Men's NCAA Tournament 2023: Saturday's Round 2 Winners and LosersMarch 19, 2023
Men's NCAA Tournament 2023: Saturday's Round 2 Winners and Losers
Hopefully you weren't expecting a nice, pleasant Saturday of NCAA tournament action after a hectic opening round, because the second round is already off to a wild start.
San Diego State opened the afternoon with a comfortable victory over Furman. From there, though, March Madness did its thing.
Tennessee bounced a sizzling Duke team, Arkansas upset top-seeded Kansas and Princeton continued its Cinderella story. Those results alone can carry an entire day of headlines, yet four games remain on the slate.
We have winners. We have losers. And a whole lot of love for the 2023 men's NCAA tourney.
This piece will be updated.
Winner: SDSU Returns to Sweet 16
Throughout the last two decades—and especially the last 14 years—San Diego State has held a steady place on the national radar. Not since the 2004-05 have the Aztecs finished with a losing record.
Success in March Madness has eluded the program, though.
Entering this tourney, SDSU had earned nine NCAA bids since the 2009-10 season. However, the Aztecs only navigated the first weekend in two of those appearances. (They missed out on a tremendous shot to advance in 2020 after registering a 30-2 record that season.)
Saturday's win over Furman pushed the Aztecs into the Sweet 16 for the first time in nine years. Micah Parrish scored 16 points to lead SDSU, which cruised to a 75-52 victory.
The competition will only get tougher from here, absolutely.
But no matter what happens, SDSU has returned to the second weekend; this season can be labeled a success. But the program's first-ever Elite Eight appearance is now within grasp—and that certainly wouldn't hurt the school's case for attracting an offer to join the Pac-12.
Loser: Duke's Late-Season Buzz
Let's be clear: This includes me.
Duke entered the Big Dance on a nine-game winning streak after taking home an ACC tournament title. Add in Thursday's win against Oral Roberts, and the Blue Devils had surrendered a paltry 38.3 field-goal percentage to their last 10 opponents.
Surely, a Tennessee offense that ranks 235th nationally in field-goal percentage and is without Zakai Zeigler wouldn't take down Duke, right?
Tennessee forward Olivier Nkamhoua exploded for 27 points, including 17 of the Vols' last 19 in the second half. Duke, meanwhile, committed 15 turnovers and shot 27.3 percent from the perimeter.
After top-seeded Purdue fell to Fairleigh Dickinson, it seemed Duke had a beautiful path to the Elite Eight. Instead, the Vols are moving on, and the Blue Devils are headed home.
Winner: Princeton's Cinderella Story
History says that midnight will strike for Cinderella, but Princeton's version of the story has at least another chapter.
After stunning Arizona in the opening round, the Ivy League champions rolled past Missouri. Princeton put together a dominant rebounding effort, bringing down 44 misses compared to Missouri's 30.
Princeton guard Ryan Langborg put up 22 points and four assists, and Blake Peters buried five threes. Matt Allocco and Tosan Evbuomwan each dished five-plus assists in what can only be described as a comprehensive victory for the Tigers, who only trailed for 33 seconds all game.
For only the fourth time in NCAA tournament history—but third straight year—a 15-seed is headed to the second weekend.
Princeton is making its first Sweet 16 appearance in 56 years.
Loser: Kansas' Dream of a Repeat
Kansas arrived with the hope of becoming the first defending NCAA champion to reach the Sweet 16 since Duke in 2016.
But the Jayhawks could not snap the trend.
For the sixth straight time—provided you include Virginia in 2021—the reigning champ did not survive the opening weekend. Arkansas trailed for much of the contest but pulled out a back-and-forth contest behind a 21-point second-half eruption from Davonte Davis.
Although KU managed to get Davis in foul trouble, he still netted 25 points. Ricky Council IV scored 21 points, burying five clutch free throws in the final minute to secure a 72-71 victory and eliminate the Jayhawks.
Kansas, which played without head coach Bill Self (health), squandered a 12-point second-half edge.
By no means should a season with yet another Big 12 title be considered a failure. Nevertheless, Kansas wanted to accomplish more.
Winner: Houston's 2nd Half
As the halftime buzzer sounded, Auburn held a 41-31 advantage over top-seeded Houston.
Purdue had already lost to a 16-seed. Arkansas took down Kansas. Would the Cougars become the third straight No. 1 team to exit the tournament before the Sweet 16?
That answer would be a big no.
Houston outscored Auburn by a staggering 27 points after the break, including a plus-16 margin in the last 7:30 of regulation to turn a one-point lead into an 81-64 win. In truly absurd fashion, Houston limited Auburn to four made field goals during the entire second half.
The box score is ridiculous, too. Jarace Walker blocked six shots, and J'Wan Roberts swatted five. Tramon Mark scored 26 points, Marcus Sasser added 22 and Jamal Shead went for 10 points and five assists.
It took three tries, but a No. 1 seed is finally advancing to the second weekend of a particularly mad March.
Loser: Penn State's Small-Ball Lineup
The intent here is not to criticize Penn State's reliance on a small-ball lineup. Clearly, it has worked for the Nittany Lions—particularly the last month—and carried them to the second round of the NCAA tourney.
On this specific night, though, it mattered.
Penn State's four starting guards all stand no taller than 6'6" but shoot at least 38.5 percent from three. However, they combined to finish 4-of-19 against Texas. Given that PSU is the nation's second-worst offensive rebounding team, that meant the Nittany Lions had a razor-thin margin for error and needed to make up for it defensively.
They almost did, but 6'9" Texas forward Dylan Disu—who averages a modest 8.5 points—shredded Penn State for a season-high 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Texas capitalized on the limitations of Penn State's guard-heavy rotation to secure a hard-fought 71-66 win.
Winner: UCLA's Defense, As Usual
Everyone with a functioning heart is ready to be broken at how the matchup ended; UCLA guard David Singleton fell to the floor in evident pain after sustaining an undetermined leg injury.
How that may affect UCLA is an important storyline, but we'll save any further dramatics. Maybe he avoided a serious injury.
For now, the Bruins deserve praise for holding Northwestern to a 37.3 clip from the floor. Despite giving up 14 offensive rebounds, UCLA allowed only eight second-chance points. That resilience, more than anything, propelled the Bruins to their 68-63 triumph.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 24 points, adding eight rebounds and four assists to lead UCLA. Tyger Campbell missed all seven shots yet buried all 12 free throws—go figure—and distributed seven assists.
UCLA is returning to the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year.
Winner: Alabama Cruises Again
We probably don't need to explain that holding a No. 1 seed isn't enough to make you invincible. Purdue lost, Kansas lost and Houston needed a second-half charge to win.
Alabama, on the other hand, has experienced no such vulnerability through two games.
In the opening round, Alabama comfortably dispatched Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Maryland stayed in the neighborhood on Saturday, but the Crimson Tide steadily held a 10-point lead throughout the second half. They never were really at risk of falling on Saturday night.
How refreshing for a top seed.
Nothing more is guaranteed for Bama, and San Diego State's feisty defense presents a challenging obstacle. Nevertheless, a drama-free opening week must be reassuring for the tournament's No. 1 overall team.