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Sunday’s 2023 NCAA Tournament Notes

One classic, one thrashing

Florida Atlantic v Kansas State
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 25: Johnell Davis #1 and Jalen Gaffney #12 of the Florida Atlantic Owls react against the Kansas State Wildcats during the second half in the Elite Eight round game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 25, 2023 in New York City.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

On Saturday, with apologies to Dickens, we had the classic Tale of Two Games as Florida Atlantic and Kansas State put on a thriller and later UConn just beat Gonzaga back to the Stone Age.

The first game was legitimately great.

Markquis brought his amazing March swagger, racking up 30 points and 12 assists. He also had five steals but gave that back in turnovers. That and his poor overall shooting - 8-21 including 5-11 on threes - made life tougher for Kansas State.

Still, he was magical in spots and continued making stunning passes.

Thing is, FAU is legit. And while the Big 12 rep was up 57-50 with 12:03 left, the Wildcats were having issues, not least of all foul trouble for Keyontae Johnson.

Meanwhile though, the Owls kept coming for the Wildcats. It took people a while to realize this, but FAU is a really, really good team and they absolutely deserve to be here.

And at the end, K-State and the magnificent Nowell, like Larry Johnson in 1991 and Fred Brown in 1982, buckled under the pressure.

Down 79-76 with seven seconds left, the Wildcats got the ball in to Nowell who let it roll up court and then was oddly passive. He crossed half court with a lack of urgency and then passed it to former Demon Deacon Ismail Massoud, who has also had his moments in this tournament.

The end of this game was not one of them as FAU star Johnell Davis, who has a passing resemblance to the late Len Bias, knocked the ball loose.

That shot, make or miss it, belonged to Nowell just as so much of this tournament belonged to him. Like Johnson, he balked at a moment of potential immortality. If he had tied the game up and K-State had pulled it out in overtime, he would have been one of the great stories in NCAA history (turns out he wanted Massoud to take the last shot, but it still should have been him).

In fact, he is of course. It’s just too bad he couldn’t find a bit more magic, but FAU had more.

Well, that’s not quite right. There was nothing transcendent in what Florida Atlantic did. It was simply gorgeous team basketball played by a superbly coached group. Not only are they in the Final Four, they’re not there as the classic happy-to-be-there Cinderella. These guys are legit and they are going to Houston to win. Now 35-3, if they do win the whole thing, they’ll have 37 wins, just one behind the 38 win season Memphis had in 2008.

And in Houston, FAU will see Danny Hurley’s UConn Huskies fresh off of a devastating defeat of Gonzaga.

UConn had a decent lead at the half, but early in the second, Drew Timme picked up his fourth foul and that turned out to be a crushing blow for the Zags.

Timme’s foul came with 19:35 left and down seven.

About a hundred seconds later, UConn was up by 18, 52-34, and there was no coming back from that.

We honestly thought UConn would win this one, but thought that Gonzaga would be a tougher out than they turned out to be.

Unfortunately for Florida Atlantic, they’ll have to get past the Huskies Saturday to play Monday night and that’s asking a lot.

We’ve said frequently that you don’t play great games back to back, but that doesn’t really apply here.


Well for the most part, we’re talking about offense, which always comes and goes.

UConn didn’t actually shoot that well, hitting just 41.7 percent, also hitting 11-31 for threes for 35.5 percent.

But they crushed Gonzaga defensively, holding a superb offensive team to 20-60 (33.3 percent) and just 2-20 from behind the line.

The Huskies just come after you and while Adama Sagano had a poor shooting game with just 3-11, he presents some real problems for FAU.

However, the Owls are an outstanding team also and it’s very hard to shake them. That will be a fun game.

On Sunday, we’ll learn who will join FAU and UConn in Houston next Saturday.

Creighton and San Diego State meet first and as impressive as the Bluejays have been, the Aztecs are playing supremely well. They dominated Alabama inside in the last game and shut down the perimeter, holding ‘Bama to just 3-27 (11.1 percent).

Creighton hit nearly 60 percent against Princeton including nine threes (9-24).

To beat San Diego State, they’re going to have to play defense as well as the Aztecs do, or at least approximate it, and we’re pretty sure they can’t do that. Too bad because they’ll never beat this team on offense alone.

By the way, we missed this: Creighton’s Arthur Kaluma and SDSU’s Adam Seiko are brothers.

Texas and Miami are in the later game and that one is promising too, but Texas may have a major problem: big man Dylan Disu is questionable at best. He’s been really good too.

Someone has to guard Miami’s Norchad Omier though and that guy is proving to be a load. Miami’s perimeter has been terrific too. We’re riding with Miami in this one but overall?

The championship is likely to come down to defense.