Big thanks to everyone who’s read these recaps over the last couple of weeks. I hope they’ve been as much fun to rip through as they’ve been to put together.
Once more into the fray …
(5) San Diego State 57, (6) Creighton 56 (South)
It may have featured long stretches of abysmal offense and it may have finished with a wildly unsatisfying ending, but San Diego State-Creighton was unquestionably competitive throughout.
SDSU missed a ton of shots right at the rim and shot just 37.9 percent as a team for the game. They also made only a trio of three-pointers and four free-throws.
SDSU made four free throws in their victory against Creighton.
There are only three other times has a team won a game in the Elite Eight or later with 4 or fewer free throws:
2019 Michigan State in Elite Eight
1978 Arkansas in Elite Eight
1973 UCLA in Elite Eight pic.twitter.com/NtRkcmH1dd
— CBS Sports College Basketball (@CBSSportsCBB) March 26, 2023
Brian Dutcher’s team ultimately prevailed, as it tends to do, with unbelievable defense.
After trailing by five at the break, the Aztecs held Creighton — perennially one of the best offensive teams in the country — to just 23 points on 28.0 percent shooting in the second half. For the game, the Bluejays were a woeful 2-of-17 (11.8%) from beyond the arc and didn’t make a single three-pointer after halftime. The two made three-pointers matched Creighton’s lowest total of the season.
The only thing that seemed to be working offensively for the Jays was utilizing the advantage they had inside with 7’1 center Ryan Kalkbrenner. While the junior center scored 17 points, his team seemed to go away from him for long stretches that just so happened to coincide with key offensive droughts.
A year ago, these two teams met in the first round of the NCAA tournament, with Creighton gritting out an overtime win. With the scored tied and less than two seconds to play, it looked like very recent history might be on the verge of repeating itself.
Then, one of the most talked about plays of March occurred.
San Diego State’s Darrion Trammell attempted a game-winning floater in the lane just before the final horn, but his shot found nothing but iron. However, before either team could scramble for the rebound, a whistle was blown. Official Lee Cassell ruled that Creighton’s Ryan Nembhard, who had been on Trammell’s right hip, had committed a foul.
Trammell missed the first free-throw but buried the second, all but locking up SDSU’s first ever trip to the Final Four. The trip to Houston was set in stone after Baylor Scheirman’s length of the court inbounds pass glanced off a pair of hands and went out-of-bounds.
With the 1-point victory, San Diego State improved to 9-0 in its last nine games decided by five points or fewer.
The Aztecs are the first team in the history of the Mountain West Conference to make a Final Four. Their run also comes on the heels of an absolutely brutal stretch for the league in the NCAA tournament.
Before SDSU’s first round win over Charleston, Mountain West teams had lost 11 consecutive games in March Madness. The conference had also been just 3-18 in NCAA tournament games since 2015.
After making the first Elite Eight in school history a year ago, the Hurricanes are heading at least one step farther in 2023.
Miami trailed Texas for most of the game’s first 35 minutes on Sunday, and stared down a 13-point deficit with just 13:30 to play. The Hurricanes scored 37 points from that forward, ran away from Texas to win by seven, and did so without making a single three-pointer during that stretch.
The U got just five points from its bench, and that turned out to be more than enough because of the spectacular play of its starting five. Each Hurricane starter scored at least 11 points, and four of the five shot 50 percent or better from the field.
Jordan Miller gave one of the greatest NCAA tournament performances in recent memory (more on that later), Isaiah Wong was predictably nails down the stretch, Norchad Omier took proper advantage of Texas having to play without Dylan Disu, Nijel Pack didn’t force things from the outside when the Longhorns took that away from him, and Wooga Poplar made 6-of-7 shots and led the team in assists.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about what Miami has accomplished over the last two weeks is that despite this being one of the wildest NCAA tournaments in history, the Hurricanes reached the Final Four by going through the best-seeded team they could have played in every round — No. 12 Drake, No. 4 Indiana, No. 1 Houston and No. 2 Texas. And of that quartet, Drake was the team that came the closest to taking the ‘Canes out.
As dominant as Connecticut has been through four rounds of this tournament, you can’t look at what Miami has done over the last two weeks and feel confident in saying they’ve got no shot in the late game on Saturday.
Guards steer the ship in March, and Miami has four of them who can play captain on any given night … as well as a pretty solid anchor down low.
This could have just as easily gone to Creighton’s second half performance, but Texas was the better seed here, Texas was the bigger favorite, and Texas led by 13 near the midway point of the second half.
With Miami’s offensive firepower, you had to have known that a second half Hurricane run was coming at some point. When it did, Texas’ own stable of experienced backcourt talent was simply not up to the moment. Timmy Allen, Marcus Carr and Tyrese Hunter each looked panicked and committed critical turnovers down the stretch. When they finally steadied themselves and tried to return fire, it was too late.
Considering everything that happened within the program since early November, Texas had a remarkable run this season. Rodney Terry will reportedly be rewarded with the full-time job, a title he more than earned.
Despite all the accomplishments and positives from the year, it’ll be impossible for UT fans to not wonder forever what would have happened if Dylan Disu had been able to go in the regional final.
1. A truly bizzaro Final Four
We did it, guys. After talking for four months about how wide open the sport is this season and predicting an unpredictable NCAA tournament, we will head into the final weekend of the season with one of the strangest Final Fours in the history of college basketball.
For the first time in NCAA tournament history, there will be no No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 seeds playing in the national semifinals. Either San Diego State or Florida Atlantic — two programs that had never played in a regional final before this weekend — is going to play for the national championship on Monday night.
The average seed of the four teams remaining (5.75) is worse than the average seed of teams in the history of the Second Round (5.71). If you add the total of the four seeds up — 4, 5, 5 and 9 — you get 23. That’s the second highest total in Final Four history, trailing only the 26 set in 2011 by 3-seed UConn, 4-seed Kentucky, 8-seed Butler and 11-seed VCU.
This is the first Final Four without a single former McDonald’s All-American since the tournament began seeding teams back in 1979. In fact, the Final Four doesn’t even feature a single former top 30 recruit.
The Final Four doesn’t feature a single consensus top-30 recruit, per RSCI.
Here are the highest-rated prospects:
#37 — Donovan Clingan, UConn
#47 — Samson Johnson, UConn
#48 — Jordan Hawkins, UConn
#50 — Andre Jackson, UConn
#56 — Harlond Beverly, Miami
— Heat Check CBB (@HeatCheckCBB) March 27, 2023
The last time three of the four national semifinalists were making their Final Four debut? 1970. This will also be just the second time in the last 50 years that a pair of teams making their first Final Four appearance will be squaring off on national semifinal Saturday (Gonzaga vs. South Carolina in 2017 is the other).
One last one? Sure: This is just the third time since 1961-62 that the Final Four will feature zero teams from the AP preseason top 10 (2006 and 2011 are the others).
The point I’m trying to make here is that this Final Four is weird as shit, and that’s wonderful.
I understand the desire to see top-seeded blue bloods slugging it out on the sport’s biggest stage, but you already get that like four out of every five years. Everyone agrees that a major part of the allure of this event lies in the unpredictability and the endless possibilities that it presents. That allure loses a little bit of its luster if the final chapter is No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 1 North Carolina (or something cut from that same cloth) every first weekend of April.
Final Fours like this remind us that this is one of the very few major American sports where something like this can happen. Where almost anything really is possible. Final Fours like this keep us on our toes. Embrace them when they happen. History says the big boys will be back soon enough.
2. Jim Larranaga synchronicity
A lot was made on Thursday night about UCLA and Gonzaga playing a regional semifinal 17 years to the day of the Bruins’ famous Sweet 16 win over the Zags in “The Adam Morrison Game.” But Sunday marked another 17 year anniversary.
It was on March 26, 2006 that 11-seed George Mason pulled off one of the more improbable upsets in the history of the NCAA tournament, stunning top-seeded Connecticut in overtime to crash the Final Four.
Seventeen years later, Jim Larranaga was taking another program in a different shade of green to its first Final Four.
March 26, 2006: Jim Larrañaga’s George Mason Patriots erase double digit-deficit to advance to the Final Four
March 26, 2023: Jim Larrañaga’s Miami Hurricanes erase double digit-deficit to advance to the Final Four pic.twitter.com/ZrNaCJMuJK
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 26, 2023
The man is a no-brainer Hall of Famer, and if anyone asks for evidence why, it’s a one line response: He took George Mason to the Final Four, and he took Miami to the Final Four. The Patriots had never won a game in the NCAA tournament before Larranaga’s arrival, and Miami had only been to one Sweet 16.
Not bad for a guy who coached for 19 years before getting his first March Madness win.
3. Jordan Miller
It’s not hyperbolic to say that Jordan Miller gave one of the best performances in NCAA tournament history on Sunday. The 6’7 senior guard scored a game-high 27 points and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the field and 13-for-13 from the free-throw line.
That’s … pretty rare. How rare?
Jordan Miller is the 1st player with 27 points on 100% FG and 100% FT in an NCAA Tournament game since Christian Laettner in the 1992 Elite 8 against Kentucky, when he hit “The Shot.” pic.twitter.com/VMa4ndwEha
— CBS Sports College Basketball (@CBSSportsCBB) March 26, 2023
Over the last 25 seasons, there have been 134,377 instances of a Division I player taking at least 20 total shots (FG or FT) in a game, NCAA Tournament or otherwise.
— OptaSTATS (@OptaSTATS) March 27, 2023
Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack get a ton of headlines, and deservedly so, but Miller’s play on Sunday is the biggest reason why this team is headed to Houston.
BONUS CHEER: Brian Dutcher’s post net-cutting trust fall
It’s called culture, folks.
Although if they’d dropped him that would have been an all-time March moment in its own right.
DOUBLE BONUS CHEER: 5-Seeds
Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, every seed line from 1-8 has produced at least one national champion … except the 5-seed line.
No. 5 seeds have made it to the title game three times (nearly four after Auburn’s narrow loss to Virginia in the 2019 Final Four), but have never been able to be the last team standing.
Now, with Miami and San Diego State both punching their tickets to Houston on Sunday, there is a chance that we could have an all 5-seed national championship game on April 3.
1. The final minute of San Diego State-Creighton
People will be debating the final foul call in San Diego State’s win over Creighton for years to come, but it wasn’t just the controversial whistle that made the conclusion of the game so unsatisfying.
For starters, Creighton could not hit a shot to save its life in the second half of this game. That included a Trey Alexander jumper with 33 seconds that seemed to defy the laws of physics to keep the Aztecs in front by two.
When the Bluejays finally were able to tie the score, it happened on a bizarre inbounds steal that looked like it might have been a play drawn up by Greg McDermott if the inbounder had been wearing blue.
And then, of course, there’s the foul call.
Since nobody asked, to me, it’s a foul … but it’s also a play where I would not have been up in arms if a whistle hadn’t blown. I think the majority of the impartial viewing public would have been on that same page.
After Darrion Trammell made 1-of-2 free-throws to put SDSU ahead by a point, we had 1.2 seconds of game action that seemed to take approximately 35 minutes of real time. We had a timeout, we had a Baylor Scheirman length of the court pass that bounced off some hands and then out-of-bounds, we had a muted San Diego State celebration, then a 45-minute review, and then finally, a declaration that the game was over.
I’m sure when Brian Dutcher dreamed of celebrating his first trip to the Final Four, the image was something other than being informed by an official that the game is over as he’s drawing up something on his whiteboard.
I know no one associated with SDSU basketball is complaining about any of this, but as impartial viewers, we can complain for them.
Creighton fans don’t need anyone complaining for them.
2. Nijel Pack’s over the backboard shot not counting
I get that this is technically against the rules, but there needs to be a superseding rule that says “if something happens that is cool as shit, please ignore the original rule.”
Count the basket.
3. Dylan Disu’s injury
After playing just two minutes in Friday’s win over Xavier because of a bone bruise in his left foot, Texas big man Dylan Disu was unable to give it a go with a trip to the Final Four on the line on Sunday.
Before the injury, Disu was playing the best basketball of his life. He gave a masterful 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 they certainly could have used him to exploit the guard-heavy Hurricanes.
BONUS JEER: Harlond Beverly’s mom
C’mon, mom. It’s the Final Four.
Maybe she was just searching for the right words.
Jordan Miller, Miami
As previously mentioned, the man took 30 shots and he made all of them. That’s gonna land you on this team in any round.
Lamont Butler, San Diego State
The junior guard played one of the best games of his college career when his team needed it the most, connecting on 8-of-11 shots and scoring a game-high 18 points.
Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton
The big man once again led the Bluejays with 17 points, six rebounds and a pair of blocks.
Marcus Carr, Texas
His terrific college career didn’t end the way he wanted it to, but Carr still went out leading Texas in both scoring (17) and assists (6).
Wooga Poplar, Miami
Every member of Miami’s starting five was terrific against Texas, including the least heralded of the team’s quartet of guards. Poplar scored 16 points, missed on just one of his seven field goal attempts, pulled down six rebounds, dished out a team-high four assists, and had two steals.
Dillon Mitchell, Texas
In this moment, it seemed like the Longhorns were rolling to a Final Four appearance in their home state.
1. Aztec party
2. Confetti Jim
3. “The Call”
1. “How hard we fought to come back in this game, especially on a stage like this, it’s an amazing feeling. I know how much these guys wanted to win this game, especially being here last year and losing the Elite Eight, and now being able to take it to the Final Four is something special.” —Miami senior guard Nijel Pack
2. “I’ve said it all season long, he’s the most underrated player in the country because he’s good at everything. In the summertime, he had a 7:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in practices. Seven to one. That’s ridiculous. That’s better than any point guard I know. He can rebound. He defends all different-sized guys. Today he was switching ball screens at the end and keeping the guy in front of him. Last week he guarded Indiana’s center Trayce Jackson-Davis, did a fantastic job on him. He can shoot the three. He’s great at driving. Straight line drive, dribble drives. He makes all of his free throws. He is a great, great player. Simple.” —Miami head coach Jim Larranaga on Jordan Miller
3. “It’s March Madness, emphasis on the madness.” —San Diego State senior guard Matt Bradley
See everyone in five days.
Saturday, April 1
NRG Stadium — Houston