finally, in the nightcap, #6 TCU takes on Gonzaga. Mark Few has built one of the most reliable post-season programs in the nation. The Froghorns, um, Horned Frogs were lucky to get past Arizona State, and as much as we admire Bobby Hurley, Gonzaga is a cut above the Sun Devils.

We always look at the coaches and their post-season records. Jamie Dixon has made two Sweet Sixteens and one Elite Eight in 19 years.

Few has made seven Sweet Sixteens, one Elite Eight and made the championship game in 2017 and 2021. He’s consistently better in the postseason. No reason why that should change now.