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Thursday’s 2023 NCAA Tournament Notes & Sweet Sixteen Predictions

Let’s hoop already

Florida Atlantic v Memphis
COLUMBUS, OHIO - MARCH 17: Head coach Dusty May of the Florida Atlantic Owls calls out orders during the first half of a game against the Memphis Tigers in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Nationwide Arena on March 17, 2023 in Columbus, Ohio.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

As the Sweet Sixteen gets underway Thursday night, there is some significant news around the ACC.

First, it looks as if Notre Dame has found their man: the Irish are expected to hire Penn State’s Micah Shrewsbury and bring him back home to Indiana.

He’s done well at Penn State in his two years and as a native, he understands Indiana’s passion for the game. Other states may have developed a deeper passion - North Carolina and Kentucky, for instance - but Indiana guards the purest form of the game. It’s nice to think that he’s coming home and that he could help nurture and grow that.

That said, it’s not official yet.

More surprises in Chapel Hill as Puff Johnson announces he’ll be leaving and Armando Bacot announces he’ll be staying.

The thing is, Bacot doesn’t have a great alternative. He’s smallish for an NBA big and his game is entirely around the basket, which makes him a double liability.

But in Chapel Hill, with NIL, he can do very well and he can continue to refine his game for his inevitable stint in the smoking leagues post Chapel Capel Hill.

It seems a bit odd frankly, given how successful he’s been at Arizona, but Kerr Kriisa has entered the portal. You can expect a ferocious competition for him unless he has secondary issues of some kind. Who knows where he’ll end up, but he seems like someone UNC might pursue, particularly if either RJ Davis or Caleb Love decide to decamp.

For that matter, Shrewsbury and Louisville’s Kenny Payne might be able to sell him. Maybe Damon Stoudamire. Time will tell. Apparently he originally committed to Sean Miller at the U of A, so Xavier could be the favorite.

Incidentally, if you missed it, Wichita State hired Paul Mills away from Oral Roberts.

In another bit of interesting news, Gonzaga’s Mark Few is unhappy with the tournament balls, saying they are too new and overinflated. He probably has a valid criticism. It takes a little while to get the slick off and if they have too much air, it’s even harder to control them.

The Sweet Sixteen gets under way Thursday night with:

  • #7 Michigan State vs. #3 Kansas State
  • #8 Arkansas vs. # 4 UConn
  • #9 FAU vs. #4 Tennessee
  • #3 Gonzaga vs. #2 UCLA

These all interesting and worthy games (at least before they start).

Michigan State and K-State should be fun, particularly after Marquis Nowell took a star turn against Kentucky last weekend. But Michigan State is tougher than they looked coming in and we’ll sit in the Izzone for this one.

Arkansas and UConn should be highly entertaining but the way that Adam Sonoga has been playing should help UConn prevail. Both teams are gritty but we’ll cast our lot with Danny Hurley - and his dad and brother are probably texting him ideas and insights. How great would it be to be part of that?

Have you noticed how defensive the Volunteer contingent has been about being called dirty?

It’s a charge that’s been echoed, to some degree, by people like Jay Bilas and FAU coach Dusty Mays. Pat Forde called Uros Plavsic a “hack.” Doug Gottlieb flat-out called them “dirty” and now FAU center Vladislav Goldin has weighed in with this: “They can play dirty sometimes, is what I’ve seen. So we’re just going to have to stay focused and play through everything and don’t pay attention on any outside factors.”

There are multiple articles in blogs and newspapers from Tennessee fans and writers who are basically spluttering: how dare you?

We’re a bit curious to see how UT reacts on the court, but you better keep this in mind: first, officials read too and they’ve seen a solid week of criticism about their profession. Given how physically Tennessee played Duke, it’s amazing that Duke got called for 17 fouls and the Vols just 11.

Second, although there’s obviously no guarantee of this, our guess is that the NCAA has, behind the scenes, addressed the controversy with officials. We’re clearly speculating, but whether by memo, e-mail, video calls or what have you, it wouldn’t surprise us a bit. Why?

Because it’s controversial and because the officials in the Duke-UT game did a poor job. And because the criticism for a second straight crap job from a crew officiating a Tennessee game would not go over well with the viewing public or the NCAA’s Director of Officiating Chris Rastatter.

So look for a more closely called game, which gives FAU a slight advantage, possibly magnified by UT’s short rotation and the Big Hack. We’ll fly with the Owls here.

The nightcap could be just great as Gonzaga and UCLA tangle and it’s not the first time. Most memorably, Jalen Suggs hit a clutch three in 2021 to knock UCLA out in the Final Four. Broadcasting that game for Gonzaga: Adam Morrison, who bowed out to UCLA in 2006, memorably weeping on the floor when the game was over.

These two always put on quite a show but UCLA has some injury issues and the Zags are peaking at the right time. So we’ll go with Gonzaga here. Even if the balls are too new and overinflated.