clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Friday’s 2023 NCAA Tournament Notes & More

Saturday is almost here!

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Final Four - Media Availability
HOUSTON, TEXAS - MARCH 30: Aguek Arop #33 of the San Diego State Aztecs tries on a cowboy hat during media availability for the Final Four as part of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at NRG Stadium on March 30, 2023 in Houston, Texas.
Photo by Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The portal remains active and one of the latest ACC players to enter is BC’s BJ Bickerstaff. On the other side, Clemson landed 6-5 Jake Heidbreder from the Air Force Academy. He’s slim but he shoots well.

Louisville had a disastrous year but the roster for next year is already looking better, and the portal is still an option there too. At a minimum, the Cardinals should be more athletic.

This hasn’t happened yet, and it may not, but there is a chance that Dontrez Styles could leave UNC for NC State. Now that would be interesting. His former teammate Tyler Nickel has already committed to Virginia Tech.

Ed Cooley is not going to be Mr. Popular in Providence after departing for Georgetown. That’ll be worse now that he’s taking his PC recruits with him too.

There has been buzz for a while now about San Diego State moving to to the PAC-12 after UCLA and USC bolted for the Big Ten. Dan Wetzel says that SDSU has wanted to join the PAC-12 for a long time and now, with realignment back on the table, the PAC-12 is no longer guaranteed to get the Aztecs - but they should.

What to make of the UConn-Miami Final Four matchup?

Almost everyone is going to pick UConn and we thought on the first weekend that they were playing as well as anyone. We still do. Danny Hurley has put the Huskies back near the top of the sport.

But Miami is also playing great. There was a point in the Texas game where UT was up double digits and we realized that Miami was shooting about 60 percent from the floor and thought, well, it’s the defense.

And almost on cue, Miami tightened up the D.

They’ll need it against UConn because scoring probably won’t be as easy.

Danny Hurley’s teams at Rhode Island and UConn have been characterized by a very aggressive defense. You really have to be conditioned to handle it, and a bit of depth doesn’t hurt either.

But here’s the thing.

You’d think the competition gets tougher with each game you advance. And don’t give us the upset thing, that somebody might get an easier game because an opponent upset a better team. That team was the better team. You play the hotter teams as you go on, right? That’s how this works. Whoever loses wasn’t the better team.

Look at how Miami has shot overall and from three point range in the tournament:

  • vs. Drake: 30.4/33.3
  • vs. Indiana: 48.6 39.1
  • vs. Houston: 51.7/44.0
  • vs. Texas: 59.2/25.0

This is a team that’s not just peaking at the right time but that has gotten better offensively in each round as the competition has gotten more difficult. Texas did a solid job defending the three, but if you’re shooting almost 60 percent, it’s not nearly as big a deal to hit 25 percent for threes.

UConn has been undeniably impressive and particularly against Arkansas and Gonzaga. We aren’t questioning UConn’s bona fides at all, but it’s worth remembering that Arkansas was pretty erratic for much of the season. They were the 10th place team in the SEC and lost four of its last five games prior to the NCAA Tournament.

As for Gonzaga, it’s not a surprise that the Zags lost. Mark Few has built an amazing program, but the Bulldogs periodically have their butts handed to them, most notably by Baylor in the 2021 national championship. Few is an offensive mastermind but every so often Gonzaga runs up against a team that is more athletic and defends well and when that happens, they’re generally in trouble.

A small corollary to Miami’s offensive surge in this tournament: on a personal level, Jordan Miller has improved his efficiency in every game. He was 2-7 against Drake, 9-16 against Indiana, 5-7 against Houston and was perfect against Texas.

He’s not going to be perfect against UConn. First, it’s exceedingly rare and second, UConn is going to be all over him.

And that presents great opportunities for Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack and a guy who has been somewhat under the radar but who seems ready for a really big game, Wooga Poplar.

Other than the Indiana game, where he’s shot 5-12, Poplar has quietly excelled in the tournament. When you have as many three point shooters as Miami does, you have to pick your poison because someone is going to get the shot. Pack leads Miami at 42.9 percent from behind the line, but Poplar is right behind him at 39 percent.

We’ve focused mostly on the perimeter because so much of this game will be fought there, but the inside should be fascinating as well.

UConn’s Adama Sanogo is 6-9 and 240 while Miami’s Norchad Omier is either 6-7 or 6-8, depending on where you look, and right about 250.

He’s proven to be a great fit for Miami and a consistent double-double man. Most of us can’t remember Wes Unseld before knee injuries robbed him of his mobility, if at all, but at roughly Omier’s size, Unseld battled guys like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on surprisingly even terms.

Omier doesn’t have Unseld’s superb outlet pass, but very much like the late Washington Bullet, he plays bigger guys very well.

That’ll be tested when Sanogo goes out and hometown hero Donovan Clingan comes in.

Let’s just get this out there: we’d much rather have Clingan than Purdue’s Zach Edey.

Edey is powerful and reliable in the post, and at 7-4 and about 300, he’s a true load. Once he gets set, you’ll never move him and it’s funny to watch 6-11 guys look like eighth graders when they guard him.

But you will very rarely see that ponderous guy finish a break. You will see Clingan run and follow up a miss with a tip-in or dunk. His long-term prospects are much better than Edey’s.

He’s going to be a major pain for Miami when he is in the game. We’re sure that Omier is stronger, but 7-2 is a load.

Finally, and this is important, teams inevitably reflect their coach’s personality. ACC fans have a really good idea of Jim Larranaga by now. He’s pretty relaxed by coaching standards, and his teams are generally loose and confident.

Hurley is another story.

We have always pulled for him - always - but Danny Hurley’s emotions are complex and powerful and they have undeniably caused him issues throughout his basketball life.

At Seton Hall, he had to step away from the game and for a while said he hated it. His father and brother are legendary figures and the pressure on him to match those standards, some surely self-imposed, is immense. His wife, Andrea, said that she has periodically asked him if he feels like he’s caught up, for lack of a better phrase. He always says no.

Aside from his Seton Hall struggles, we’ve seen other insights into his emotional life. He struggles to maintain his composure on the sidelines. He has diligently worked on that but his emotions are volcanic. He has on occasion cost his teams by angering the officials. He has been tossed from games more than once and the generally adoring UConn media has been critical. Although he’s worked on it, this has been a pattern from Wagner to Rhode Island to UConn: the guy periodically just loses his self-control. It’s a destructive tendency.

We got another insight a while back when Andrea talked about his fears during the pandemic, when he wanted to make sure that every package that came to the house was wiped down and left outside for 72 hours. Everyone was fearful in the early stages, but Hurley seemed more scared than most. Jeff Goodman coaxed this out of her in a hilarious podcast interview.

As we’ve said before, it’s generally smart to bet on a Hurley. Bob, Bobby and Danny are all lifers, and the sons grew up with a phenomenal coach in the house who taught them the craft from the time they were very young boys.

We have the greatest admiration for Danny and what he’s done at UConn, and it was clear to us that he was going to be successful. He’s a brilliant coach and he has a chance to do something that his brother has not done and his father will never do: coach an NCAA championship.

But his emotions are potentially an issue in the Final Four. The temptation is to compare him to Bob Knight, but that’s grossly unfair. Knight was a genius but he was cruel and self-destructive when he coached. No one has ever said that Danny Hurley was cruel and it would surprise us if anyone ever did.

No, the guy we would point to as a logical comparison is former Maryland coach Gary Williams.

Williams was wildly emotional during games. He raged at his assistants and players. He finished each game drenched with sweat. On one occasion, a father allegedly asked him to move so that his son could see the game. “F*** you, and f*** your kid,” was the alleged reply.

Maryland AD Debbie Yow reportedly tried to get Williams into anger management, an idea that Williams greatly resented and resisted.

His emotions could push his team higher or derail it completely, as happened at Duke in 1998, when he was ejected just 5:51 into the game.

Hurley is not as angry as Williams was but faces similar potential pitfalls. Clearly he’s an effective coach, potentially a Hall of Fame coach down the road. His outbursts seem comical at times from the outside, but they point to inner turmoil. Part of it is that he’s hugely competitive, but part of it is just his emotional life. He’s just wound tight. We hope that that isn’t an issue in Houston, but it undeniably has been in some previous games.