The Best and Worst from Day 3 of March Madness
A one seed, and the reigning national champion, went down. Another one seed was pushed to the brink for about 30 minutes. Duke lost and set a dubious record in the process. And a 15-seed cashed a ticket to the Sweet 16 for a third straight year.
Let’s get into all of it.
1. (8) Arkansas 72, (1) Kansas 71 (West)
For my money, this was the best game of the tournament to date.
Playing without head coach Bill Self once again, Kansas appeared poised for most of the afternoon to advance into the tournament’s second weekend and continue its title defense. The Jayhawks raced out to an 11-2 lead, then led by eight at halftime and by as many as 12 early in the second half. Adding to KU’s confidence was the fact that several key Arkansas players were dealing with foul trouble from the middle part of the first half on.
Just as they did in last year’s Sweet 16 triumph over No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga, the Razorbacks just kept coming.
Davonte “Devo” Davis took over for the Hogs after the break, scoring 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half. He jumpstarted an 11-0 run that communicated to the whole hoops universe that Kansas was in trouble.
Ricky Council IV, who added 21 points, then seized control late. He knocked down a pair of key jumpers in the game’s closing minutes, and hit five free-throws in the closing seconds to help put the Jayhawks away.
Arkansas’ defensive prowess and superior physicality was also on full display in the second half.
After letting him get going early on, the Razorbacks put the clamps on Kansas All-American Jalen Wilson, allowing him to attempt only two shots over a 15-minute stretch after halftime. The Hogs also seemed to come up with the ball during every key scramble situation, and finished the game outscoring KU 15-2 on second chance opportunities.
Not only had Kansas been 26-0 this season when leading at halftime, but the Jayhawks had been 47-0 all-time in the NCAA tournament when leading by at least eight at the break. They led or were tied with Arkansas for all but one minute and 43 seconds of Saturday’s game.
Arkansas, which became the first team to have three players foul out and still beat a No. 1 seed, is now a win over Saint Mary’s or UConn away from its third straight regional final appearance, and two wins away from its first Final Four since 1995. Not bad for a program that went from 1997-2020 without a single trip to the Sweet 16.
2. (2) Texas 71, (10) Penn State 66 (Midwest)
Texas is headed to its first Sweet 16 since 2008 thanks to the type of response in a fight or flight moment that can win you a national championship.
The Longhorns led by eight points at halftime and had been able to keep Penn State at arm’s length for virtually the entirety of the game. Then, the Nittany Lions reeled off a late, lightning quick 10-0 run that put them in front by three with just 4:48 to play. It was their first lead since a 4-3 advantage two minutes into the game.
Texas did not miss a shot the rest of the game.
Dylan Disu — who played the game of his life — made shots on five of UT’s next six offensive possessions. The Longhorns made their final six field goal attempts of the game, and got points on eight of their last 10 trips.
Boom. Rodney Terry’s team advances, Micah Shrewsberry’s team starts its offseason.
Perhaps the most surprising stat of the game was that Texas won despite going just 1-for-13 from beyond the arc. A Longhorn team known for its guard play had to ride its senior forward and some stellar defense to victory.
3. (2) UCLA 68, (7) Northwestern 63 (West)
Only three of the eight games on Saturday were decided by fewer than 13 points, but all three of those were stellar.
Just like previously mentioned Arkansas, UCLA is headed to the Sweet 16 for a third straight year. Just like previously mentioned Texas, the Bruins got there thanks to some clutch late play after a furious rally from their underdog opponent.
Northwestern never led in the second half, but a 17-4 run helped them get to within one with under eight minutes to play. The teams traded blows for the next few minutes before a key sequence where Adem Bona blocked a layup attempt by Northwestern star Chase Audige and David Singleton buried a three on the other end to all but deliver the knockout blow for UCLA.
With 20 seconds to play, Singleton suffered what appeared to be a fairly serious foot or ankle injury. He told reporters after the game that he had simply rolled the ankle, which was refreshing news for a Bruin team already dealing with the loss of Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Jaylen Clark and with a banged up Bona.
UCLA was carried by its usual leading men. Pac-12 Player of the Year Jaime Jacquez scored 24 points, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out four assists. Point guard Tyger Cambell did not make a field goal, but knocked down all 12 of his free-throw attempts and had seven assists against no turnovers. Freshman Amari Bailey, whose role has taken on a heightened importance since the loss of Clark, added 14 points and six assists.
The victory marked UCLA’s 16th straight NCAA tournament win in a game played in the state of California. That streak ties Duke — from 1999-2011 — as the second-longest NCAA tournament win streak in a team’s home state.
There’s little doubt that the sporting world thought Princeton had a shot to get the better of seventh-seeded Missouri on Saturday. After all, the Tigers had already fried a bigger fish in Arizona two days earlier, AND we had already seen a 15-seed dance their way to the second weekend in each of the last two tournaments.
I don’t think anyone expected this.
For 40 straight minutes, Princeton looked vastly superior in the battle of SEC Tigers versus Ivy League Tigers. Mitch Henderson’s team built a 14-point point lead in the first half, a 21-point lead in the second, and finished with a 15-point margin of victory that was the largest ever for a 15-seed in the NCAA tournament.
Princeton now heads to Louisville for its first regional semifinal appearance in 56 years. The Tigers are the second Ivy League school to make the Sweet 16 in the past 43 tournaments, joining the 2009-10 Cornell Big Red.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing deep into the tournament,” said Henderson, who won first round games as a player at Princeton in 1996 and 1998. “As a player, got to the second round a couple times. Never got beyond it. I feel like these guys, it’s unbelievable.”
The Tigers have certainly looked every bit as strong, if not stronger, than Saint Peter’s did a year ago. They might not be done here.
Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there has never been a year where fewer than two No. 1 seeds advanced to at least the Sweet 16. With Purdue getting stunned on Friday and Kansas falling to Arkansas earlier in the day, Houston appeared to be flirting with history for much of early Saturday evening.
Playing in front of an Auburn-friendly crowd in Birmingham and with two of its stars — Marcus Sasser and Jamal Shead — dealing with injuries, the top-seeded Cougars seemed for a bit to be the wobbly prize fighter just waiting to be knocked out. They trailed by 10 at halftime, and their second half started with head coach Kelvin Sampson telling the viewing public that Sasser was playing at “probably 60 percent.”
The cause for concern was high.
Then, Houston displayed the same combination of skill and fearlessness that has carried it to 33 wins, and counting, this season.
Sasser came out on fire, burying a trio of outside jumpers to lead a 15-4 charge that put UH back on top. The Cougars also put the clamps on Auburn at the other end of the floor, shutting down the lane and taking away the wide open looks the Tigers had feasted on in the first half. Auburn would misfire on 20 of its 24 field goal attempts after halftime.
The game was still very much in doubt when both Shead and Sasser were forced to the bench with four fouls and plenty of time left on the clock. That’s when junior Tramon Clark took over, thriving in isolation and ultimately scoring a game-high (and game-deciding) 26 points. Clark’s play allowed the Cougars to actually increase their lead by 10 points with their two stars on the sidelines.
Houston finished the game outscoring Auburn by a staggering 50-23 count in the second half. It was a gutsy as hell performance by a championship caliber team that is headed to its fourth Sweet 16 in five years.
Unlike a year ago, Tennessee wasn’t exactly a fashionable Final Four pick when the brackets were unveiled last Sunday. The Volunteers had lost PF Zakai Zeigler for the season to an ACL tear, they were woefully inept on offense for extended stretches, and they had lost seven times since Feb. 1.
The common thought was that UT wouldn’t be long for this tournament. And yet, while last year’s trendy Final Four pick got knocked off in the second round by Michigan, this year’s Vols are rolling into the Sweet 16 off of one of Saturday’s most impressive performances.
Tennessee dominated red-hot Duke, holding the favored (but worse-seeded) Blue Devils to just 52 points. That total matched the lowest ever for a Duke team in the NCAA tournament.
After the game, the Volunteer players and their head coach were not shy about addressing their “doubters and haters.”
“Everybody thought we were dead,” Barnes said. “We’re alive and kicking, baby.”
HONORABLE MENTION: San Diego State
It would feel wrong not to at least mention the team that won by the largest margin on Saturday. That would be San Diego State, which ended Furman’s Cinderella run with a 75-52 thrashing that never really felt in doubt.
The Aztecs’ 23-point win matched the largest margin of victory for a 5-seed against a 13-seed in tournament history. It also marked the 41st game in a row that SDSU has won when shooting 50.0 percent or better from the field.
They’ll be the first Mountain West team to crash the second weekend since Nevada in 2018.
The season was still an overwhelming success, and the future is still bright under Dennis Gates, but man …
There was a never a moment on Saturday where Missouri didn’t look wildly inferior to its Ivy League foe. Princeton hit just four of its first 16 three-point attempts, and was still always in total control of the contest.
When the 15-seed finally did start catching fire from beyond the arc in the second half, the game went from well-in-hand to all-out blowout. On the rare occasion that it missed, Princeton was there to out-scrap their opponent for the rebound. They out-rebounded Missouri by 14 and had 11 offensive rebounds in the second half alone, resulting in 16 second chance points.
Again, the future is still bright for Missouri, but losing by more points to a 15-seed than any team had ever lost to a 15-seed before is still a rough way to go out.
Purdue’s historic loss to Fairleigh Dickinson meant that the East Region — widely considered to be easily the weakest of the four heading into the tournament — was even more wide open than before. The common thought by many was that 5-seed Duke, winners of 10 straight including an impressive 23-point throttling of Oral Roberts in the first round, was now actually the favorite to win the region and make it to a second straight Final Four.
In a word, nope.
Playing without PF Mark Mithcell, who was a late scratch because of a knee injury, was a blow, but it doesn’t excuse scoring the fewest points in an NCAA tournament game in program history. The Blue Devils never really threatened Tennessee after the game’s opening 10 minutes.
Part of me wanted to give this to Maryland for not being able to keep things competitive with Alabama while they had the last half an hour of the night alone to themselves, but that wouldn’t be fair.
Kansas is the clear choice, as the Jayhawks lost an NCAA tournament game that they led by 8 or more at halftime for the first time in program history. They had previously been 47-0 in said situation.
Bill Self’s situation was certainly a March curveball no one could have prepared for, but the reigning champs not even making it to the tournament’s second weekend is still a disappointment.
1. The 15-seed revolution
From 1979 to 2020, only one 15-seed reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Now, after Princeton’s triumph over Missouri, we have our third straight year of a 15-seed playing its way into the Sweet 16.
That’s … insanity.
Even more hard to believe is the fact that of the four 15-seeds in history that have crashed the Sweet 16, none of them were even the top seed in their own conference tournament.
Weird commonality between the four 15-seeds to make it to the Sweet 16: None of them were the top seed in their own conference tournament.
2013 FGCU – No. 2 in ASUN
2021 Oral Roberts – No. 4 in Summit
2022 Saint Peter’s – No. 2 in MAAC
2023 Princeton – No. 2 in Ivy
— Andy Dieckhoff (@andrewdieckhoff) March 19, 2023
The only thing left is for a 15-seed to do the unthinkable and break through to the Final Four. With Princeton looking the way it did on Saturday, it’s absolutely within the realm of possibility.
2. Devo Davis’ emotional day
Arkansas has two players likely to hear their names called during the lottery of this summer’s NBA Draft. They have another one or two who could be selected later in the draft.
None of these players are Davonte “Devo” Davis. What Davis is is the heart and soul of a Razorback team that would be lost without him. They’d also be home for the offseason right now.
With his more naturally gifted teammates saddled with foul trouble, Davis was spectacular on Saturday. The three-year veteran of the program poured in a season-high 25 points and willed his team to its third straight trip to the Sweet 16.
After the game, his emotions flowed.
He also shared a special moment with his head coach.
“I love you, man!!”
Eric Musselman embraces his family and holds Devo Davis with tears of joy after Arkansas knocks off #1 Kansas. pic.twitter.com/6aqaVmKyV7
— Nick Walters (@nickwalt) March 19, 2023
This is the best of March.
3. Shirtless Muss
Simply put: It had been too long.
Our guy Ricky O’Donnell had a front row seat for the hottest show in Des Moines, and he might disagree.
Eric Musselman is now 8-2 in the NCAA tournament at Arkansas.
From 1997-2020, Arkansas was 5-10.
4. Tournament viewership
We just experienced the most-watched first round in the history of the NCAA tournament, and my hunch is that the numbers for the second round are going to be stellar as well.
CBS Sports and Warner Bros. Discovery Sports deliver most-watched First Round (Thu/Fri) of NCAA Men’s Tournament ever. pic.twitter.com/H6yG3pFqy4
— March Madness Men’s Basketball TV (@MM_MBB_TV) March 18, 2023
Laugh at anyone who tries to tell you that college basketball is a “dying sport” or “isn’t what it used to be.” The numbers from both the regular season and now the first part of postseason show that the sport is in a very good place at the moment.
5. New Jersey
Not since the Jersey Shore/Real Housewives phenomenon of 2009/2010 has New Jersey been this hot.
A year ago, Saint Peter’s became the first 15-seed to play in a regional final. This year, we’ve got Fairleigh Dickinson not even winning the NEC but taking out No. 1 seed Purdue in the first round, and Princeton stunning Arizona and then blowing out Missouri as a 15-seed.
“I guess there’s something in the water,” Princeton senior Ryan Langborg (a San Diego native) said about the trend on Saturday.
Even Jersey natives who moved out of the state to play their college ball are getting in on the fever.
“I went to high school right around the corner from Saint Peter’s. FDU, I live right around the corner from FDU. … I got a high school teammate who plays for them as well. Jersey is just different in March.”
—@AlabamaMBB Jahvon Quinerly pic.twitter.com/jFUoAVhBdP
— CBS Sports College Basketball (@CBSSportsCBB) March 19, 2023
It’s evident these days that if you’re a top seed facing a small Jersey school in the Big Dance, you’re a grenade that’s ready for a GTL session. GTL of course meaning “Game to Lose.”
I’m not even sorry about what just happened. You couldn’t pay me a thousand dollars to delete it.
BONUS CHEER: This Brandon Miller end-to-end sequence
Safe to say the Alabama freshman star was feeling a bit better on Saturday than he was on Thursday.
1. The early standalone games
I’ll never understand the layout of the tournament’s first Saturday and Sunday. I mean I’m sure the explanation is rooted in something related to ratings and money, but it still defies basic logic from a fan perspective.
After being flooded with games at all hours for the previous 48 hours, we get just two games back-to-back for the first five hours of the day. No games going on at the same time. Even the first half of the third game is alone on an island. And then BAM, we’ve got six games hurled at us during the evening session.
There’s no reason to have second round games wrapping up after midnight on the East Coast. It’s an easy fix, and it blows my mind that it hasn’t happened yet.
It’s especially brutal when the first two games of the day are San Diego State demolishing Furman, and Duke struggling to get to the 50-point mark against Tennessee.
Giving us all these options for 48 hours straight and then yanking them away without a proper adjustment period is cruel and unusual punishment.
2. Mike Bothwell having to say farewell
This is such a mature and touching parting message, but there’s one part in particular that’s difficult to watch.
When Bothwell says “it’s gonna be tough to never play for Furman again,” you can almost feel the instinctive jolt that just saying those words outloud for the first time has on his soul.
The complete finality that’s always present during this month is part of what makes it so great, but it’s also unfailingly brutal.
One moment you’re a standout basketball player at a program where you’ve put in years of work, and you’re fully focused on the task at hand of taking said program as far as it can go. A moment later, you used to be those things.
Like any death, it’s a moment that’s impossible to prepare for. Credit to Bothwell for handling it so well.
3. The Big Ten
While the Big Ten’s opening weekend hasn’t been quite as disastrous as it was, say, two years ago, it still hasn’t been stellar.
The league went 0-3 on Saturday, is 5-6 in the tournament, and has only Indiana and Michigan State still standing.
It seems unlikely that the conference’s 23-year title drought is going to be snapped in a couple of weeks.
4. This Missouri fan
The only thing worse than watching your team getting its ass kicked by a 15-seed with the same “Tigers” nickname, is doing it in a Tiger-themed blazer that has the losing school’s colors dominating the pattern.
Is that George Hamilton? Did George Hamilton go to Missouri?
I’m not looking it up.
It’s George Hamilton.
5. The quest for a repeat national champion dying
Kansas’ upset loss to Arkansas means that Florida in 2006 and 2007 will remain college basketball’s most recent repeat national champion. Not only that, but we still haven’t had a reigning national champ play past the Elite Eight since the Gators cut down the nets for a second time in ‘07.
Olivier Nkahmhoua, Tennessee
Duke simply had no answer for the senior forward from Finland, who torched the Blue Devils to the tune of 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the field.
Dylan Disu, Texas
Texas is known primarily for its guards, but the senior forward is the biggest reason why the Longhorns are dancing into the tournament’s second weekend. Disu dominated inside against undersized Penn State, finishing with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
He even got some love from Kevin Durant after the game.
See y’all in the 16. Gameball goes to Dylan Disu, looked like a young Lamarcus Aldridge out there. Let’s get it @TexasMBB
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) March 19, 2023
Disu, whose 28 points matched his career-high, tied Durant’s Texas NCAA tournament record for made field goals in a game with 14.
Tramon Mark, Houston
With both Marcus Sasser and Jamal Shead playing through injuries, Mark stepped up in a massive way to help keep Houston’s season alive. The junior guard scored a game-high 26 points to go along with nine rebounds in the Cougars’ come-from-behind win over Auburn.
Davonte Davis, Arkansas
The heart and soul of this Razorback squad, Devo Davis took center stage when his team needed him the most. Davis scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds as Arkansas bounced reigning national champion Kansas from the tournament.
Ryan Langborg, Princeton
Langborh buried four triples and scored a game-high 22 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists in Princeton’s convincing upset over Missouri.
The dunks from this group were bad on Thursday. They were way worse on Saturday.
I promise you that this was the best of the best.
1. Olivier Nkahmhoua, Tennessee
2. Julian Phillips, Tennessee
3. Keshad Johnson, San Diego State
1. Locker room euphoria
2. Above the rim in Sacramento
3. Houston huddles
1. “We come to play for 40 minutes, and we knew we were going to bring them down to the mud with us for 40 minutes. It’s tough, and some guys can hang and some guys can’t.” —Tennessee senior forward Olivier Nkamhoua
2. “Well I’ve been coaching a long time, and that’s as great a win as I’ve ever been a part of.” —Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman
3. “It seems the more he goes, the looser it got. He didn’t have the same pop. He was 3 of 11 on 2s. A lot of those were at the rim. His finishing has been really good. He definitely wasn’t 100%. He’s a tough kid. He’s playing through some stuff. He doesn’t let people know he’s hurt.” —Alabama head coach Nate Oats on star freshman Brandon Miller
4. “We’ve never played against a big man with that type of touch. I don’t remember him missing, not one floater. He would do it from 10 feet, 15 feet, 5 feet.” —Penn State’s Seth Lundy on Texas PF Dylan Disu
5. “It’s something no one can take away from this team. Greatest team in the school’s history. No one has won more games than us, and we enjoyed it. That’s the best part about it.” —Furman senior G Mike Bothwell
Last day of the first weekend. Let’s leave it all out there.