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March Madness: The best and worst from Saturday’s Elite Eight games

Owls! Huskies! Hurleys!

Connecticut v Gonzaga Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Two spots in the Final Four secured. One by a powerhouse with more national titles than any program since 1999. The other by a program that had never tasted an NCAA tournament victory this time two weeks ago.

Let’s get to it.

Best game

(9) Florida Atlantic 79, (3) Kansas State 76 (East)

Florida Atlantic, a program which two weeks ago had never won an NCAA tournament game and had appeared in the Big Dance just once before, is headed to the Final Four.

Dusty May’s Owls got there by virtue of a 79-76 thriller that ended one of the better individual runs we’ve seen in March in quite some time.

Kanas State star guard Markquis Nowell’s 30 points, 12 assists and five steals somehow weren’t enough to doom the national title hopes of the Conference USA champions. Perhaps more improbably, neither were FAU’s 22 turnovers.

While Florida Atlantic is known primarily for its frenetic pace and exciting guard play, it was 7’1 big man Vladislav Goldin who played the biggest part on the Owls’ biggest day. Goldin controlled the middle of the paint all evening long against K-State, finishing with 14 points, 13 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.

After a back-and-forth first 30 minutes, Kansas State had appeared to seize control midway through the second half with a six point lead. Then, the Wildcats seemed to stop running the offense that had gained them their advantage, instead settling for a series of heat-check shots to try and bury their plucky adversaries for good.

The move backfired in a major way.

Florida Atlantic capitalized on the string of bad offense with a 15-1 run that mimicked the one that allowed to take control of their Sweet 16 game against Tennessee. The Owls suddenly found themselves in front by eight with just 2:44 to play when K-State decided to launch its own comeback attempt.

Some free-throws, some stops, and a pair of three-pointers left the Wildcats trailing by just a point with 22.8 seconds to play.

Michael Forrest, whose personal 8-0 run was the biggest catalyst to FAU’s win over the Volunteers, then stepped stepped up to bury four consecutive free-throws to maintain the Owls’ advantage.

K-State had a final shot to tie the game, but instead of trying to play hero one last time, Nowell passed the ball to sharpshooter Ismael Massoud. Massoud was immediately trapped and was unable to even attempt a final shot.

Bing, Bang. Boom. Florida Atlantic is two wins away from a national championship.

In addition to being wildly competitive throughout, this was perhaps the most complete offensive game the tournament has seen to date.

FAU shot 48.1 percent from the field and connected on 9-of-23 (39.1%) shots from beyond the arc. Kansas State countered with a 46.6 percent shooting effort, including a 10-of-22 (45.5%) performance from three.

The Owls’ whopping 22 turnovers resulted in 30 Kansas State points, but FAU made up for that disadvantage by out-rebounding the Wildcats by 22 and outscoring them 15-2 on second chance opportunities.

And just like that, Florida Atlantic now has more Final Fours than Tennessee, Missouri, Xavier, BYU, Alabama, Arizona State, Texas A&M and Boston College. Combined.

It also has as many Final Four appearances as Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Washington, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Auburn and Seton Hall.

Best sporting event in the world.

Team that won it best


Without question, the easiest pick in the decade-long history of these recap posts.

UConn capped off one of the most dominant regional title runs in NCAA tournament history with an 82-54 absolute ass kicking of Gonzaga to claim the West Region. The 28-point margin of victory — which could have been much larger if Danny Hurley hadn’t started putting his walk-ons in with over three minutes to play — is the most lopsided in a regional final since Cincinnati beat Memphis by 31 back in 1992.

As was the case with each of their three previous March Madness wins, the Huskies showed from the jump that they were going to be able to get pretty much whatever they wanted offensively.

Jordan Hawkins — later named the West Region Most Outstanding Player — continued his red-hot shooting, knocking down 6-of-10 from beyond the arc and scoring a game-high 20 points. Andre Jackson played his point forward role to a tee, dishing out 10 assists (against no turnovers) while also scoring eight points and grabbing nine rebounds. And when Gonzaga made it clear early on that they were going to collapse on Adama Sanogo and not let the big man kill them with his scoring, Sanogo responded by setting a new career-high for assists ... in the first half. He finished the game with six, along with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Even with what Connecticut had done in the prior three rounds, the destruction of Gonzaga in what many believed might be the de facto national championship game was jarring.

UConn held the Zags 33 points below their season scoring average and forced them to shoot worse than 35.0 percent from the field in a game for the first time since 2018. The Huskies held their better-seeded opponents to 2-of-20 from beyond the arc and outscored them by 21 points in the second half. And, again, it could have been worse.

The win was the crown jewel of a West Region run that saw Connecticut defeat its four opponents by a total of 90 points.

Bear in mind that this region was widely considered to be the strongest of the four going into the tournament. What the Huskies did to it was historically brutal.

Regardless of what happens in tomorrow’s game, UConn will head to Houston as a solid favorite to cut down the nets for the fifth time in program history.

If only someone had told everyone before the start of the tournament that the Huskies were the team to beat.

And look, before you all start with the “nice call on Oral Roberts” bullshit, I was right about the top seeds in the East being awful and a bizarro team winning the region. I just picked the wrong one. At least that’s what I say at night to my wife ... who’s been asleep for 45 minutes ... and who didn’t care at all to begin with.

Team that was the biggest disappointment


See above.

The only thing that’s going to fully put to bed the “overrated every year” narrative is to win a national title, but if you’re looking to strike some sort of middle ground until that happens, historic ass kickings like this aren’t going to help.

Gonzaga has the longest active, and third longest ever, streak of consecutive Sweet 16 appearances at eight. It also fell short in the last two NCAA tournaments as the No. 1 overall seed, and was humbled in the 2021 title game with an 86-70 drubbing by Baylor.

As impressive as the last 25 or so years have been for the Zags, their tournament runs have too often ended with an imprint-leaving thud. Saturday night was the sixth time since 2004 that Gonzaga has lost an NCAA tournament game by 19 points or more.

There’s certainly no shame in losing to this UConn team. Having the game be decided by the first TV timeout of the second half? Well, there’s at least a little bit of shame in that.

Three Saturday cheers

1. Markquis Nowell

One last time for our diminutive March prince.

Falling short of winning a national title means that Nowell’s 2023 NCAA tournament magic won’t be remembered in the same light as Kemba Walker’s incredible run in 2011, but it will certainly be remembered.

With his 30-point, 12-assist, five-steal effort on Saturday, Nowell became first player ever with at least 80 points, 50 assists and 10 steals in a single NCAA tournament. He also became just the second player in the last five tournaments to be named a region’s Most Outstanding Player despite his team not winning the region, joining Purdue’s Carsen Edwards in 2019.

Nowell also became the first player with more than 25 points and 10 assists in an Elite Eight game since Dwyane Wade posted a triple-double for Marquette against Kentucky in 2003.

The record-setting assist numbers, the unbelievable no-look passes that got him there, the 26-foot-bombs, the thefts, the floor managing, the quotes; all of it. This was Markquis Nowell’s tournament for two weeks, and it was glorious.

2. Ken LaVicka

Ken LaVicka has been the radio voice of Florida Atlantic men’s basketball since 2009, and he is a one-man team. Since getting the job (he added FAU football play-by-play to his repertoire in 2011), LaVicka has been there for 10 seasons in which the Owls lost more games than they won. His only postseason experience before this year (outside of the C-USA tournament) consisted of an NIT first round loss in 2011, a CIT first round loss in 2019, and a CBI first round loss last season.

On Saturday night, that same man found himself getting ready for the call of his life. The call that every team broadcaster at every level dreams of. The call that can make every day of the last 14 years of thankless work, sleepless nights and losing basketball all worth it.

And then his connection crashed.

With Florida Atlantic just 18.6 seconds away from the Final Four, the ethernet connection on the entire media row where LaVicka was sitting inside Madison Square Garden went out. He spent 30 seconds off the air, scrambling to find a new way to connect.

Thankfully, Kansas State called a timeout while LaVicka was frantically searching, or else his listeners would have been tuned in to dead air while the Owls celebrated the biggest win in school history. Thankfully, he was able to find a live ethernet cord from the row behind him, connect it to his Comrex unit, and get back on the air to describe FAU’s history-making scene in New York.

He recounted the story for NCAA reporter Andy Katz after the game.

LaVicka’s years of service were also rewarded by getting to spend more time with FAU coach Dusty May than anyone else after the win.

If you’re interested in hearing LaVicka’s call of the final moments of Florida Atlantic’s Final Four clinching win, here you go:

Worth the scrambling.

3. Jerome Tang

First-year Kansas State head coach Jerome Tang is a finalist for virtually every national Coach of the Year award on the planet for a reason. He inherited a K-State team that won 10 games three years ago, nine games the year after that, finished last in the Big 12 a season ago, and was picked to finish last in the Big 12 again this year.

All Tang did was lead the Wildcats to 26 wins, a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament, and get them within one win of their first Final Four appearance since 1964.

The success gained him notoriety, but it’s the way he’s handled himself over these last two weeks and the light that has been shed on the relationships he has with his players that have really built up his national fan base.

Case in point, Tang doing this after his team’s national title dreams had just been crushed:

If that wasn’t enough, Tang also made it a point to go into the Florida Atlantic locker room and congratulate them on being the “toughest sons of guns” his team had faced all season.

And about those player-coach relationships ...

Cherish that man, K-State.

Three Saturday jeers

1. Danny Hurley’s painting

I’ll be honest: This segment was the most entertaining part of the second half of UConn-Gonzaga.

The “Michael Scott Wedding Gift Painting of Jim and Pam” vibes are off the chart here.

It’s kind of comforting to know that Hurley sucks at something right now, because his team has been damn near perfect the last four times it’s taken the floor.

2. Drew Timme’s foul trouble

Every college basketball season, especially during March Madness, we’re flooded with thousands of suggestions on how to “fix” college basketball’s biggest problems, most of which don’t actually exist.

As exhausting as this annual exercise is, there are always at least a few suggestions that have actual merit.

One the most consistently pointed to flaws that I do think is a significant issue for the sort is that it’s brightest stars are too often spending long periods of the time on the sidelines because of foul trouble. Case in point, Gonzaga’s Drew Timme on Saturday night.

Now, let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Gonzaga did not get blown out by UConn because Drew Timme was saddled with foul trouble for most of the night. Timme could have been given 15 fouls to use and the Huskies were going to advance to Houston convincingly.

That said, it was annoying to see one of the most prolific scorers in NCAA tournament history on the bench late in the first half. It was even more annoying to see him pick up two quick fouls early in the second half, the second of which coming 20 feet away from the ball and having no affect on the game’s action.

Kansas State’s Keyontae Johnson was also significantly hampered by foul issues during the Wildcats’ loss to Florida Atlantic. Unlike the case with Timme, his prolonged absence may have cost his team a trip to the Final Four.

I don’t know if the solution is upping the foul limit to six, moving to quarters, changing the way the game is officiated or what, but situations like this happen too often in college hoops, and we’ve been saying that for too long without any sort of fix being proposed.

3. Willie the Wildcat

Sometimes at games I think it’s funny to watch the mascot doing mascot stuff and then imagine him as a normal human without any sort of costume doing the same bizarre motions and gyrations.

Other times I’ll watch a team mascot who isn’t wearing a costume and wonder if they would rather be fully covered up so they could join in some of the “wacky” behavior without looking ridiculous.

Never, ever do I think that we need some sort of half-measure between fully costumed and fully uncostumed mascot.

Basically, there’s no defending Kansas State’s Willie the Wildcat.

That’s too much skin. That’s just way too much skin.

When your mascot looks like the half-assed Halloween costume of a kid who’s way too old to be trick-or-treating but doesn’t have a great relationship with his parents, maybe that’s when it’s time for some sort of re-brand.

All-Elite Eight Saturday team

Markquis Nowell, Kansas State

Nowell turned in one last spectacular effort, going for 30 points, 12 assists and five steals in the final game of his college career.

Jordan Hawkins, UConn

The West Region MOP drilled six three-pointers and scored a game-high 20 points.

Bryan Greenlee, Florida Atlantic

Greenlee played just 21 minutes because of foul trouble, but hit 4-of-6 shots from beyond the arc and scored 16 points for the Owls.

Vladislav Goldin, Florida Atlantic

Goldin controlled the middle of the paint all evening long against K-State, finishing with 14 points, 13 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.

Andre Jackson, UConn

UConn’s point forward always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and finished the Huskies’ regional final win with 10 assists, nine rebounds and eight points.

Best Saturday dunk

Alijah Martin, Florida Atlantic

3 Best Saturday images

1. Hoot Hoot

Florida Atlantic v Kansas State Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

2. Husky party

Connecticut v Gonzaga Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

3. The flip side

Connecticut v Gonzaga Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

3 Best Saturday quotes

1. “I expect the prognosticators to pick us fifth in the Final Four.” —Florida Atlantic head coach Dusty May

2. “I’m just so thankful that the program and the place took me for who I was. They didn’t ask me to be anybody but myself.” —Gonzaga senior forward Drew Timme

3. “It’s something you dream of. My emotions took all of me. And I just had to flex UConn. UConn is back.” —UConn sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins

Sunday’s Elite Eight schedule

No hoops for six days after this. Soak it all in.

  • No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 6 Creighton | 2:20 p.m. ET | CBS
  • No. 2 Texas vs. No. 5 Miami (Fla.) | 5:05 p.m. ET | CBS