NCAA Tournament 2023: Arkansas’ Anthony Black, Miami’s Norchad Omier headline March Madness’ biggest X-Factors
Sorry if this is offensive, but only a handful of the 68 teams in the 2023 NCAA Tournament can really win all of this. However, there are a lot of teams that can make a lot of noise in March Madness if they catch lightning in a bottle. It is clear that there are many players in this group who have something to say about the results.
We’ve dived into advanced analytics in Bart Torvik, KenPom, Pivot Analysis and Synergy to highlight some of the stars and plenty of role players who will have their fingertips throughout March Madness.
Of course, this is not a perfect exercise. There are many external factors that will undoubtedly come into play. Crazy things happen all the time in the most random tournament we have in all sports.
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Here are 11 X factors that will go a long way in determining how far their team will go in the NCAA Tournament:
Anthony Black, Arkansas
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman has already won with freshman quarterbacks in the NCAA Tournament (Devo Davis was great in the Razorbacks’ 2021 Elite 8 run). Musselman needs Black to be special if the Boars want to make a fuss. The Arkansas Guard embodies everything that makes pigs equally enticing and frustrating. Black showed flashes of brilliance – remember how he gutted Creighton on Maui?? —– and then there are nights when Black flips a basketball like it’s his part-time job. Arkansas’ first-round opponent (Illinois) and potential second-round date (Kansas) are both teams that can apply pressure and turn opponents around. Black’s ability to stay in control and just be himself will be huge for Arkansas’ hopes. Arkansas is a high risk, high reward team because Black is a high risk, high reward decision maker.
He’s been under a lot of pressure this season. But 80 minutes of good basketball is all Arkansas needs from Black to get into the Sweet 16.
Grady Dick, Kansas
Dick is not the best player in Kansas. That honor belongs to Jalen Wilson. Dick is not the most indispensable player in Kansas. No, sir, this is Dajuan Harris. But there’s no question that Dick is Kansas’ X-factor if he wants to get out of the stacked western region.
In Kansas’ seven losses, Dick shoots just 9 of 36 (25%) from three-point range. In 27 Kansas wins, Dick is throwing 70 of 162 (43.2%) from downtown. When Kevin McCallar struggles with back spasms, the sharks are circling in the water around the KU due to the Jayhawks’ lack of quality depth.
But Dick can make KU vicious.
He is truly the only elite sniper with 3 points on the list. Wilson is a good shooter, but he only shoots 33% from downtown. Harris and McCallar are capable shooters with little volume. But Dick another. He is a supernova, ready to explode at any moment. So it’s understandable why coaches from the Big 12 rivals are trying their best to keep Dick from exploding. Stopping Dick was the #1 goal against Kansas throughout the season. When Dick fires, Kansas looks unbeatable. He breathes life into them. According to Pivot Analysis, Kansas’ offensive stats with and without Dick are staggering.
- Effective Kansas FG with Dick in play: 53.6%
- Effective Kansas FG with Dick on the bench: 47.3%
- Kansas offensive efficiency with Dick in the Big 12 game: 114.69.
- Kansas offensive efficiency with Dick on the bench: 98.05.
But when Dick either misfires, or ends up in a blanket, or is on the bench due to defensive errors, KU suddenly looks, to put it mildly, very vulnerable. The five-star freshman holds the keys to Kansas’ repeat hopes.
Javon Quinerley, Alabama
The elders die hard. Quinerly flipped the script at the end of February and put together some of his best performances of the season at just the right time. This is exactly what Alabama needs before the Big Dance. The senior guard has NCAA Tournament experience that talented but young Alabama freshmen can rely on at the Big Dance.
Quinerley scored 45 points in the NCAA Tournament during his career. The rest of Alabama? Total 26 points.
Alabama has a spicy road to the Final Four. He has the talent and depth to win the national championship. But this is impossible without Quinerly playing the role of a veterinarian.
Adem Bona, UCLA
UCLA just needs Bona on the floor. The touted UCLA freshman struggled with injuries and dirty deeds all year, but throughout the regular season, he really turned the corner. It’s no surprise that UCLA goes from excellent to excellent when Bona creates problems for opponents at both ends of the court.
- UCLA Net Rating with Bona in-game during Pac-12 game (828 possessions): +25.23.
- UCLA net rating with Bona on the bench in a Pac-12 game (611 possessions): +5.39.
It’s at both ends of the floor. UCLA’s offensive effectiveness skyrockets with Bon in the game due to his elite skill in picking up offensive moves and his elite effectiveness as a roller. He plays very well with Jaime Jacques Jr and Tiger Campbell. UCLA’s defensive performance was 8.5 points per 100 possessions better in a Pac-12 game with Bona on the floor, according to Pivot Analysis. When Bona defends without fouls, scoring a goal against UCLA feels like a prison break.
Big men like Drew Timm and/or Adama Sanogo could stand in UCLA’s path to the Final Four. Bona can help UCLA defeat these fire-breathing dragons.
Jalen Hood-Scifino, Indiana
Indiana cannot win four games in a row and advance to the Final Four without some consistency from Hood-Scyfino. Freshmen are constantly inconsistent, but Hood-Chifino embodies that mantra more than most.
Hood-Scyfino hit 8-of-12 from the floor and scored 24 points in a win over Ohio State in late January. The next game, he was 1 for 14 off the field in a miserable loss on the road from Maryland. He set Purdue on fire for 35 points and turned around to score 4 of 14 against an Iowa defense that stops no one.
This is just part of the Hood-Schifino experience this season.
There are so many things on Huda-Scyfino’s plate now, both on the drummer and the maestro with the ball. To be honest, Indiana can’t afford bad shooting from the Hood Skifino and expect to win the Big Dance. Trace Jackson-Davies is a superstar, but Indiana is special when Hood-Schifino is good. Conversely, Hoosiers are very unreliable when average Hood-Schifino jumpers don’t drop.
Marcus Carr, Texas
Markus Carr’s decision making will have a huge impact on how the Texas Final Four goes. Carr earned the de facto title of “closer” thanks to numerous crucial shots at a decisive moment both during his time in Minnesota and during his two seasons in Texas. But he may have to think about being selfless and drop that relay in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Sir Jabari Rice was Texas’ top scorer that season, not Carr.
Getting buckets in late situations isn’t easy, but Rice is averaging 1.07 points per possession in 43 late scenarios this season, according to Synergy. Carr is averaging .609 points per possession in 64 late shots. Rice is shooting 51.4% from the field; Carr is up 27.1% because Rice is looking so much better this season.
Obviously, there will be many situations late in the game where Texas will need Carr to create a bucket. But don’t be surprised if interim Texas coach Rodney Terry wants to expand Rice’s late-game options. Will Carr Rice let you get closer?
Tyrek Key, Tennessee
More than ever before, it’s up to Tyrek Key to be the shot-maker Tennessee needs in an offensive post-Zakai Zeigler life. The Indiana State transfer had its ups and downs in its first season in Tennessee. The injuries definitely prevented Ki from really getting into the rhythm. But Tennessee may need Key to put on his Indiana state hat again. He wants the Indiana version of Key, who was a threat on his own. An NCAA Tournament defense will knock Tennessee out of his rhythm and out of the sets he wants to be in. Key can be a lifesaver, but Tennessee is a must.
Tristen Newton, University of Connecticut
UConn’s point guard play will make or break this talented team. East Carolina Transfer Tristen Newton Must Seize the Opportunity to Make UConn Survive crucible, that is, the Western region. The jump from East Carolina to the Big East isn’t easy, but Newton went from being the best ring finisher in East Carolina to a mediocre ring finisher at UC Connecticut….