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Saturday’s 2023 NCAA Tournament Notes

Let’s go Miami!

Miami v Houston
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 24: Nijel Pack #24 of the Miami Hurricanes celebrates after a three-point basket against the Houston Cougars during the second half in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at T-Mobile Center on March 24, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It would be nearly impossible for Friday’s games in the NCAA tournament to stand up to what happened Thursday but history was made nonetheless: with losses by Alabama and Houston, both #1 seeds, this will be the first Elite Eight without a #1 seed.

In the Alabama-San Diego State game, the Aztecs were what Tennessee fans thought the Volunteers were: physically tough, defensively sound and, unlike the Volunteers, rather brave.

Alabama is a talented team and those pesky unpleasant issues aside, Brandon Miller is an immensely promising talent.

San Diego State held him to 3-19. He did get 11 rebounds however.

But there’s a catch there: neither team shot well, largely because the defense was ferocious on both ends, although more so from the Aztecs. There were a total of 100 rebounds in this one which is what happens when the teams combine to take 140 shots and shoot 32.4 percent (Alabama) and 37.7 percent (San Diego State).

In the end, the Aztecs just had more heart and anyone who watched that one has to admire their courage and tenacity. The long and short of it is that they played like champions and Alabama didn’t. They did show a potential Achilles heel at the line, where San Diego State shot just 13-22 including some potentially lethal late misses. In another game it might have gutted a magnificent effort.

To the civilized world or what is left of it, it sure seemed like the whole point of allowing Miller to play after the murder of Jamea Harris by a teammate to whom Miller brought the murder weapon was to win the national championship, something Alabama has rarely been in position to even dream about. That’s up in smoke now, and we expect Harris’s family, who were outraged at how the university handled it and the shocking insensitivity of head coach Nate Oats, are probably okay with that.

Ben Swain, who is as good at tweeting as anyone we know of, sent out this to Nate Oats and his vanquished squad: “Guess Bama was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

He was referring of course to Oats’s infamous comment about Miller being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as if he were entirely innocent. Well, he wasn’t. His teammate asked for his gun, which was in his car, because there was possibly going to be trouble. That may not be criminal, but to most people, bringing a gun to a murder is hardly innocent.

At any rate, they’re out. And so, for that matter, is the SEC, along with the Big Ten, which went out last night.

Still standing: the ACC’s Miami Hurricanes, who took out Houston with surprising ease. We thought that the ‘Canes would win, having seen them a fair amount, but easily?

We really didn’t expect that.

Miami led almost the entire game and when Nijel Pack hit three threes in a row in the second half, it was all but over. The Hurricanes built a 17-point lead and coasted. We honestly thought Houston was too good to dismiss so easily but clearly, the ‘Canes are peaking at the right time.

Some concern about Norchad Omier who tweaked his ankle again. You’ll recall that he hurt it in Miami’s loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament.

Princeton was outclassed by Creighton, but the Tigers fought their way back into the game after falling behind by 14 in the second half. With five minutes left, the Blue Jays lead was down to eight and another three might have cut it to five.

Unfortunately it was Creighton that made it, not Princeton, and the window, inexorably, began to close.

You have to admire Princeton’s heart though. They kept battling and pushing Creighton. It was a great run by the Tigers but it’s over.

In the nightcap, Texas led from wire to wire and strangled Xavier. The Longhorns were very impressive throughout and simply outclassed the Musketeers. Two concerning notes for Rodney Terry and his ‘Horns: Dylan Disu, who starred last weekend against Penn State with 28 points and 10 boards, has a foot injury. He was limited two just two minutes against Xavier.

And like San Diego State, Texas shot poorly at the line, hitting 12-19 for just 63.2 percent. It certainly didn’t matter in this one, but in another game, say Sunday against Miami, it might.

Just to set the stage a bit, on Friday, we saw a #2 seed, two #5 seeds and a #6 seed advance.

On Saturday, we’ll see #9 Florida Atlantic play #4 Kansas State and #4 UConn play #3 Gonzaga. These are both potentially great games.

FAU was hugely impressive against Tennessee. They crushed Tennessee’s desire and will to win and that was probably the most impressive thing of all. But Kansas State has Markquis Nowell and that guy is on an epic roll. In Thursday’s brilliant win over Michigan State, Keyontae Johnson, who feared his career was over after his health issues at Florida, has also been outstanding.

This is such a tough game to call. Florida Atlantic has been superb but can they stop Nowell? Can anyone?

If they can slow the game down and control Nowell, not least of all in the open court, we think they could pull it off. But it’s going to be very, very tough.

Gonzaga put on quite a display against a limited UCLA, and they have more tournament experience than anyone, though Miami isn’t too far behind.

From here though, UConn looks like a wrecking machine. Gonzaga plays elegant basketball - they always do - but UConn is on another level so we’ll stick with Hurley’s Huskies.

The amazing thing though is we’re almost to the Final Four and either San Diego State, Creighton, Florida Atlantic or Kansas State is going to play for the national championship.

How cool is that?