The Heat Check CBB staff tries to make sense of a wild Thursday night of Sweet 16 action, including heroic performances by Markquis Nowell and Drew Timme.
What a day. The 2023 NCAA Tournament continues to live up to the hype with another thrilling day of action in Las Vegas and New York City.
Florida Atlantic, Kansas State, Gonzaga and UConn are the first four to advance to the regional finals. The Heat Check CBB staff is here to break down their victories and recap a wild quartet of games.
Mr. New York City takes over MSG
Markquis Nowell may have already cemented himself as the individual story of the 2023 NCAA Tournament. The diminutive dynamo guided Kansas State to a 98-93 overtime victory over Michigan State, notching 20 points, 19 assists — a new March Madness record, FYI — and five steals.
If that wasn’t enough, he was doing it all in his hometown of New York City after spending all season entertaining a different group of Manhattanites. Nowell rose to the occasion and sent his team into the Elite Eight with his record-setting day.
It’s incredible that Nowell, a 5-8 COVID senior, is the most captivating story on a team that also features a resurrected Keyontae Johnson and a first-year head coach in Jerome Tang — but here we are.
Also, before we close the door on Sparty: Lost in the shuffle of Nowell’s Kemba Walker impression on Thursday night was the play of the Michigan State backcourt. AJ Hoggard had 25 points and six assists, while Tyson Walker went for 16 and five dimes not far from his Long Island hometown.
But when it came down to the final buzzer, it was Markquis Nowell — who goes by the nickname Mr. New York City — who owned Madison Square Garden. When K-State returns on Saturday to face Florida Atlantic, he’ll have a chance to send his Wildcats to the Final Four for the first time since 1964.
Florida Atlantic keeps the party going
The dream season continues for Dusty May and Florida Atlantic after the 9-seed Owls knocked off 4-seed Tennessee 62-55 in the nightcap at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
As we’ve come to expect with Tennessee games, this one wasn’t always the most beautiful demonstration of basketball — but it was a close, hard-fought battle nonetheless. The two teams failed to combine for 50 points in the first half, but things picked up in the second half.
While Johnell Davis led the Owls with 15 points and Nick Boyd was next-best with 12, Michael Forrest’s 11 points off the bench helped swing momentum in FAU’s direction and may have been the most important. The Florida Atlantic defense also held Tennessee to just 33.3 percent shooting from the field.
If the Owls advance to the Final Four, it would continue a recent trend for (relative) Cinderellas. In 10 of the past 12 NCAA Tournaments, a team seeded No. 7 or worse has made it to the national semifinals (11 teams total).
Drew Timme takes over
No matter what happens in the next week and a half, nobody can question Gonzaga center Drew Timme’s legacy as one of the best college basketball players of all time. In a game in which Gonzaga was down by 13 points at the half, Timme’s 36 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks were all team-highs. Timme set the foundation, but Malachi Smith’s 14 points powered the comeback and Julian Strawther’s last-second three secured the victory.
For UCLA, which entered the game down two starters, Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell knew they had to carry the load and they did so effectively for most of the game. Jaquez joined Timme and Strawther with a double-double of his own, scoring 29 points and 11 rebounds with two late and-1s to pull the Bruins within spitting distance of the Zags. Campbell was an assist shy of his own double-double, and Amari Bailey scored 19 points including a three with 12 seconds left to give UCLA a 1-point lead.
UCLA’s ability to withstand the Zags’ second-half run and still grab a lead with 12 seconds remaining — along with an opportunity to tie the game at the buzzer — should be commended. Ultimately, fatigue just caught up with the Bruins — playing with just eight contributors, four of whom averaged under 11 minutes per game each during the season.
Timme, who now owns the record for the most games with at least 20 points in the NCAA Tournament, will once again put his legacy on the line as he and the Zags take on Adama Sanogo and the UConn Huskies. The last time the Zags came off an emotional win over UCLA, their following game did not go well. They will look to change that narrative this time around.
UConn makes a statement, dominates Arkansas
The Huskies continue to attack March in a dominant way, going wire to wire in a thunderous 88-65 win over Arkansas.
Adama Sanogo continues to assert himself on the biggest stage, delivering an 18-point performance on 9-of-11 shooting from the field. In three tournament games, Sanogo is averaging 23.3 points on a 33-of-44 shooting clip.
“This team has everything we need to do something special,” Sanogo told John Fanta in the postgame.
UConn’s season can be divided into three chapters. First, the Huskies raced off to a 14-0 start that placed Dan Hurley’s team at No. 2 in the AP poll. Quickly, though, things unraveled. The Huskies stood 5-6 in Big East play three weeks later after a fourth defeat in five games.
Since then, UConn has returned to its nonconference form. The Huskies are tearing off lengthy scoring runs, asserting themselves on the defensive end, and hitting timely shots to keep opponents at a distance. Over its last 10 games, UConn is 9-1 with the only loss coming to a red-hot Marquette team in the Big East tournament. Just one win separates the Huskies from their first Final Four trip since 2014.