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Wednesday’s 2023 NCAA Tournament Notes & More

This is going to be a fun Final Four

Miami v Texas
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 26: (L-R) Wooga Poplar #55, Isaiah Wong #2, Nijel Pack #24 and Norchad Omier #15 of the Miami Hurricanes watch free throws during the second half against the Texas Longhorns in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at T-Mobile Center on March 26, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Just a quick aside to start things - for the tournament we’ve kind of merged a lot of stuff into the daily notes, including the daily ACC stuff.

It was no surprise that Terquavion Smith is leaving NC State for the NBA Draft. Realistically, he could have done it last year but came back for another season and helped turn things around for the Pack. He’s not exploring the draft, he’s gone and we wish him the very best.

Speaking of people for whom we wish the very best, former UNC star Eric Montross is getting a lot of public support after revealing his cancer diagnosis.

Over at CBS, the various characters who are said to be experts have made their picks. The FAU/San Diego State choices are evenly split 3-3, but no one is taking Miami over UConn. The entire two bottom rows are Huskies.

There are years when it’s logical to pick one team. In 2012, Kentucky was a clear favorite. In 1996, Rick Pitino had the Wildcats at an extraordinary level.

And of course in 1991, almost no one picked Duke to knock off UNLV.

You can keep going: Houston in 1983, Georgetown in 1985, Duke in 1999. All were heavy favorites; all three lost.

It’s not easy to know when to buck the odds though. You have to kind of go on faith or have some sort of insight.

Or maybe just be a contrarian.

We’re still mulling things over, but when it comes to Miami vs. UConn, UConn’s advantage is size. That hasn’t really bothered Miami that much this season because they move too fast and shoot too well and, well, three counts more than two.

There are other ways too.

In the early 1980’s, Duke had less talent (and smaller teams) than UNC, Maryland and NC State. But the Blue Devils found a way to neutralize that: they got to the line consistently, and no matter how big or great you might be, you can’t block foul shots.

Villanova’s 1985 win over Georgetown featured magnificent precision. It was even more amazing because point guard Gary McLain later revealed that he had been an habitual cocaine user and had used the night of the game. It’s a near miracle that he only had two turnovers).

But Miami?

Well the ‘Canes have some things going for them: a great backcourt obviously and a very solid if undersized big man in Norchad Omier. And Wooga Poplar is emerging as a very valuable wing.

And here are a few other things to keep in mind.

UConn has not had a lot of success in March in forcing turnovers. They have defended well - Iona shot just 38.5 percent, Saint Mary’s 38.8 percent, Arkansas 31.7 percent and Gonzaga 33.3 percent.

Three point shooting? Iona hit 7-16, Saint Mary’s 4-14, Arkansas 5-16 and Gonzaga a dreadful 2-20.

UConn hasn’t really forced turnovers though. Iona had just six, Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga nine each and Arkansas 10. If you defend the shooters aggressively, which UConn has done, turnovers aren’t as important. We were just surprised that they hadn’t forced more.

UConn has been pretty dominant in all of these wins, but despite that, in every game at least one starter has finished in foul trouble.

Against Iona, it was Alex Karaban with four but Jordan Hawkins and Tristen Newton had three each. Against Saint Mary’s, Hawkins had four (in 19 minutes). Against Arkansas, Karaban and Hawkins finished with four each. And in the Gonzaga game, Karaban again finished with four.

UConn has a decent rotation but keep in mind that Karaban picked up four fouls three times and Hawkins did it twice in games that UConn won pretty easily.

It’s hard to see Final Four games being easy.

Here’s one more potential issue for the Huskies, and that’s their own turnovers.

Against Iona, they had nine, against Saint Mary’s 14, against Arkansas 17 and against Gonzaga down to eight.

Here’s a scenario which would be great for Miami: a fast game with lots of threes and one where the ‘Canes could force lots of turnovers and get easy transition baskets. This would also tend to work against big men Adama Sanago and Donovan Clingan,

Obviously, getting UConn in foul trouble in a game like this would be a boon for Miami.