A Particularly Mad March Madness: A Review

A Particularly Mad March Madness: A Review

Ah yes, March. The craziest month in all of sports. The NBA and NHL seasons are wrapping up, teams desperately fight to make the playoffs. NFL Free Agency rages on, rumors swirling around the country. The 17 MLB fans left in the country might have some new company as the pitch clock is introduced, speeding up the game. Oh, and the NCAA Tournament. 68 Teams, all vying for the ultimate crown of the National Championship. Some call it the craziest and most entertaining event in all of sports, and well, I disagree with this statement as I prefer the NHL playoffs. I do, however, believe March Madness is by far the best collegiate tournament in the nation. 

What happened?

First Four

Fairleigh Dickinson (16) VS. Texas Southern (16)

On the surface, this is a boring, uninteresting matchup between two teams who are likely to be crushed by a 1 seed. When you look deeper, this matchup becomes far more interesting. Texas Southern, with a record of 12-20, won the SWAC tournament championship, earning a spot in the Tournament. If they had won this game, they would have been one of the worst teams to ever participate in the field of 64. Fairleigh Dickinson, on the other hand, was a bit better than Texas Southern, managing to win 17 games and winning the Northeast Conference Tournament to earn their spot. Oh, wait… they didn’t. They lost the Tournament Final to Merrimack, but Merrimack was ineligible to play in the tournament because they recently moved up to Division One. Despite the difference in record, Texas Southern was favored to win this game. Unfortunately for them, they got blown out by a score of 84-61. With the upset victory, FDU earned their second tournament win in their program’s history. Such a strange game.

Pitt (11) VS. Mississippi State (11)

Pitt has endured some rough times in recent years. In 2017-18, they only won 8 games all season and couldn’t manage to win a single ACC game, losing all 18 of them. They Haven’t made the Tournament since 2016, the last year Pitt legend Jamie Dixon coached the squad. After 2 disastrous years under Kevin Stallings, Pitt appointed Jeff Capel as head coach, and he has slowly turned Pitt into a competitive Basketball team again. Mississippi State hasn’t been a powerhouse either. State missed the tournament 9 times in a row from 2010-2018, and hasn’t advanced past the Field of 64 since 2008. First-year Coach Chris Jans had a good first season in Starkville, leaning on solid defensive basketball to win games. In the battle of revitalized programs, Pitt won 60-59, surviving a late comeback attempt from State. 

Field of 64

Virginia (4) VS. Furman (13)

Virginia has been a Basketball powerhouse over the last few years, even winning a National Championship in 2019. The same cannot be said about Furman, who last made the NCAA Tournament in 1980. However, the game made it look like the circumstances were reversed. Virginia blew their lead with only 2.4 seconds remaining as J.P. Pegues nailed a 3-point shot, becoming a Furman Legend. Furman would go on to win 68-67.

Arizona (2) VS. Princeton (15)

Arizona had high hopes of doing things in March after their upset victory over UCLA in the PAC-12 Championship, but that was stopped dead in its tracks by an unlikely candidate. Princeton won the game 59-55, with Tosan Evboumwan scoring 15 points as the Ivy League school advanced past the field of 64 for the first time in over 10 years.

Purdue (1) VS. Fairleigh Dickinson (16)

Purdue dominated the Big 10 Championship. They then proceeded to defecate all over the hardwood against A TEAM THAT SHOULDN’T HAVE EVEN BEEN THERE! This result is a complete embarrassment and in my opinion, this is worse than UVA vs UMBC, the only other team a 16 seed has managed to beat a 1 seed. At least that team bothered to win their conference tournament. The Bookies agree. This game was the biggest upset in Tournament history, as FDU came away with a 63-58 win, despite being a 23(!) point underdog. The first 1 seed had fallen. 

Memphis (8) VS. Florida Atlantic (9)

Memphis has been a pretty good basketball school throughout its history. 3 Final Fours, 18 Conference Championships, and 35 Tournament wins are nothing to be ashamed of. Despite this, Memphis had a hiatus from the Tournament, not appearing from 2014-15 to 2021-22, but they’re back. FAU (Florida Atlantic) on the other hand has 2 Tournament appearances and 0 wins, and they hadn’t made the dance in over 20 years. But under longtime coach Dusty May, FAU cruised through the Regular season, amassing 28 regular season wins. On the subject of the game itself, it was a great, back-and-forth contest with FAU eventually beating Memphis by a score of 66-65, finally earning their first Tournament win. Giancarlo Rosado was critical for FAU, scoring 15 points off the bench, and leading the team in scoring.

Iowa State (6) VS. Pitt (11)

Only 2 years ago, Iowa State won 2 games all season and none in the Big 12. Arguably the most awful season in the history of their program. 2 Years Later, they found themselves in the Tournament as a 6 seed, led by 2nd-year head coach TJ Otzelberger. A remarkable achievement all things considered. As discussed previously, Pitt has also undergone a revival. Unfortunately for the Cyclones, it was not their day as they were crushed by Pitt 59-41.

Xavier (3) VS. Kennesaw State (14)

Before March 17, 2023, Kennesaw State had never played in the NCAA Tournament. That might be expected, considering they’ve only been in Division 1 since 2009. Xavier, hailing from Cincinnati, has been a historically successful Basketball school, even managing to earn a 1 seed in 2018. Unfortunately for Xavier, that particular campaign didn’t go too well for them. Kennesaw gave it everything they had, even finishing the first half with a 7-point lead. However, throughout the second half, their lead slowly slipped and eventually, they fell behind and could never recover. Xavier went on to win 72-67. Jerome Hunter was the star man for the Musketeers, scoring 24 points in 30 minutes. Despite the loss, Kennesaw gave it their best effort, and it was an impressive performance for a first appearance. 

Northwestern (7) VS. Boise (10)

Ah yes, Northwestern, a school most known for theater and art. Apparently they have a good basketball team too (That can’t be said about their football team). Despite their team’s current good status, that can’t be said about Northwestern historically. I will pose a question to you: Who has more tournament appearances? Your Granny, or Northwestern’s Men’s Basketball program? If you said “Your Granny,” you would be wrong, but only by 2. Boise State hasn’t fared too much better, for they have only made 9 tournament appearances with 0 wins. In the battle of historic tire fires, Northwestern came out on top, by a score of 75-67, with Boo Buie scoring 22 points to lead them in scoring. 

Field of 32

San Diego State (5) VS. Furman (13)

Coming off the upset victory against Virginia, Furman fans had hopes of a deep Cinderella run that would be remembered for decades. Unfortunately for the Paladins, they were mercilessly crushed by the Aztecs of San Diego State, getting blown out 75-52. Micah Parrish was the top scorer for the Aztecs, finishing with 16 points.

Baylor (3) VS. Crieghton (6)

In the field of 64, Baylor crushed California-Santa Barbara 74-56, and Creighton survived a much closer game against North Carolina State. This was expected to be a close game, with Creighton being a 1-point favorite. But right from tip-off, things did not go to plan for Baylor as they entered halftime down 10 points, and they could only shave the deficit by 1 by the time the final whistle blew. Creighton’s Ryan Nembhard went off, scoring 30 points. Baylor also had a 30-point scorer in LJ Cryer. The final score was 85-76.

Missouri (7) VS. Princeton (15)

Missouri, coming off a win against a tough Utah State team in the field of 64, was expected to easily crush Princeton, being 6.5 point favorites. However, the opposite happened. 3 and a half minutes into the game, Missouri lost the lead and never got it back. Ryan Langborg ran wild against the Tigers, scoring 20 points on 50% shooting. With their 78-63 victory, Princeton became the 4th 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. 

FAU (9) VS. Fairleigh Dickinson (16)

After shocking the world, Fairleigh Dickinson’s next task was an in-form FAU team that had exceeded expectations against Memphis. FDU kept it close, even taking the lead at points in the second half, but they ran out of energy and FAU dominated the last 2 minutes of the game, eventually winning 78-70. 

Kansas State (3) VS. Kentucky (6)

After a disastrous start to their season, Kentucky managed to get back on their feet and qualified for the tournament as a 6 seed. Kansas State, on the other hand, beat middling expectations by finishing 3rd in the Big 12 and becoming a 3 seed. Both teams powered through the field of 64, and met for an interesting clash. The game was back and forth, and Kentucky held the lead with only 2:39 remaining, leading 62-61. Unfortunately for the Wildcats (of Kentucky), Kansas State went on a 7-0 run to pull away 68-62 with 37 seconds left. Kansas State went on to win 75-69.

Marquette (2) VS. Michigan State (7)

Another team that beat expectations, Marquette won the Big East after being predicted to finish 9th out of 11 in the conference. By contrast, Michigan State did not exceed their expectations, nor did they sink beneath them. They were predicted to finish 4th in the Big 10, and by the end of the season, they sat 4th in the Big 10. Despite being a 2 seed, very few people gave Marquette much of a chance to do anything in the Tournament. Those people were proven correct as Marquette lost 69-60, due to yet another late collapse. 

Houston (1) VS. Auburn (9)

Houston in the regular season was a dominant force, ending the season ranked #1 in the nation. Meanwhile, Auburn regressed a bit from their last season, but they were still good enough to win a game in the NCAA tournament. This game started well for Auburn, as they entered the 2nd half with a 10-point lead. The Tigers then proceeded to score 23 points in the second half, compared to Houston’s 50. A promising game for Auburn quickly turned into a rout as the final score was 81-64.

Kansas (1) VS. Arkansas (8)

Kansas, coming off a national championship last year, was one of the tournament favorites this year, as you might expect. Arkansas on the other hand, suffered a season of regression. After being a 4 seed the year previous, they came into this season ranked #10 in the nation. They ended the season unranked and limped into the tournament as an 8 seed. Despite the bad regular season, Arkansas beat a tough Illinois team in the Field of 64 and looked to give Kansas a good fight, and they certainly did that. Overcoming a slow start, they had the score tied with only a few dozen seconds left to go. Over the last 30 seconds, Ricky Council IV made 4 free throws to ice the game, with Arkansas eventually winning by 1 point, 72-71.

Gonzaga (3) VS. TCU (6)

Gonzaga is a paradox. It is a Jesuit school with an enrollment of only 7,400. Yet over the past decade, it has fielded a dominant Basketball team, sending many alumni to the NBA. You can make the same argument with TCU. The Horned Frogs only boast an enrollment of 10,000, yet every once in a while they can post a spectacular football season (They made the National Championship this year if you don’t remember). Ever since Jamie Dixon arrived in Fort Worth, he has turned the Frogs into a decently competitive team, making the Tournament 3 times over the past 7 seasons. In the field of 64, TCU beat a resilient Arizona State 72-70, while Gonzaga pummeled Grand Canyon University. The Battle of small Christian schools was a good one, with TCU exiting the first half with a 38-33 lead. However, Gonzaga stormed back and took the lead with 11:36 left to go in the game. They never looked back, and the Final score of the game made it look a lot closer than it truly was, with ‘Zaga coming down with an 84-81 victory. 

Sweet 16

Alabama (1) VS. San Diego State (5)

Alabama entered this season ranked 22, but with a very young team that many considered “boom or bust.” They boomed. This was, in my opinion, by far Alabama’s best basketball season. San Diego State already had its best season in 2019-20 with Obi Toppin being a monster for the Aztecs. Unfortunately, they got robbed of a trip to the dance due to Covid. I guess we’ll never know how they would have done. Alabama entered the game as massive favorites, with ESPN giving ‘Bama an 86 percent chance to win. However, from tip-off, the Tide looked off. Brandon Miller wasn’t hitting any shots, and apparently, no one else on the team was either, as they entered halftime down 28-23. Bama had many games like this throughout the regular season, but they always stormed back. That looked to be the case here as well, with Bama taking a 49-38 lead 9 minutes into the second half. But after that, the Tide collapsed, allowing San Diego State to go on a 12-0 run. After this, San Diego State put the game away, eventually winning 71-64. 

Creighton (6) VS. Princeton (15)

Since both Creighton and Princeton have already had their backstories done earlier, I will get straight into the game. In the first half, the game was a back-and-forth affair, with both sides taking the lead and holding it for a decent period of time. When the dust settled on the first half, Creighton maintained a slim 47-43 advantage. Unfortunately for Princeton, the clock struck midnight on their Cinderella run as they were handled like a broom in the second half, eventually losing 86-75. Despite the disappointing ending, this Princeton team should be proud of themselves. No one even gave them a chance to beat Arizona, but they went one step further and made the Sweet 16, becoming immortal in the process. Grandkids will hear the old stories from their Grandfather about the one time Princeton made the Sweet 16.

Tennessee (4) VS. Florida Atlantic (9)

Under coach Rick Barnes, the Vols have enjoyed some good times on the hardwood, even rising to the #1 ranking in the AP poll, and managing to stay there for 4 weeks from January to February 2019. That season was spectacular for the Vols, as they won 27 games in the regular season and entered the tournament as a 2 seed. Truly a season for the ages. That particular tournament did not go well for the Vols, but I digress. FAU is having its own season for the ages, as they continued marching through march, defeating the Vols after the men in orange collapsed in the second half, only scoring 28 points. The final score was 62-55.

Kansas State (3) VS. Michigan State (7)

Kansas State was a common pick to go to the Sweet 16, with that result occurring in an estimated 52% of all brackets. Michigan State was much less popular, coming in at around 14%. Despite this perceived imbalance, this game was seen as one that would be close, for the betting line on this game was dead even. The game proved the bookies right. The Wildcats held a 7-point advantage with only 5 minutes to go, but the Spartans slowly whittled the lead down, and with only 6 seconds left, Tyson Walker sunk a layup to send the game to OT. OT would prove to be tight, as no team could earn more than a 3-point advantage over the other. Unfortunately for the Spartans, Isamael Massoud hit a 3-point shot with 15 seconds left to open a 3-point K-State lead, and the Spartans would not score again. The game ended 98-93.

Houston (1) VS. Miami (5)

“The U” has never really been known for basketball. This makes a lot of sense, since they had never made a final 4 up to that point, and had only 3 conference titles to their name. Houston, on the other hand, has been a historical hoops hegemon, making the final 4 on 6 separate occasions. Despite the imbalance in Basketball tradition, Miami took the lead with 5:58 seconds left in the first half, and kept that lead until halftime, going into the break up by 6 points. After the second-half tip-off, Houston began slowly creeping back into the game, erasing the deficit to only 2 points 5 minutes into the second half. Just as it looked like the Cougars were about to take back control of the game, Miami turned on the heat and went on a 20-5 run that all but ended Houston’s season. The Cougars ended up falling 89-75. With this loss, Houston became the last 1 seed to lose, signifying that no 1 seed would make the Elite 8. This is the first time that has happened in the NCAA tournament’s long and storied history.

UCLA (2) VS. Gonzaga (3)

UCLA, College basketball’s most storied program, versus Gonzaga, College basketball’s most dominant program in recent memory. This was shaping up to be an epic clash, in which Gonzaga entered as a 1-point favorite. In the opening parts of the game, this looked to be an epic clash, with Both sides playing competitive basketball. However, after 10 minutes had been played, UCLA pulled away and dominated Gonzaga for the rest of the half, going into the break up 13 points. Game over, right? Wrong! In the second half, Gonzaga roared back and recaptured the lead with 9 minutes remaining in the second half. UCLA went on an unbelievable dry spell, scoring no points from 12:30 to 6:30 on the game clock. That’s a 6 minute period without scoring a point. Even after they broke the drought, it didn’t get much better, as they went another 4 minutes without scoring a single point. By then the game looked over, with UCLA losing 72-62. Despite this, UCLA suddenly remembered how to shoot a basketball, and after a Gonzaga dry spell which only saw them score 3 points in 2 minutes, UCLA was winning the game 76-75 with only 13 seconds left. UCLA seemed destined to win, but there was still time on the clock. Gonzaga heaved the ball down the court, where it eventually laid in Julian Strawther’s hands. With only 7 seconds left, he used those hands to nail a deep 3, all but sealing the win for Zaga. The final score was 79-76.

Elite 8

San Diego State (5) VS. Chrieghton (6)

Ah yes! A very predictable Elite 8 matchup between two teams that have never made a Final 4. The bookies expected this game to be tight, with the Bluejays’ coming in as a 2.5-point favorite. And from tip-off, the Bookies were proven correct as Creighton was the superior first-half team, entering the break up 33-28. However, once the second half started, the Aztecs quickly evened the score, and the game was back and forth from that point forward. But, with 6:44 left to play, San Diego State took the lead and never gave it back. Creighton tied the game many times and managed to tie it yet again with only 37 seconds left from a Baylor Scheierman layup. The game looked to be going into overtime, but a last-second foul sent San Diego State to the charity line. The Aztecs sank one of their free throws and sank Creighton’s season in the process. The Aztecs progressed to their first Final 4 in their history.

Kansas State (3) VS. Florida Atlantic (9)

Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 17 3 seeds have made the Final 4, and Kansas State looked to make it 18 against Florida Atlantic. Conversely, only 1 9 seed has made the Final 4 before, and that was Wichita State in 2013. Yet again, this game was expected to be close, with the Wildcats entering as a 2-point favorite. And yet again, this was a great game. The first half was truly back and forth, with several lead changes, but FAU went on a 13-6 run to enter halftime up 42-38. Kansas State came roaring back in the second half, recapturing the lead 5 minutes in and Kansas State looked to be cruising. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they went on an awful cold streak, only scoring one point in 5 minutes, and the Owls capitalized on this, retaking the lead with 6 minutes remaining. With 2:44 left to play, State was down 8 points, and they had only scored once in the past 5 minutes. They looked dead in the water. Some Israel Massoud free throws cut the deficit to 6, but they still had a long way to go. Then Marquis Nowell hit a 3-pointer, and all of a sudden, after not scoring in 5 minutes, they were right back in the game. They cut the deficit to 1 point with only 24 seconds left, and they had a chance to find a winner, but they couldn’t make their shot as FAU became the 2nd 9 seed to make a Final 4.

Texas (2) VS. Miami (5)   

Texas, being the highest seed remaining in the tournament, was seen as the preeminent favorite. Miami, being a historically football-focused school, was seen as a distant outsider. The game reflected that…. At first. Texas and Miami were close 15 minutes into the first half, but after that, Texas began pulling away and entered halftime up 45-37. Texan dominance continued into the second half, with at one point, Texas had a 13-point lead. Miami looked like that Squirrel your mother ran over the other day, and ESPN Analytics gave Texas a 95.8% chance to win with 12:47 left in the game. After this, however, Miami pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and somehow managed to tie the game with 5:26 left in the second half. The next 5 minutes and change were great, with Miami taking a lead and Texas tying it every time. Despite being up so much earlier in the game, Texas’ steam seemed to run out with them being down by 3 points with 30 seconds left, and they were forced to foul the Hurricanes repeatedly. This strategy did not work as Miami eventually won 88-81, earning their ticket to their Program’s first-ever trip to the Final 4.

Gonzaga (3) VS. Connecticut (4)

Despite being the lower seed, UConn was the favorite. Why you may ask? Well, they won their 3 previous games by a combined 62 points. They were winning their games by an AVERAGE of 20.66 points. Gonzaga, by contrast, looked unimpressive against Grand Canyon and scraped by TCU. As tip-off ensued, Gonzaga looked like they would be able to keep it close, for they entered halftime only down 4. They were then disintegrated in the second half, only scoring 22 points compared to UConn’s 43. They ended up losing by 28 points. From my research, this was the biggest blowout in Elite 8 History.

Final 4

San Diego State (5) VS. Florida Atlantic (9)

On ESPN, many brackets were completed as people vied to become the first person with a perfect bracket. 0.04% of said brackets contained this matchup in the final 4. Both teams had never made a Final 4 Before, and remember, this was FAU’s 2nd ever tournament appearance. The two underdogs did not wait to punch each in the face, with the game being close for the first 13 minutes. After that, FAU went on a bit of a run, entering halftime ahead by 7. They pulled away further in the second half, having a 14-point lead 6 minutes into the second half. However, the Aztecs slowly got themselves back into the game, shaving the deficit and eventually getting within 2 points of FAU with 9:05 left to play. FAU played well for the rest of the game, never relinquishing the lead and playing smart, safe, defensive basketball. Unfortunately for the Owls, their defense began to crack at the worst possible time. With 38 seconds left, Jaedon LeDee cut the deficit to 1. After a missed FAU jumper, San Diego State had one final chance to win the game. They rushed down the court and gave the ball to Lamont Butler. With mere seconds left on the clock, he made a move against his defender and heaved his shot. Tension filled the air. Butler would either become an Aztec legend or become a villain. The buzzer sounded. This would decide the game. It went straight in. Aztec players stormed the court as FAU players collapsed to the ground in agony. Their Cinderella run had to end so that San Diego State’s could continue. I would like to take a second to congratulate any FAU fans at the school, for you have now officially made more Final 4s than Alabama. Don’t cry because it’s over, cry because it happened. The final score was 72-71.

UConn (4) VS. Miami (5)

The SDSU-FAU bout was one of the best games in tournament history. Unfortunately, that cannot be said about this game. Miami never had the lead and they were blown out 72-59. The smallest deficit the Hurricanes ever had in the game was a 2-point deficit in the first half. It was never truly close, was it? Despite the season ending on a sour note, Hurricanes fans should be proud of their team. I bet if you told any Miami fan at the beginning of the tournament, they would be very grateful for it, despite the eventual agony of defeat.  


UConn (4) VS. San Diego State (5)

With how dominant the Huskies had looked the entire tournament, this game was seen as a slight mismatch, with UConn entering as a 7-point favorite. After a strong first few minutes for the Aztecs, the Huskies took over for the rest of the first half as they entered halftime up 36-24. Despite the large deficit, the Aztecs fought valiantly in the second half and managed to shave the deficit to 60-55 with 5:19 left to play. Unfortunately for the Aztecs, they could not keep up that level of play, and UConn went on a 16-4 run to crown themselves national champions. Confetti rained down over NRG stadium as the Huskies lifted their 5th title, while the Aztecs slunk off the field in defeat. Despite the tough ending to their season, San Diego State should be proud of their basketball program. They shocked the world, and their future looks bright. As for UConn, this season was a shot in the arm, and that’s putting it lightly. Before this season, they had not won a tournament game since 2016. They also missed the tournament 4 times in a row during that timespan, and considering UConn’s historical success, that is a massive failure. This title could revitalize UConn’s recruiting, which has taken a bit of a hit recently, and it could also make the Big East more relevant. 

Concluding Remarks

All in all, this was a great tournament. It was the first in history that did not feature a 3 seed or higher in the final 4, and there were many great moments. My personal favorites were Princeton’s upset over Arizona, FAU’s run to the Final 4, and San Diego State’s run to the National Championship. I wish the Natty could have been a closer game, but because the rest of the tournament was so great, I’ll tolerate it. May we look forward to next March!