You know that feeling you get when a new team is going to win the title? You look at the finals matchup and say, “Suns-Bucks? Cool.” Occasionally, that feeling can happen in the semis, but it’s rare. Usually, there’s a blueblood like the Patriots, Duke, Alabama, Golden State, the Astros, or some team that you’re dreading because we’ve seen it and want a different fan base to experience euphoria — or just not the same fan base.
Well, we’ve reached the Elite 8 of the men’s NCAA tourney, and there are only two “powerhouses” left in the field, they play each other next round, and one of them (Gonzaga) doesn’t have a title. The other program is UConn, and even though the Zags or the Huskies will be in the Final Four, this tourney has that new champion smell.
I could be wrong, and UConn will continue beating opponents by 20 en route to a fifth title since 1999, which would be the most titles in the time period by two titles. Yeah, wild stat, right? If it feels like there are two, three, maybe even four schools that have had a larger impact on college basketball over the past 24 years, it’s because you’re right. Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, and Villanova come to mind, but what’s really on my mind is that we’re getting a non-traditional Final Four.
This doesn’t feel like an outlier
Here’s an even crazier stat (that you’ve likely already heard which is why I didn’t lead with it): This is the first year since seeding began in 1979 that no No. 1 seed has made it to the Elite 8. That could be why 2023 feels so strange. I mean, Alabama and Houston both lost, and neither game was a fluke.
San Diego State led at the break, and although Bama had a nine-point lead midway through the second half, the Aztecs needed a timeout and all of a minute and a half to erase the deficit. Then it was SDSU’s turn to build a lead, one they wouldn’t surrender, bringing the Brandon Miller era/saga to a merciful end with a 71-64 loss in the Sweet 16.
Houston… well, Houston had an even tougher go of it, getting drubbed by a Miami backcourt that did whatever they wanted. Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack combined for 46 points, and forced the Cougars to play catch-up most of the game. The U went on a 16-4 run to push their cushion to 17 at the 10:06 mark of the second half, and cruised the rest of the way to an 89-75 W and their second-straight Elite 8.
The four teams joining UConn, Gonzaga, San Diego State, and Miami are FAU, Kansas State, Texas, and Creighton. As far as seedings go, we have a 2, two 3’s, a 4, two 5’s, a 6, and a 9 remaining. It’s not quite Reservoir Dogs level “Really, that’s who’s left alive?” vibes, but it’s close.
It’s up to you, UConn and Gonzaga, to maintain order
If you’ve been following the tourney closely — and who knows if you are because brackets started spontaneously combusting on opening day and haven’t stopped — UConn is the only squad in the Elite 8 that’s been comfortable in all three wins. Everybody else has had a game decided by single digits, and I don’t need to be the 16 millionth writer to tell you the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe is about to change.
Wait, that’s The Rock’s line.
The hierarchy of power in college basketball has changed, and it’s up to you to decide how to feel about it.
My feeling is this: I’m always going to enjoy that new champion smell. It’s certainly better than the monotony of college football.
Sure, if the Huskies win, it’ll be just another weird UConn year where they caught fire at the perfect time. However, if it’s one of the other seven schools, even Gonzaga (but not Creighton; Cornhusker basketball until I die), I’ll be satisfied.
March Madness finally, truly fits the bill, and I’m happy lighting a couple of entry fees on fire to watch everything else burn.