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Thursday’s 2023 NCAA Tournament Notes And More

Anyone pulling for an all-Florida final?

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - East Regional
 NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 25: Michael Forrest #11 of the Florida Atlantic Owls drives against the Kansas State Wildcats during the Elite Eight round of the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Madison Square Garden on March 25, 2023 in New York City.
Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Over at the Athletic, there is a long and thoughtful article about what went wrong at UNC this past season. There are a lot of people cited and all of them have their own perspectives and motivations. Even so, you can kind of get a good overview. Basically, it comes down to this: the players had no idea how to deal with last year’s success and there was some selfishness, specifically (but not solely) from Caleb Love. Roles were never clear. No one was held accountable for mistakes and/or bad behavior. Hubert Davis is responsible for that but largely gets a pass because of last year.

Here are some of the thoughts posted there:

  • A parent: “You can only do so much or say so much. Everybody still has to be on the same page — and the bottom line is, everybody wasn’t.”
  • Love took 28.4 percent of the team’s shots while he was on the court — 4.5 percent more than the next-closest player — despite posting the lowest effective field-goal percentage on the team.
  • A parent: “You’ve got to care about the scoring, but you’ve gotta care about everything else, too: defense, passing the ball.”
  • An unidentified person: “I would say there was probably like, 5 percent out of 100 of accountability, in and out of practice and games. There was barely any.”

You get the idea. We’ll see how Davis does in Year 3 which is going to be really important for both coach and program.

Speaking of coaches, there were a number of moves Wednesday. VCU’s Mike Rhoades took the Penn State job. Ryan Odom moved back east to take the VCU job. Amir Abdur-Rahim left Kennesaw State for the South Florida job. Mike Madsen left Utah Valley to take the Stanford job. Temple hired former Penn State assistant Adam Fisher. And Army took Butler assistant Kevin Kuwik.

There is a long-running pattern to the NCAA tournament: in the first weekend you get some shocking upsets as major programs get sent home early and smaller schools get their moment in the spotlight. Typically though the Power conferences take over later in the tournament.

Not so much this year as both Florida Atlantic and San Diego State have made it to the Final Four and, amazingly, one of them will play for the national championship on Monday.

They have a lot in common too. Both are located near a beach. Both are from conferences that are seen as second-tier. Both teams play great defense and have outstanding depth. And not surprisingly, both are very well coached.

Let’s take a closer look.

San Diego State goes a bit deeper with 10 guys getting double digit minutes to FSU’s nine who do. At first glance, we’d say Florida State has a slight advantage inside with sophomore 7-1 Vladislav Golden, but 6-10 Nathan Mensah is a tough customer and he’s a senior. We thought Goldin was tremendous in Florida Atlantic’s win over Kansas State.

The big thing with both teams is their defense, which is terrific and we’d probably give San Diego State a slight edge there. But here’s the rub: you can’t win just on defense. Lots of teams have tried, of course. Georgetown had four years with Patrick Ewing, who was incredible in college. They won one title, and that was their most complete team. Notably, they lost to Villanova in 1985 when the Wildcats played a nearly perfect offensive game.

Tony Bennett won a title in 2019 with his unique system, but that team had a potent offense behind the will-breaking defense.

You can get some traction with great defense but at some point, you have to put the ball in the basket.

The Aztecs got here by beating Charleston, Furman, Alabama and Creighton. The most impressive win of course was over Alabama. SDSU held the Tide to 32.4 percent from the floor overall and limited them to 3-27 from threes. Alabama doesn't mind taking threes, but 27 is a lot, particularly since the Tide was theoretically the more physically dominant group.

Ten of those threes were chunked up by freshman Brandon Miller, who hit just one. He shot 3-19 against the Aztec defense, which is pretty bad, but he was historically bad in this tournament though in fairness, he had a groin injury and at some point the pressure of his involvement in Alabama’s off-court troubles may have gotten to him as well, though not as much as SDSU’s D did.

Florida Atlantic’s path was, we’d say, more demanding. Memphis basically came down to a questionable call. The win over Fairleigh Dickinson was predictable, despite the excitement over FDU’s shocking upset of #1 seed Purdue.

Beating Tennessee wasn’t easy and certainly Kansas State was anything but.

One thing to watch here is three point shooting. The Owls have done a lot of it in the tournament, and for their part, San Diego State has stopped a lot of it.

On the other hand, FAU is also a very good defensive team and has done well in transition when they force turnovers, and the Aztecs have made their share, with 43 in the first four games. Not that Florida Atlantic is perfect in that regard either: the Owls had 22 against K-State.

San Diego State’s M.O. has been to force low-scoring games and, somewhat like Virginia, wear your legs out and then take over in the closing minutes. Given FAU’s depth, it won’t work as well as it did against Creighton. The Blue Jays notably weakened late in the game. A thin rotation didn’t help - Greg McDermott got just 16 minutes from his bench and all his starters played at least 35 minutes.

San Diego State won, of course, but only by the narrowest of margins. If Darrion Trammell had shot a little bit sooner, Creighton might still would have had a chance.

Whatever else happens Saturday, we don’t think that the Aztecs will get to the legs of Florida Atlantic. Dusty May has a deep rotation, as mentioned, he has a shotblocker inside, and we think FAU is playing championship basketball. Not that the Aztecs aren’t playing very well, but Florida Atlantic looks like a team that is on a different level. They just have the look. So we’ll take them to win Saturday.