March Madness: Upsets galore and glimpse into Final Four

By Jordan Pagkalinawan, Managing Editor

Bring on the madness! The opening round of the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament saw plenty of electrifying hoops and busted brackets. Those who predicted Purdue’s elimination in the first round were correct, leaving everyone else—including this writer, who had them winning it all—very disappointed.

Purdue’s loss to Fairleigh Dickinson University marked the second time in tournament history that the No. 16 seed upset the top team, joining the UMBC Retrievers’ 2018 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers. Among other notable upsets in the opening round were the Furman Paladins’ thrilling 68-67 victory over the Cavaliers, the 10th-seeded Penn State Nittany Lions outlasting the 7th-seed Texas A&M Aggies by 17 points, and the Arkansas Razorbacks knocking out defending-champion Kansas Jayhawks with a score of 72-71. 

One of the biggest upsets from the opening round was the 15th-seeded Princeton Tigers defeating the No. 2 seed Arizona Wildcats and No. 7 seed Missouri Tigers to roll into the “Sweet 16” for the first time in 56 years.

Princeton proved people wrong during their March Madness run—an Ivy League squad who brings the brains and, apparently, the basketball too. In their win over Missouri, the Tigers were fueled by senior guard Ryan Landborg’s 22 points on 8-17 shooting from the field and four makes of twelve attempts from the three-point range—all while sophomore guard Blake Peters chipped in seventeen points, including five three-pointers. The Ivy League team—known for the occasional upset—had the chance to add to their historic run when they took on the Creighton Bluejays on Friday, but unfortunately lost by 11 points.

Alabama, Gonzaga, and UCLA were all teams to keep an eye out for, but also ended their season early when they lost to San Diego State, UConn, and Gonzaga, respectively. Our condolences to all those brackets that were rooting for ‘Bama to win it all.

Alabama was led by 6’9” first-year forward Brandon Miller, whose stellar two-way play earned him a spot in the conversation of likely top-three picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. He averaged 18.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, while shooting nearly 40 percent from the perimeter. However, in the Crimson Tide’s second-round win over Maryland, senior guard Jahvon Quinerly stole the show with 22 points, including four three-pointers, finding a home with the Tide after transferring from Villanova. 

Miller had 19 points to go along with seven rebounds while making seven of eight free-throw attempts against Maryland. Despite Miller’s alleged involvement in the murder of Jamea Jonae Harris, he and Quinerly led the once-hot ‘Bama team as they faced (and lost to) San Diego State Friday night.

The UCLA Bruins entered the rematch of the 2021 Elite 8 game with some familiar faces who fell victim to Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs’s half-court buzzer-beater. Senior small forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. and senior point guard Tyger Campbell were names to watch for the blue and gold. Jaquez ended his senior season with averages of 17.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, while Campbell impressed with his 13.4 points and five assists per game, not to mention his 33.8 percent shooting from the perimeter.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs were headed to their eighth straight Sweet 16, once again led by senior forward Drew Timme. Despite their continued status as a disappointing early exit, the Bulldogs were hoping to turn things around behind their current 30-5 record and senior star Timme. The 22-year-old erupted for 28 points in Gonzaga’s second-round victory over Texas Christian University, but came back to earth with a 12-point, 10-rebound performance in Gonzaga’s loss to UConn.

Gonzaga survived a 29-point performance by Jaquez and a near double-double from Campbell (14 points, nine assists), as sophomore guard Julian Strawther had ice in his veins and buried a go-ahead three-pointer to give the Bulldogs the lead with 7.2 seconds remaining. They would hang on for a 79-76 victory over the Bruins.

After weeks of upsets and marquee matchups, the Final Four is set. UConn’s dominant win over Gonzaga has them facing Miami, who beat the Texas Longhorns 88-81 Sunday to advance to their first Final Four in school history.  On the other side, No. 5 San Diego State will face the Florida Atlantic University Owls, who have defied the odds and are arguably this year’s Cinderella story.

As the madness comes to a close, it will make for an entertaining week of jaw-dropping highlights, trash talk to fill the Dining Hall, and 12 potential first-time champions looking to etch their names into the NCAA Tournament history books.