By Arnie Leshin
Don’t get too overwhelmed over this, it doesn’t happy very often, but in the 2023 men’s basketball March Madness it dropped into our laps as the top eight ranked teams fell out of the hunt.
It’s not exactly new, but you can guess it occurs when you expect it, as in a season in which no team has been high above the rest, all by its self as top of the heap.
The latest crash came when fifth-seeded San Diego State ousted numero uno football factory Alabama, 71-68, in a Sweet 16 washout at Madison Square Garden Friday.
Next it was another top seed, Houston, that got the heave-ho via a Sweet 16 elimination wallop 89-75 thrown by 6th-seeded Miami.
Before this one-two punch, knocked out of the 68-team field were Arizona, Virginia, Purdue and UCLA. All were seeded first or second most of the up-and-down season.
Now comes the Elite Eight. In the East Region final, it’s 3rd-seeded Kansas State meeting No. 9 Florida Atlantic University, in the South Region, San Diego State faces Creighton, in the Midest Region, Miami goes against No. 2 Texas, and in the West, No. 4 Connecticut takes on No. 3 Gonzaga.
Creighton, the sixth seed, upped its record to 24-12 by ending the bid of 15th-seeded Princeton, 86-75, by virtue of its size, 3-point shooting and a swarming second half defense as the pesky Tigers wound up at 23-9.
Then there was No. 2 Texas taking down No. 3 Xavier, 83-71. Now 29-8, the Longhorns’ balanced attack was led by 19 points from Tyrese Hunter, and 18 each from Christian Bishop and Marcus Carr, and gained the Elite Eight for the first time in 15 seasons.
The East and South plays its championship games Saturday, the Midwest and West on Sunday.
Two schools have a chance to win both gender titles, and currently it’s Miami with the best look after winning both its men’s and women’s contests. Then there’s UConn in the upcoming Sweet 16 round, the men against UCLA, the women versus Ohio State.
The women’s Final Four is at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on March 31. The men’s at NRG Arena in Houston April 1. That site would have been great for Houston, but no more. Now the Lone Star State venue would favor Texas.
As for the women, playing at Dallas won’t exactly favor anyone.
But of course, it’s a big advantage for top-ranked unbeaten South Carolina as it plays its Midwest Regional semifinals in Greensville. Saturday, the doubleheader has the 35-0 Gamecocks playing UCLA and Maryland meeting up with Notre Dame. Sunday, the two winners meet.
In the West Regional semis Saturday played in Seattle, Virginia Tech opposes Tennessee and Connecticut goes against Ohio State. The survivors go at it on Monday.
Friday, No. 3 LSU and No. 2 Utah went at it in Greenville and the tight tussle wound down with Utah behind 64-63 with 5.2 remaining had its player step to the foul line for two shots, but her first try didn’t reach the basket, her second rimmed the front, and LSU (31-2) took advantage with two freebies to seal the win.
LSU, now coached by for the first time by long-time Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey, thus reached the Elite Eight for the first time in 15 years as senior La Dazhia Williams led the way with a season-high 24 points.
Now the Bayou Tigers will meet up with 9th-seeded Miami, a 70-65 winner over No. 5 Villanova as the country’s leading scorer, Nova senior Maddy Siegrist, concluded with 27 points and then declared for the Women’s National Basketball Association.
Meanwhile, the surprising Hurricanes (22-12) joined their men’s team that ousted a No.1-seeded Houston, 83-71, to keep both programs in the March Madness hunt.
The lady Canes were up by 21 points before Siegrist helped close the gap and put the Wildcats up by one with a minute remaining, but were bailed out when leading scorer Jasmyne Roberts made a go-ahead 3 with 38.8 seconds left and finished with a career-high 26 points.
Unlike the men whose top eight seeds were eliminated, the women do have six of its eight remaining top seeds still at it.