Could we have a Final Four with no No. 1 seeds?

The 2023 NCAA Men’s Tournament has already been a tough test for top players.

Kansas played without their head coach and was eliminated in the round of 16 by Arkansas and Eric Musselman (who promptly took off his shirt to celebrate).

Houston was down 10 in half against Auburn (in Birmingham!), before the Cougars rallied for the win.

And Purdue… well, you all know about Purdue.

What’s going on here? Is it a change in the game, an accident, a seeding error, or a bit of everything? Or are we all overreacting to a couple of days of basketball? Sportzshala men’s college basketball experts Myron Medcalfe, Jeff Borzello, and John Gasaway watched the proceedings closely and thought deeply. They have some theories. — John Gasaway

What went wrong with Kansas?

Jeff Borzello: Devo Davis, basically. One of the Big 12 head coaches told me before the tournament that Kansas’ lack of size makes him susceptible to the basket due to his inability to defend the rim. On paper, Arkansas thought it unlikely to test this because the Razorbacks don’t have a popular player. But Arkansas took advantage of other advantages. Davis and his teammates were absolutely relentless, attacking the rim in the second half, parrying shots and finishing in traffic, especially after Kansas’s KJ Adams Jr. and Ernest Ude Jr. of Kansas ran into foul trouble. The Razorbacks also grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and scored 15 second chance points.

Another quote from the aforementioned Big 12 coach hit me Saturday night: “Grady [Dick] and Jalen [Wilson] need to take pictures. One of them is not enough.” Wilson went to work, but Dick scored seven points on 3-of-9 shooting. Davis was simply the elite on both ends of the floor.

Myron Medcalfe: Well, I tend to think that it’s more about what happened to the team from Arkansas, which did not play so consistently throughout the season. Sharp backs, never questioning their athletic ability, defend, control the attack and play a key role in the most important chapter of the season. But Kevin McCallar Jr. of Kansas fouled late, and Grady Dick finally looked like a freshman, further pushing Jalen Wilson to do it all late; and the Jayhawks didn’t have a head coach either.

Norm Roberts did a good job taking this Kansas team to the second round. However, in these pivotal moments, Hall of Famer Bill Self was not on the sidelines to support his players as Arkansas put them on the ropes. I think that was an important element in all this, despite the fact that someone talked about it.

John Gasaway: Where have you gone, David McCormack? Arkansas made 15 attempts from behind the arc (and made just three), but also hit deep against Kansas. This is where Eric Musselman’s team really got the job done. After allowing the Boars to capture 15 offensive boards and score 21 on the lane, the Jayhawks were sent home after just two games. Both the quick exit and his character are a surprise. KU’s inside defense in the Big 12 game was pretty good, but it didn’t help against Arkansas when it mattered the most.

Houston survived. How far can this 1-seed go?

Medcalf: I think Houston could be the first team in NCAA history to host and compete in the Final Four and win a national title. (Yes, Butler made it to the Final Four at Indianapolis in 2010, but Butler was not the host school.)

As for Houston, I just had to see if Jamal Shed and Markus Sasser could play at a high level despite both of them struggling with injuries. Shed had difficulties, but he played 34 minutes. And Sasser scored 22 points (7 of 14 shots) in 31 minutes, despite the fact that he had to play through fouls.

This is not the only evidence. When she’s healthy – or nearly healthy – this team has depth that boosts their chances. Tramon Mark (26 points) reminded everyone that this team is bigger than Sasser. I don’t know if Houston is 100 percent. But it’s close enough to make dreams of a national title seem tangible. In addition, the Cougars have plenty of time to rest and prepare for their next opponent.

Borcello: I would have been more concerned about Houston if he hadn’t just moved to Auburn’s home state and beat the Tigers by 17. The Cougars were terrible in the first half, trailing by 10 at halftime if Sasser and Shed had hit trouble – and still beat Auburn convincingly. Calvin Sampson’s team still has an incredibly high level.

The Cougars, like few other teams in the country, can turn up the heat defensively, they break offensive glass at high speed, and they have so many offensive weapons. Sasser looked great when he was on the floor, Shed looked great when he was on the floor, Mark took a big step forward – and that’s not even to mention their lottery choice in Jaras Walker. Houston is still the favorite to advance to the Final Four.

Gas: Say that about Houston’s injuries: their injured guys are really playing. It’s a deal that UCLA (Jaylen Clark) or Tennessee (Zakai Ziegler) would accept in the blink of an eye. Come to think of it, the Cougars themselves would not have objected to such an arrangement a year ago. The Calvin Sampson team had to play the 2022 tournament without Sasser and Mark due to season-ending injuries. However, UH made it into the elite eight. Something tells me that Houston’s ceiling in its current circumstances is still quite high.

Alabama also deals with injuries. What are the chances that we will lose at least one more first place before the Final Four?

John Gasaway: The odds are much better than ever because we already have only two top seeds left. We have also seen that both remaining #1 seed have looked competitive in the recent past. In the first half, played by Houston against Auburn, the Cougars were 10 points behind (although Sampson’s team won easily in the end). Alabama appears to have overcome their season-ending malaise, which included an overtime win at South Carolina and a loss at Texas A&M. For the first time since 2011, we could have a Final Four without a top seed, but now the odds are against that.

Myron Medcalfe: After seeing the defeat of Arizona, Purdue and Kansas, I’m not sure I’m surprised. But I also believe that there are levels among the best seeds. Houston and Alabama played at a level above the field. I would put Kansas in that group, but the Jayhawks didn’t have their own head coach, which I think made a difference. Purdue has been facing questions about his depth throughout the season.

Alabama scored 132 points over 100 possessions in a 21-point win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, even as Brandon Miller lost points in 19 minutes. I think Alabama and Houston – assuming the Cougars can stay as healthy as possible – will be tough to beat ahead of the Final Four. Nothing is impossible, but I think they are from a different class.

Jeff Borzello: Alabama and Houston were the only two No. 1s I advanced past the Sweet 16, so I felt Kansas and Purdue were vulnerable for a while. And I still think both Crimson Tide and Cougars will end up in the Final Four. However, it won’t be a big shock to see one of them fall.

Houston faces a tough Sweet 16 matchup against Miami or Indiana, two teams that can really score. And then Texas, which beat Kansas twice in eight days earlier this month, can expect to be in the Elite Eight. I’m less worried about Alabama as Arizona with two seeds is already out. But San Diego State is about to introduce a different type of defense than the Crimson Tide has seen in recent weeks, and neither Baylor nor Creighton will be a no-brainer in the Elite Eight.

Considering the last couple of days, who do you have going to the Final Four?

Jeff Borzello: Before the tournament, I had Alabama, Marquette, Houston and Connecticut. After three days of action, I will travel with Alabama, Marquette, Houston and UCLA. You can’t hesitate here!

John Gasaway: I’m riding with my original quad and they’re still here! (At the time of this writing.) Give me Houston, UCLA, Marquette, and Alabama. Crossed fingers.

Myron Medcalfe: Alabama, Marquette, UConn, Xavier


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