From Bracket Busters to Improbable Upsets: A Recap of Men’s March Madness 2023

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Issue 13, Volume 113

By Jared Lee 

Over the last few weeks, the NCAA has hosted its 84th annual Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament, more commonly known as March Madness. The single-elimination tournament showcases 64 of the nation’s top college teams (68 including the play-ins), competing against each other to claim the national championship. It is one of the most anticipated college sports events, and this year’s matchups did not disappoint. Take a look at some of the most heartbreaking upsets and record-setters from this year’s tournament.

(4) Virginia vs. (13) Furman, First Round - March 16

Only two games into the first round and we saw the first upset of the tournament, when the 13-seed Furman Paladins faced off against the four-seed Virginia Cavaliers. The last time Virginia and Furman each made the tournament was in 2020 and 1980, respectively. Many people thought Virginia would easily take this game, as they were six-point favorites. Virginia led by as much as 12 points until the five-minute mark, when Furman forward Jalen Slawson scored a tough and-one, putting Furman up by three. The crowd erupted, and Virginia fans were in disbelief that their opponents were coming back. After a couple of lead changes, Furman found themselves down three with the ball, and there were 27 seconds left on the clock. Paladins guard Marcus Foster hoisted an off-balanced three—which hit the back of the rim. With the shot clock turned off, Furman had no other option but to foul, sending Virginia guard Kihei Clark to the line. After Clark missed one free throw, Furman trailed by four points—there was still hope.

Furman quickly went down the length of the court and drove to the basket, drawing a shooting foul in the process. After center Garrett Hien sank two clutch free throws with 12.3 seconds remaining, Furman full-court pressed to potentially come up with a steal or foul immediately. In shocking fashion, they trapped Clark in the corner, forcing him to throw an errant pass that landed in the hands of Hein at midcourt. Hein quickly swung the ball to guard JP Pegues, who launched a potential game-winning three. The crowd roared in shock as they watched the ball fall through the net. The Furman bench stormed the floor as they pulled off an improbable win, busting over 16.3 million perfect brackets. “It has been at least 50 times I’ve watched that specific clip. I was just so numb to the fact at first. I couldn’t believe it,” Pegues said about his shot. Even though Furman went on to lose in the second round against San Diego State, their first-round upset was an incredible way to kick off the tournament.

(1) Purdue vs. (16) FDU, First Round - March 17

It’s extremely rare to see a one-seed lose in the first round. In fact, it’s only happened once in the tournament’s history when UMBC beat Virginia in 2018. Going into Friday’s matchup, top seeds were 150-1 against 16-seeds. Despite all the odds against them, the Fairleigh Dickinson University Knights (FDU) came in with confidence and heart. “The more I watch Purdue, the more I think we can beat them. Let’s go shock the world,” FDU coach Tobin Anderson said to his team before the game. FDU came out playing at an extremely fast pace, using their small size to their advantage. On the other hand, Purdue revolved their offense around their star 7’4” center Zach Edey. The score was neck-and-neck for the majority of the game, with both teams exchanging offensive runs. With 55.6 seconds left, FDU found themselves up three with the ball, 61-58. The Knights ran the clock down to 35 seconds before guard Grant Singleton drove strong to the basket and attempted a left-handed layup, only to be emphatically rejected off the glass by Edey. With 19.7 seconds remaining, Purdue had a chance to tie up the game with a three or cut the lead down to one. They decided to go with the latter; guard Braden Smith quickly went left and laid the ball up. But in a remarkable feat of athleticism, FDU forward Sean Moore leaped into the air and swatted the ball out of bounds, taking the soul out of Purdue.

“FDU” chants started echoing from the crowd—the people wanted to see the Knights pull off the upset. After Purdue air-balled a game-tying corner three and fouled immediately, FDU sank two free throws, which effectively put the game out of reach. For the second time in March Madness history, a 16-seed beat the one-seed. FDU embodied the classic underdog spirit and broke all remaining perfect brackets with their win. They accomplished the unthinkable, the supposed impossible. When all eyes were on them, FDU executed and shut down what many may have considered one of the top teams in the tournament. The Knights would go on to be defeated by FAU in the second round, but they certainly established their name in the history books.

(3) Kansas St. vs. (7) Michigan St., Sweet Sixteen - March 23

In one of the most exciting and historic games of the tournament, the Kansas State Wildcats faced off against the Michigan State Spartans for the first matchup of the Sweet Sixteen. Both teams had demonstrated strong offense and equally dominating defense in the first round. The game was expected to come down to the wire, and it did not disappoint. The teams exchanged tough baskets and ran up the score—there ended up being 14 ties and 16 lead changes. With 10 seconds remaining in regulation, the Spartans found themselves down two, 80-82. Guard Tyson Walker dribbled to the top of the key, shook his defender, and banked it in from the left side. For the first time in this year’s tournament, the game went into overtime.

The scoring frenzy continued in overtime, and the crowd was electric. Kansas State’s point guard Markquis Nowell had been playing exceptionally, directing the team and stepping further into the spotlight in the final minutes. With one minute to go and the score tied at 92, Nowell threw up an almost no-look lob from the logo to teammate Keyontae Johnson, who reverse-jammed it home. After Michigan State missed a second free throw that would have tied the game, Nowell looked to run the clock down. He launched a wild shot from the logo that ended up being tipped out of bounds. With 4.7 seconds on the shot clock and 17.4 seconds remaining, Nowell inbounded it to Ismael Massoud, who drilled a baseline jumper. Not only did that give Kansas State three points, but it also gave Nowell his 19th assist, an all-time March Madness record. Michigan State had one last chance to tie up the game and send it to double overtime. But again, Nowell showed up and stripped the ball on a three-point attempt, sealing the victory for Kansas State in the highest-scoring game of the tournament.

Two Upsets in One Night

The second day of the Sweet 16 featured two matchups between a one-seed and a five-seed. Two other one-seeds had already been knocked out of the tournament, so the pressure was on for these teams. The first game was between (1) Alabama and (5) San Diego State. Both teams had played exceptionally well, beating their opponents in the previous round by over 20 points. Alabama started the game off strong, leading by more than nine at the start of the second half. However, San Diego State was able to gain momentum and go on a 23-5 run, which effectively concluded the game. Now, three one-seeds had fallen before the Elite Eight, a feat that has only been seen four times in tournament history. Could the fourth be taken down as well?

The second game was between (1) Houston and (5) Miami. Houston was a 7.5-point favorite going into the game, but Miami could definitely put up a fight based on their first and second-round performances. To everyone’s surprise, Miami controlled most of the game, and Houston never saw a lead in the second half. Led by their guard Nijel Pack, who dropped 26 points on 7-10 from three-point range, Miami had also done the improbable and taken down the final one-seed. For the first time in Men’s March Madness history, no one-seeds made it to the Elite Eight.

(9) FAU Takes Flight

Out of all the teams still in the running for the national title, the Florida Atlantic Owls were the least expected to get this far. The last time they made the tournament was in 2002, and they were first-round exits. This year, they came playing with a chip on their shoulder, wanting to make a statement. The Owls faced off against the Memphis Tigers in the first round, and experts were already saying that the Tigers would beat not only FAU but also Purdue in the next round. These predictions proved to be wrong—not only did Purdue get upset, but FAU also defeated the Tigers in a shocking ending.

With 19.8 seconds remaining, the Tigers were up 65-64 and needed to inbound the ball from their opposite baseline. FAU was playing an aggressive full-court press, hoping to get a quick steal and score. In a similar fashion to the Furman game, the Owls picked off a bad pass from Memphis guard Kendric Davis and now had a chance to ice the game. FAU guard Nick Boyd tried driving to the paint but stumbled and fell to the ground. The ball became loose and a pile of players from both teams dove around the ball—the crowd got on the edge of their seats as the skirmish unfolded. Miraculously, FAU won the jump ball and had a second chance with 5.5 seconds to win. They inbounded the ball to the right side, giving it to Boyd, the same person that almost turned it over seconds before. He drove to the basket and masterfully scooped it in with his left hand, giving FAU the win and a spot in the second round. The Owls were here to stay.

FAU easily beat 16-seed FDU, 78-70 but now had to face a tough four-seed Tennessee team in the Sweet 16. In the first half, FAU struggled to protect the paint, allowing Tennessee centers Uroš Plavšić and Jonas Aidoo to score easy layups and putbacks. Despite going into halftime down five, FAU made major adjustments and came into the second half swinging on offense. They also tightened up their interior defense and ended up out-rebounding Tennessee 40-36. The Owls maintained their lead for the last 10 minutes and punched their ticket to the Elite Eight, where they would face an extremely strong Kansas State.

Kansas State put on impressive showings in their previous games, with Nowell dominating the floor and putting the team on his back. FAU would have to play at their absolute best to have any chance at winning. The score had been even for most of the game, and like we’ve seen all tournament, it came down to the final seconds. After two made free throws, FAU went up 79-76 with 6.9 seconds remaining. Nowell pushed the ball past midcourt and passed it to Massoud on the right wing. But FAU guard Johnell Davis was right there to strip the ball away, and Kansas State wasn’t even able to put up a potential game-tying shot. Despite a strong 30-point performance from Nowell, FAU continued its Cinderella story and  moved on to the Final Four.

A Preview of the Final Four

The Final Four has now been set: (5) San Diego State vs. (9) FAU and (4) UConn vs. (5) Miami. If either San Diego State or Miami wins, it would be the school’s first appearance in the national championship. If FAU wins, they’d be the lowest seed in history to make the championship game and potentially the lowest seed to win the title. So, regardless of who wins, we’re going to witness history being made.