It wasn’t quite the evening to remember that Thursday was, but Friday night was still a historical one for college basketball.
Let’s recap the best and worst from the final day of the tournament with multiple games happening at the same time (pour one out).
(5) San Diego State 71, (1) Alabama 64 (South)
Look, Thursday night gave us two absolute classics, and sometimes that’s all you can as for out of a Sweet 16 round.
The best that we got from Friday’s quartet was a contest where the teams combined to shoot 35% from the floor and 9-for-54 (16.7 percent) from three. Neither team got great efforts from their stars, as San Diego State’s Matt Bradley shot just 2-of-9 from the field and Alabama All-American Brandon Miller went a woeful 3-for-19.
Despite its shooting struggles, Alabama — the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed — appeared to be solidly in control of things with a 48-39 lead midway through the second half. It was then that San Diego State ripped off a 12-0 run that changed everything. They then controlled the flow of the game, got enough offense from Darrion Trammell, and suffocated the Crimson Tide of the defensive end, finishing with eight blocked shots and 14 forced turnovers.
Trammell, whose college basketball career began at City College of San Francisco and saw him spend two seasons at Seattle U before transferring in to San Diego State, finished with a game-high 21 points. He said after the final buzzer that he wasn’t surprised to see the Aztecs shut down the pre-tournament favorite.
“We feel like we can beat any team in the country,” Trammell said. “We work hard, and we feel like we have the DNA of a winning team that goes far in March. We have experience. We have grit. This is what we’re supposed to do.”
SDSU, which had made prior Sweet 16 appearances in 2011 and 2014, is now headed to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
Unlike the first category, we had some choices here. Three teams won by double figures Friday night, but I think you have to go with Miami, which bounced top seed Houston in the Midwest and did so in decisive fashion.
The Hurricanes shot 51.7 percent from the field, knocked down 11-of-25 from beyond the arc, saw all five of their starters score in double figures, and never trailed in the second half of a runaway 89-75 win over the Cougars.
Nijel Pack was outrageous from three, knocking down seven of them — a handful from several feet behind the line — on his way to a game-high 26 points.
The performance earned him a smooch from his head coach after the game.
“The Pack kid, some of the shots he made were shots you hope he takes,” Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “The problem was he made them. Some of those were Howitzers.”
Miami, which lost to Kansas last season in its first ever Elite Eight appearance, will now play in a regional final for the second time in as many seasons.
It was a big for The U in both tournaments, as the ninth-seeded women upset Villanova earlier in the day to make it to the women’s Elite Eight. Miami and UConn are the only teams that have both their men’s and women’s teams still standing.
We had two No. 1 seeds go down, but I feel like we have to go with the No. 1 overall seed here.
An Alabama team that entered the evening averaging 82.3 points per game simply never found its offensive footing in Louisville Friday night. The Tide had just one starter, big man Charles Bediako, who shot better than 40 percent from the floor and had two of its stars — Brandon Miller and Jahvon Quinerly — play about as poorly as they have all year.
I adore the post-block thumbs down
With the loss, it’s now been a full decade since the NCAA tournament’s No. 1 overall seed has cut down the nets. The selection committee began designating a No. 1 overall seed in 2004. Since then, that team has gone on to win the national championship just three times — Florida in 2007, Kentucky in 2012, and Louisville in 2013.
With the loss, Alabama also fell to 1-9 all-time in Sweet 16 games, the worst regional semifinal record of any program in tournament history.
People will debate whether it was the off-the-court stuff or the team’s youth or something else that led to the team’s out-of-character performance, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. When you play like Alabama did Friday night, you’re almost always going home as a result.
What else could it be?
For the first time in the history of the NCAA tournament, we are about to experience an Elite Eight that won’t feature a single No. 1 seed. We’re also guaranteed just the fourth Final Four in tournament history without a No. 1 seed (joining 1980, 2006 and 2011).
If that weren’t enough we now also know that one team out of the quartet of San Diego State, Creighton, Kansas State and Florida Atlantic is going to play for the national championship a week from Monday.
Speaking of that half of the bracket, head coaches Jerome Tang (K-State), Dusty May (FAU) and Brian Dutcher (San Diego State) all had a grand total of zero NCAA tournament wins on their resume two weeks ago (May and Tang had never coached in the Big Dance), and now they’re all one win away from the Final Four.
The last time each team reached the Elite Eight/Final Four:
5-San Diego State: Never/Never
9-Florida Atlantic: Never/Never
3-Kansas State: 2018/1964
— Heat Check CBB (@HeatCheckCBB) March 25, 2023
We’ve also now got an Elite Eight that features zero coaches who have ever won a national title before.
I know people love star-studded Final Fours and seeing the best teams in the sport go at it on the sport’s biggest stage, but this feels fitting. The most wide-open college hoops season in recent memory deserved a bizarro tournament and potentially a bizarro national champion, and both of those things might be happening. The former certainly is.
2. Jim Larranaga’s locker room dancing
It had been too long.
Miami was 4-6 all-time in the NCAA tournament before Larranaga’s arrival in Coral Gables. They’re 10-5 since with two regional final appearances and four of the program’s five all-time Sweet 16 appearances.
Also, this team appears to be having at least as much fun of any still standing. I guess NIL might not be a locker room killer after all.
3. Miami’s resilience
When it comes to the FBI’s now infamous “probe into college basketball,” the main topic of discussion over the last six (75?) years has been how badly the schools involved deserve to be punished.
Much, much less discussed has been the program that has already paid a steep price because of the probe, and just how unfair that payment has been.
When the FBI’s original complaint took the sports world by storm in September of 2017, Miami and Jim Larranaga — AKA “University 7” and “Coach 3” — were all over it. The complaint alleged that Larranaga and Miami had actively worked with Adidas officials to funnel $150,000 to recruit Nassir Little. After the fallout from the FBI scandal, Little would ultimately sign with North Carolina.
As it turns out, the travel basketball coach named in the original indictment — Brad Augustine — was simply taking the money he was being given by Adidas and pocketing it for himself. Any talk of him working with Larranaga or any other coaches to try and get Little paid was all made up.
Larranaga — who immediately and consistently denied any sort of wrongdoing — was removed from the superseding indictment the FBI released in April of 2018. Miami as a program was also cleared of any wrongdoing.
Basically, the FBI gave The U an “our bad” and moved right along.
The “our bad” was little consolation to a Miami program that saw its positive momentum completely stalled by the negative headlines.
Recruiting bottomed out, and a program that had gone to the Sweet 16 in 2016 as part of a run of three straight NCAA tournament appearances was suddenly 14-18 and near the bottom of the ACC standings at the end of the 2018-19 season. It got worse before it got better, as the Hurricanes finished with losing records in both 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Miami was picked to finish 12th in the ACC media poll before the start of the 2021-22 season, and there was more than a little buzz that the campaign might be Larranaga’s last in Coral Gables if his team wasn’t able to dramatically overachieve. Five months later, the Hurricanes were in the Elite Eight for the first time in program history. In the process, Larranaga also became the first coach in the history of the NCAA tournament to lead two different double-digit seeds (George Mason in 2006) to the Elite Eight.
A year later, Miami — which won a share of the ACC’s regular season title and was the top seed for the league tournament in Greensboro — appears to have its best shot ever at breaking through and making a Final Four.
An apology from the FBI should be coming any day now.
BONUS CHEER: Timmy Allen’s halfcourt shot
We hadn’t had a good one of these in the tournament yet.
See you on “One Shining Moment,” Timmy.
1. Brandon Miller
He’s still almost certainly going to be a top five pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, but Miller’s first and last March Madness experience was brutal. He started by failing to score in the team’s first round win, he then shot just 5-for-17 two days later, and was 3-for-19 and looked lost in Saturday’s defeat.
More, via CBS Sports research, and this is a stunner: Brandon Miller is the only player since at least 1960 to shoot under 20% in a single tournament with a minimum of 40 attempts.
— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) March 25, 2023
Maybe it was the weight of the off-the-court questions, maybe it was his youth. Whatever it was, I’m sure Miller couldn’t be more eager to turn the page to his professional career.
2. Dylan Disu’s injury
They didn’t need him in their decisive 83-71 win over Xavier, but Texas big man Dylan Disu playing just 2 minutes Friday night because of a bone bruise in his left foot was a major bummer.
Disu started the game for UT per usual, but was clearly bothered by the injury and left the floor just two minutes into the game. When he re-emerged from the team locker room, he did so with a boot on his left foot.
The worst part of this was that Disu was coming off of the game of his life, a 28 point, 10 rebound performance in Texas’ second round win over Penn State. In five postseason games, the 6’9 senior had been averaging 17.8 points on 39-of-54 shooting (72.2 percent) and has added seven steals. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Big 12 tournament two weeks ago.
Texas didn’t need Disu to roll over the Musketeers, but it’s hard to envision them winning a national championship without him being involved. Here’s hoping the foot can heal enough for the big guy to get back on the court.
3. NIL doomers
One of the main criticisms surrounding NIL these last couple of years has been that “the rich will only get richer” and that the biggest and baddest programs in college basketball will only get better and the parity which people love will be non-existent.
Well … no.
We watched Princeton and Creighton play in the Sweet 16 last night, and now we’re about have the first Elite Eight without a single No. 1 seed for the first time ever. There are just two teams standing from the “Power 5” conferences with the most money, and only one of them is going to make the Final Four.
We haven’t had players getting into all-out brawls because one is being paid less than another, and we certainly haven’t had the bluebloods put distance between themselves and the rest of the sport.
Per usual, college basketball isn’t just “fine” or “surviving,” it’s thriving.
Nijel Pack, Miami
The Kansas State transfer was unstoppable on Friday, drilling 7-of-10 threes and scoring a game-high 26 points.
Tosan Evbuomwan, Princeton
It what might have been his final game with the Tigers, Evbuomwan kept Princeton within shouting distance of Creighton by scoring 24 points, handing out nine assists, and grabbing six rebounds.
Darrion Trammell, San Diego State
Trammell was the main source of offense in a game that featured very little, knocking down 9-of-16 shots, including 3-of-5 from three, on his way to a game-high 21 points.
Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton
Princeton simply had no answer for the 7’1 junior, who scored 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting.
Adam Kunkel, Xavier
Kunkel kept things respectable for Xavier against Texas, hitting 8-of-10 from the field and 5-of-6 from three on his way to 21 points.
Charles Bediako, Alabama
Not a great night for dunks.
1. The sweetness
2. Hook ‘em
3. The fight to be elite
1. “It’s just parity. That’s what it is. There’s not a lot of difference between the best team in the country and the worst team in the country. You’re seeing that on this stage.” —San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher
2. “We were all hyped up. We love when Coach L dances. That’s probably the best celebration we could look forward to.” —Miami forward Jordan Miller
3. “At the end of the day, there’s just eight teams left, and to be one of those eight teams is just crazy. It’s what you work for all year. It’s what you work for since you get here on campus in the summer, and this is all the hard work paying off now.” —Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner
Let’s make some memories.