Nowell joins NYC elite
New York is known as the mecca of elite point guards. You can officially add Markquis Nowell to that list of players after Thursday’s epic performance. The Kansas State star was unstoppable in his return home to Madison Square Garden with an epic 20-point, 19-assist, five-steal stat line in the overtime win over Michigan State. The 19 assists set a new NCAA Tournament record, and he became the first player in any game in 14 years to record those numbers.
While Nowell stole the headlines, the Wildcats’ victory was a team effort. Six different Kansas State players scored in double figures, with Keyontae Johnson’s 22 points leading the way. The connection between the two Wildcats stars was evident throughout the night, especially on an electric alley-oop deep into overtime.
Nowell is now averaging an outrageous 21.3 points, 14 assists, and 3.6 steals per game in the NCAA Tournament.
Another Gonzaga-UCLA banger in March
Death, taxes, and Gonzaga playing UCLA in an absolute banger in March. There are few guarantees in life, but those two programs facing off in the NCAA Tournament is almost certain to bring drama. You can add Thursday’s contest to a list that includes Adam Morrison’s heartbreak in 2006 and Jalen Suggs’ epic Final Four winner in 2021. A game of runs that saw UCLA hold a massive 13-point advantage at half, only to trail by 10 with 2:30 to play, somehow was decided on a logo triple from Julian Strawther with seven seconds remaining.
Despite being down two starters, UCLA looked outstanding in the opening half against Gonzaga in piling up that double-digit halftime lead. History was in favor of the Bruins, with the school holding a 48-1 record all time in that scenario.
However, history didn’t have to deal with Drew Timme. The Gonzaga star absolutely torched the Bruins in a performance for the ages, pouring in 36 points and ripping down 13 rebounds. Timme now has 10 different NCAA Tournament games with at least 20 points, the most by any player all time.
Timme’s dominant showing and UCLA’s 12-minute stretch without a field goal saw the Bruins’ 13-point lead evaporate into a 10-point deficit. However, Mick Cronin’s squad somehow kept it close until Amari Bailey’s late triple gave the team a one-point lead in the final 30 seconds. Strawther then broke the Bruins’ hearts and ensured this one took its rightful place alongside previous matchups between the two programs.
Next up for Gonzaga is another blockbuster matchup with UConn in the Elite Eight on Saturday.
UConn makes massive statement
Of the programs left in March Madness, UConn is the only one to have ever lifted the trophy at the end of the NCAA Tournament. The storied history of the four-time national champions runs deep, which makes Thursday’s beatdown of Arkansas even more impressive. The 23-point victory marks the biggest in the program’s history for a Sweet 16 game or later in the NCAA Tournament.
The Huskies showed no interest in making the contest dramatic, racing out to a massive 17-point first-half lead versus the Razorbacks. UConn’s shooters came to play in Las Vegas, connecting on 57% from the field and 45% from deep. When the Huskies weren’t making shots, they were dominating their opponents on the glass by a 43-31 margin.
Four players scored in double digits, and a quartet of Huskies registered at least six rebounds in the win. It was arguably the most complete team performance we’ve seen thus far in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
FAU adds to Barnes’ tourney misery
Rick Barnes’ struggles in March will continue for another year, this time at the hands of a Florida Atlantic program that was playing in its first-ever Sweet 16 contest. The Tennessee coach has now advanced to the Elite Eight only three times in 27 NCAA Tournament appearances. Thursday’s setback will certainly rank high on the list of disappointments.
Tennessee entered as one of the country’s top second-half teams but was outscored by 12 in the final frame. FAU’s 15-2 run from 12:08 to the 7:30 mark of the second flipped the game from a six-point deficit to a seven-point lead. Barnes finally called a timeout at that point, but the damage had already been done. The Volunteers led the nation in 3-point defense, allowing a paltry 26% from deep, but they were undone by the Owls’ 38% shooting from beyond the arc in the second half.
FAU now advances to face the star of the tournament, Nowell and Kansas State, in hopes of trying to book the first Final Four visit for a Conference USA program since 2008.
Big Ten woes continue
The last time a Big Ten school won the NCAA Tournament was Michigan State in 2000. The Spartans put forth an incredible effort Thursday, but their narrow overtime loss to Kansas State ensures that record will last another year. Michigan State’s departure means only one Big Ten program has made the Elite Eight in the last three NCAA Tournaments.
With 11 programs in KenPom’s top 50, the Big Ten certainly wasn’t a slouch this season. However, the conference lacked the top-end programs that could make a serious run in March. The only top-20 team from the conference was Purdue, which went on to become just the second No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16.
One positive note to look forward to for the Big Ten is the upcoming additions of UCLA and USC for the 2024-25 season. The two Los Angeles schools have two trips to the Elite Eight in the last three tournaments alone.
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