Once again, the NCAA Tournament proved it’s arguably the most unpredictable championship in sports, with a weekend full of upsets and dramatic action that has left us with 16 teams in the bracket.
With the dust now cleared after an action-packed four days of games, it’s time to take stock of what we witnessed and what it means going forward.
Here are some winners and losers from the opening 48 games of this year’s NCAA Tournament.
It feels like Tobin Anderson’s talents might be wasted simply coaching basketball. The Fairleigh Dickinson head coach not only engineered a stunning upset in becoming the second No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1, but he basically called his shot after the Owls won their play-in game.
There are many reasons why FDU’s victory over Purdue is the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA Tournament. The Owls won four games just last season before bringing in Anderson. They field the shortest team in the country – something that made guarding Purdue’s 7-foot-4 star Zach Edey a very difficult task. FDU didn’t even win its conference, a situation that would usually result in missing the NCAA Tournament. With NEC champion Merrimack ineligible for March Madness as it fully transitions to Division 1, the Owls took the conference’s automatic bid.
Mid-major New Jersey basketball
Saint Peter’s put mid-major New Jersey basketball on the map last year with its stunning run as the No. 15 seed to the Elite Eight. FDU and Princeton were obviously inspired by that performance and took the reputation of the Garden State to new heights this time around. One passes Saint Peter’s on the 61-mile trip from Princeton to FDU, a stretch of roadway that might as well be renamed as the Cinderella highway.
First, Princeton absolutely stonewalled Arizona with a lockdown defensive performance in the opening round to become the 11th No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2. The Tigers followed that up with the biggest margin of victory ever by a 15-seed in a 15-point blowout of No. 7 Missouri to book the school’s first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1967.
He stands only 5-foot-7, but there’s been nobody bigger through the opening week of action than Kansas State’s Nowell. The standout senior has been an absolute star in his first appearance in the tournament, showing his trademark New York flash while leading the Wildcats to their first Sweet 16 berth since 2018. Nowell turned in a ridiculous 17-point, 14-assist performance in the opening-round victory, but saved his best for an eye-popping encore on Sunday against Kentucky. Nowell finished with 27 points and nine assists in the victory, constantly bringing the crowd to its feet with deep shooting and some outstanding no-look feeds.
Northern Kentucky band leader
Northern Kentucky’s stay in this year’s NCAA Tournament wasn’t very long, but it was very memorable thanks to its over-exuberant band leader.
It’s getting difficult to find new things to say to underline just how dominant Timme is on the collegiate level. The Gonzaga star was at it once again Sunday against TCU, almost single-handedly pacing the Bulldogs to erase a halftime deficit and pull away for the win. Timme, the all-time leading scorer in Gonzaga history, finished with 28 points and eight rebounds. He now has nine games in the NCAA Tournament with at least 20 points, tying for the most in the history of the event. The Bulldogs will face No. 2 UCLA in the Sweet 16 – a rematch of the 2021 Final Four that featured Timme and was won on Jalen Suggs‘ buzzer-beater.
Painter has won a ton of games in his 18-year career with Purdue – currently sitting second on the school’s list all-time behind the legend Gene Keady. However, the Boilermakers have been a disaster in March under Painter, with this year’s tournament the most damning result of all. Purdue became just the second No. 1 all-time to fall to a No. 16 in the opening round of the tournament. It’s the latest in a very disturbing trend for Painter in March Madness.
Clearly something isn’t working with Painter’s plan in March, and the 52-year-old desperately needs to turn that trend around fast in West Lafayette.
Top-15 offensive units
One can question the overall validity of the defense-wins-championship mantra, but in 2023 that phrase is proving true at the NCAA Tournament. Only four programs in the top-10 offensive units in the tournament from KenPom’s efficiency rankings are advancing to play the Sweet 16 – including a few big hitters. No. 1 Purdue and No. 2 Arizona both fell in epic opening-round upsets due to terrible performances at the offensive end. The Boilermakers turned in their second-worst scoring game of the season in the stunning loss to No. 16 FDU, while the Wildcats’ 55 points in a loss to No. 15 Princeton were the fewest of the season. Other top-scoring outfits to fall in the opening week include No. 2 Marquette, No. 3 Baylor, No. 7 Missouri and No. 8 Iowa.
It’s been 22 tournaments since the Big Ten last won the national championship, and unless Tom Izzo and Michigan State deliver some magic over the next two weeks, that number is going to hit 23. The conference sent seven schools to the NCAA Tournament this year, but just the No. 7 Spartans remain after the opening weekend. The biggest shock was the opening-round departure of Purdue, a loss that was a serious blow to the conference’s chances at ending the drought. The Spartans face an impressive Kansas State squad in the Sweet 16 with the winner of Florida Atlantic and Tennessee waiting in the Elite Eight.
There will be a severe lack of big-name programs in the Sweet 16 this time around, with Kentucky, Kansas and Duke all dropping out in the opening week of action. Those three join North Carolina on the sideline after last year’s national finalist failed to make the NCAA Tournament this time around. Those four not making it to the regional semifinals is a very rare occurrence in March Madness.
The most shocking departure would certainly be Kansas, as the top-seeded Jayhawks held a 12-point second-half lead before falling to Arkansas in the dying seconds.
People who bet the over
It might not be much fun to bet the under but it’s certainly been lucrative in the NCAA Tournament this year. Through the opening 52 games of March Madness, the under hit at a whopping 35-17 clip. We mentioned above that a number of top offensive units have struggled, which leads to an increasing amount of games going under the total.
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