What just happened with Arizona and Virginia, and what’s next for the men’s South region?
Sometimes you need a few hours before the NCAA tournament shows ups. Sometimes the action doesn’t even start on the first Thursday.
Not this year.
We had barely finished lunch when a late loss to 4-seed Virginia turned into an incredible JP Pegues 3-point winner that helped 13-seed Fuhrman move forward. And it was not the most memorable moment.
Before dinner, 2-seed Arizona lost a 10-point lead to 15-seed Princeton. Kentucky says hello.
But now we have questions. Because the southern region of the 2023 March Madness men’s grid and Alabama’s full control of it has changed.
An Sportzshala panel of Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway, and Myron Medcalfe analyze what just happened and what the southern region looks like, with two big annoyances in the books.
Watch live coverage of the first round of the NCAA Men’s Tournament here.
1. What ruined Arizona in the loss to Princeton? And Virginia in the game against Furman?
Myron Medcalfe: I hate to sound like a high school coach, but where was the effort in the last 10 minutes of the game? Arizona played with arrogance. And it’s always dangerous. At 11 minutes they were leading by double figures, but when Tosan Evbuomvan and company rallied, the Wildcats appeared shocked and never responded properly. And give Tigers coach Mitch Henderson credit. It was Arizona’s third loss in a game with 67 or fewer possessions. They slowed down the game and it worked.
Furman was determined until the last minute. It all started with the reaction of this group to the game without top scorer Mike Bothwell, who fouled in the second half. Jalen Slawson was a real nightmare for Virginia as a 6-foot-7 ball handler. Then, at the end of the game, they outplayed the Virginia defense, which opened the floor. What followed: Fuhrman was able to make a late move to win the game.
Jeff Borzello: The Arizona guards were just as bad as they’ve been all season. The Wildcats got their typical performance from their bigs, with Azuolas Tubelis and Umar Ballo scoring 35 points and 17 boards, but Kerr Kriisa, Courtney Ramey, Pelle Larsson and Cedric Henderson Jr. combined scored 1 of 12 of 3, for a total of 15 points. And for one of the best teams in the country in ball exchange, the Wildcats had just 10 passes out of 13.
Virginia quickly pulled ahead, but her deliberately slow pace is not suitable for burying opponents under a flurry of points. Furman was able to score a few goals before Hu had a chance to set up his defense, which gave the Paladins some momentum and allowed them to get back into the game. And, as was the case for most of the season, Virginia did struggle to throw the ball. The Cavaliers haven’t scored 40% of triples since January, and on Thursday they hit just 2 of 12 from behind the arc.
John Gasaway: The Wildcats were a miserable 3 of 16 on their 3rd and Kriisa personally was 1 of 7. Teams have days off all the time, of course, but the fact that the No. 2 seed of the Ivy League Tournament could prevent the NCAA seed 2 from getting second. chance, was even more amazing. Pay tribute to Tosan Evbuomvan and Kaden Pierce. They did a great job on the protective glass. Arizona suffered fewer than one in five misses.
As for Virginia, it has reached the same March impasse. The Cavaliers converted two triples in 40 minutes. Furman hit 10.
How far can Princeton and Furman go in the tournament?
Gas: The Tigers will draw inspiration from another New Jersey team. Last year, no one gave St. Peters a chance to take 15th place, and the Peacocks made their way into the elite eight. Princeton will now play the 7-seed Missouri Tigers, with Kobe Brown and D’Moy Hodge playing a handful.
On the other hand, the Mitch Henderson group may actually have more odds than the bookies give Furman against 5-seed San Diego State. By this point in the season, the Aztecs were even better than the Virginias on defense.
Borcello: Entering the NCAA Tournament, I had Fuhrman in the Sweet 16, so I’m riding the Paladins again in the second round against San Diego State. However, Mike Bothwell will have to stay out of trouble in this matchup as the Paladins are not the same team as he is on the bench. San Diego State is elite on defense and really imposes its style of play on opponents, as it did with Charleston after the first minutes.
I want Princeton to lose to Missouri, but hey, I also had a Tigers loss to Arizona. Tosan Evbuomwan vs Kobe Brown should be a fantastic matchup ahead.
Medcalf: I think the San Diego State team, which has just been occupied by Charleston, should be concerned. Paladins coach Bob Ritchie accomplished the greatest feat of the NCAA high school tournament by not missing the game’s top scorer and failing to score more than 7 points before the 10-minute mark of the first half. Slawson would be a problem for the Aztecs too. He is a unique opponent of this size. We probably have not seen the best Furman. And it means something.
But I don’t choose Princeton to beat Missouri. I trust Dennis Gates and Kobe Brown. Sincerely, the Sportzshala reporter who selected Arizona for the Final Four.
Which team will benefit the most from two epic defeats in the South?
Borcello: This is definitely Alabama. The toughest test for the Crimson Tide in the region would likely fall to Arizona, one of the few teams that had enough offense to keep up with him. While I had Virginia bouncing off Furman, Sweet 16’s potential tilt against the slow Cavaliers would be a huge contrast in style. However, the lower half of the region is now wide open, which could benefit Baylor or Creighton. The Bears have had defensive issues but they have elite defenders and Creighton were one of the best teams in the country with a healthy Ryan Kalkbrenner. One of them may be in the elite eight.
Gas: Alabama. None of this will matter for Crimson Tide until next weekend, of course, but removing seeds #2 and 4 from your grid will help the team in the top row. Even when brackets were announced, the South was considered relatively hospitable to Bama. Now the region has become even more hospitable.
Medcalf: Yes, definitely Alabama. Arizona’s size and speed proved to be the biggest test in the region. With the disappearance of Arizona, there is a chance that Alabama will break into the Final Four in a fairly dominant fashion. And Tony Bennett’s defense adjustments for Virginia have been problematic for most teams. The Alabama path is much easier now.