2023 NCAA Tournament: Surprises, Disappointments, and Most Scintillating Performance, etc.

Markquis Nowell deserves MOP of the 2023 NCAA tournament

The 2023 NCAA tournament has been one of the most chaotic in recent memory, as the lower-seeded team has won 21 times. This year’s event will mark the first time that the champion will not be a No. 1 seed in seven years. It is the first time the Final Four does not include a No. 1 seed since 2011.

Connecticut, ironically the last non-top-seeded team to win the national championship,  is the only team of the four remaining clubs to have previously reached the Final Four (2014). Miami was an Elite Eight participant in 2022, while FAU’s only other tournament appearance was in 2002 when the Owls lost their opening game. The Sweet 16 was the furthest that San Diego State had previously gone.    

San Diego State, the fifth seed in the South, will face the East’s No.9 Florida Atlantic to kick off the action in Houston on Saturday at 6:09 p.m. (ET). The West’s No. 4 UConn takes on Midwest’s No. 5  Miami in the nightcap at NRG Stadium. The rest of the article will react to some of the happenings of the tourney. 

2023 NCAA Tournament: Surprises, Disappointments, Most Scintillating Performance, etc.

Most Surprising Teams

Of all the surprising performances and upsets through the first five rounds, FAU, Princeton, and Fairleigh Dickinson are the winners in this category. 

Florida Atlantic Owls 

FAU gets top billing as the Owls are still playing. While the Owls have proven their quality all season long, posting a school-best 35-3 record, it is still surprising that the ninth seed out of the East Region is playing in their first Final Four. 

FAU has demonstrated its toughness throughout the tournament, coming back from second-half deficits and winning all four games by eight or fewer points. The Owls have won games with their 3-point shooting, rim protection, defense, and rebounding on both ends. They have big wins over Tennessee and Kansas State. 

Princeton Tigers

Princeton finished second during the regular season before upsetting Yale, the Ivy League’s top seed, in the conference tournament. The Tigers, playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017, reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1967 after upsetting second-seeded Arizona and racing past No. 7 Missouri. Their win over Arizona was the program’s first tournament victory since 1998. 

Fairleigh Dickinson Knights

Fairleigh Dickinson was the tournament’s darlings in the first couple of rounds. Out of the NEC, the Knights lost 15 games during the regular season and were runners-up in the conference tournament. Still, they pulled off the program’s first-ever tournament victories, including becoming only the second-ever No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 (Purdue).       

Most Disappointing Performances

Despite a ton of upsets and teams seeing their season conclude before it was expected, a few disappointing performances stood out. 

Purdue Boilermakers

Purdue had a fantastic season despite being the second-ever No. 1 seed to fall to a No. 16 (FDU). The Boilermakers, a 23.5-point favorite, did not have an answer for FDU’s strategy of not allowing star center Zach Edey beat them. Edey finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds, but the rest of the team was just 12 of 42 (28.5%) and 5 of 19 from beyond the arc (19.2%). They also committed 16 turnovers in the game. It is the third time the Boilermakers have lost in the first round as a fourth or higher seed under Matt Painter. 

Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas was expected to reach the Final Four, if not win the whole Chabang. After quickly dispatching Howard in the first round, KU’s defense could not get stops down the stretch and was nipped 72-71 by eighth-seeded Arkansas. The Jayhawks have lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament in three of their last four trips. 

Brandon Miller

Brandon Miller had an incredibly disappointing first NCAA tournament. There are a few reasons that the very talented future NBA lottery selection struggled. Nonetheless, the 19-year-old totaled 28 points on 8 of 41 (19.5%) shooting from the field and 5 of 22 (22.7%) from beyond the arc, and 10 turnovers. He did collect 22 rebounds, three blocks, one steal, and six assists in three games.  


San Diego State Aztecs

San Diego State is on the list because the Aztecs were not given the respect that they deserved by the NCAA tournament committee. SDSU entered the tournament with a 27-6 record and the 14th-best Net ranking. The Aztecs had five quad one wins, and all five losses were against quality opponents. They were the top five seed (No. 17 overall) but should have been a four, probably No. 14 overall.

Miami Hurricanes

Miami was arguably the best team in the ACC all season long. Still, according to the committee, the Hurricanes were the last fifth seed. They can really shoot the ball and are one of the most efficient offenses in the country. Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller are NBA prospects, while Norchad Omier should be a future pro. The Hurricanes, who have won a program-tying 29 games, should have been a fourth seed. 

Atlantic Coast Conference

The ACC was underrated all season long, finishing seventh in NET and sixth in RPI. The ACC, one of two conferences with 15 members (A-10), had the fifth-best nonconference winning percentage. Also, 1o teams posted winning records (seven reached 20 victories), and 13 of 15 teams recorded 10 victories. 

The conference received five tournament bids, the same as the Big East and one more than the Mountain West. Virginia was the highest ACC-seeded team (No. 4) in the tournament. 

The ACC and the Big East are the only power-7 conferences with a team in the Final Four. The conference is 7-4 in the tournament, with Duke, Miami, and Pitt each earning at least one win. Virginia should have beaten Furman if not for their last-minute meltdown. 


Big 12 Conference

Don’t want to be too critical of the conference, as the Big 12 was the best in the country, and the tournament is not a great indicator of how good a team or conference is. But the conference was not as strong as it was portrayed by most of the big-time media members. The Big 12 got six teams in the tournament, rightfully so, though it was believed that Oklahoma State and perhaps Texas Tech deserved consideration which was not the case. 

Though Texas and OSU reached the Elite Eight, the Big 12 went just 9-7 in the tournament. Texas was the best team in the league and theoretically should still be playing if they didn’t “wet the bed,” blowing a 13-point second-half lead to Miami on Sunday as they gave up 51 points over the final 20 minutes. Kansas was a major disappointment, while Kansas State put together a nice run though Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson were essentially a two-man show. 

Baylor and TCU were above-average teams, but they ran into  Creighton and Gonzaga, respectively,  in the round of 32. Iowa State and West Virginia were overseeded. Iowa State’s inability to create offense was its downfall all season long, and as a result, the Cyclones probably should have been an eighth seed instead of sixth. WVU was average at best. 

Best Team Remaining

Connecticut Huskies 

UConn has looked dominant over the past four contests. The Huskies have outscored their NCAA tournament opponents by 90 points, which includes 20-point wins over Arkansas and Gonzaga. 

Unlike San Diego State and Miami, UConn can win games with its offense and defense. The Huskies, ranked in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, are an excellent shooting team that has made nine threes in each of the tourney contests (41-98, 41.8%) and has limited each opponent to under 39% shooting from the field along with 18 total 3-pointers. Their last two opponents, Gonzaga and Arkansas, totaled 99 points on 40 of 103 (32.5%) shooting from the field and 7 of 36 (19.4%) from the 3-point line. 

Jordan Hawkins and Adama Sanogo, likely future NBA draft picks, give the Huskies a lethal inside-outside duo. Hawkins, the West Region’s MOP, has scored double-figures in all four contests, topped the 20-point mark in the last two, and is 16 for 31 (51.6%) from deep. Sanogo has dominated the paint, scoring 18 or more points in three games and posting two double-doubles, though the big man struggled against Gonzaga – converting on just 3 of 11 shot attempts. 

However, UConn is far from a two-man team. The Huskies go nine deep. Andre Jackson is a very underrated all-around player. Alex Karaban is an excellent shooter, while Donovan Clingan provides rim protection and rebounding off the bench. 

Most Outstanding Player

Markquis Nowell   

With apologies to Drew Timme, Jaime Jaquez Jr.,  and Sanogo, Nowell is the MOP of the tournament. Nowell almost single-handedly propelled the Wildcats to their first Final Four since 1964. The pint-sized point guard was a menace on both ends of the floor. 

Nowell scored in double-figures all four games and posted three double-doubles, which included an NCAA tournament record 19 dimes in the Sweet 16 victory over Michigan State. He tallied 20 points, 12 assists, and five steals in the Elite Eight.

Nowell topped 20 points in three of the four games, averaging 23.5 points along with 12.5 assists and 4.0 steals. He was 29 of 65 (44.6%) from the field and 13 of 31 (41.9%) from beyond the arc.