Impact of Princeton, Furman disrupts men’s March Madness group

Impact of Princeton, Furman disrupts men’s March Madness group

  • Sports
  • March 17, 2023
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Sometimes it takes a few hours for surprises to arrive at the NCAA tournament. Sometimes things don’t really get going on the first Thursday.

Not this year.

We’d barely finished lunch when a late 4-seed Virginia turnover turned into an unlikely, game-winning 3-pointer by JP Pegues to help 13-seed Furman advance. And that wasn’t even the most memorable moment.

Before dinner, 2-seeded Arizona gambled away a 10-point lead in a loss to 15-seeded Princeton. Greetings from Kentucky.

But now we have questions. Because the southern region of the 2023 men’s March Madness group and Alabama’s sheer control over it has changed.

The ESPN panel of experts of Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Myron Medcalf analyze what just happened and what the South region looks like with two big surprises in the books.

Here is the live coverage of the first round of the men’s NCAA tournament.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

1. What did Arizona sink in losing to Princeton? What about Virginia in the Furman game?

Myron Medcalf: 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 that’s always dangerous. They led by double digits after 11 minutes but as Tosan Evbuomwan and company recovered the Wildcats seemed shocked and never really reacted. And, give credit to Tigers coach Mitch Henderson. This was Arizona’s third loss in a game with 67 possessions or fewer. They slowed down the game and it worked.

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Furman was determined to the last minute. It started with this group’s reaction to playing without top scorer Mike Bothwell, who was fouled in the second half. Jalen Slawson became a real nightmare for Virginia as a 6-foot-7 ball handler. Then, late in the game, they played over the top of that Virginia defense, which opened up the ground. What followed: Furman was able to make a late game to win the game.

Jeff Borzello: Arizona’s guards have been as bad as they have been all season. The Wildcats got their trademark performance from their greats, with Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo amassing 35 points and 17 boards combined – but Kerr Kriisa, Courtney Ramey, Pelle Larsson and Cedric Henderson Jr. combined 1-on-12 from 3, just overall 15 points. And for one of the best teams in the country at sharing, the Wildcats had just 10 assists on 13 turnovers.

Virginia took an early lead, but his deliberately slow pace is not designed to bury opponents in a flood of points. Furman was able to grab a couple of baskets before the Hoos had a chance to adjust their defense, which gave the Paladins some momentum and got them back in the game. And as so often this season, Virginia really struggled to get the ball. The Cavaliers haven’t made 40% of their 3s in a game since January and only went 2-for-12 behind the arc on Thursday.

John Gasaway: The Wildcats were a miserable 3-of-16 on their 3s, and Kriisa personally was 1-of-7. Teams, of course, have shooting nights all the time, but the fact that the No. 2 in the Ivy League tournament was able to prevent the NCAA No. 2 from having a second chance was even more surprising. Give full credit to Tosan Evbuomwan and Caden Pierce. You did an excellent job on the defensive glass. Arizona has downed less than one in five of its misses.

As for Virginia, it hit a similar impasse in March. The Cavaliers converted two 3s in 40 minutes. Furman hit 10.



Furman stuns Virginia 68-67 in 4th place

The Paladins take out the Cavaliers on last possession to secure the upset.

How far can Princeton and Furman both go in the tournament?

Gasaway: The Tigers will take inspiration from another New Jersey team. No one gave Saint Peter’s much of a chance as the No. 15 last year, and the Peacocks made it into the Elite Eight. Princeton will now play the 7-seed Tigers of Missouri, and Kobe Brown and D’Moi Hodge will be a handful.

On the other hand, Mitch Henderson’s group might actually have a better chance than the oddsmakers would give Furman against 5-seed San Diego State. Up until this point in the season, the Aztecs were even better than Virginia on defense.

Borzello: Going into the NCAA tournament, I had Furman in the sweet 16, so I’m going with the Paladins again in round two against San Diego State. However, Mike Bothwell needs to avoid big trouble in this case, since the Paladins aren’t the same team with him on the bench. San Diego State is defensively elite and imposes its style of play on opponents, similar to what they did against Charleston after the opening minutes.

I’ll let Princeton lose to Missouri – but hey, I also lost the Tigers to Arizona. Tosan Evbuomwan vs. Kobe Brown should be a fantastic duel up front.

Medcalf: I think a San Diego State squad that just had their hands full with Charleston should be concerned. Paladins coach Bob Richey produced the school’s greatest accomplishment at an NCAA tournament without his top scorer being late in the game and failing to score more than 7 points by the 10-minute mark of the first half. Slawson will also be a problem for the Aztecs. He’s a unique matchup of this size. We probably haven’t seen Furman’s best. And that means something.

But I’m not picking Princeton to beat Missouri. I trust Dennis Gates and Kobe Brown. Yours sincerely, an ESPN reporter who picked Arizona to reach the Final Four.

Which team will benefit most from two epic upsets in the South?

Borzello: It’s undoubtedly Alabama. The region’s toughest test of the Crimson Tide would likely have come from Arizona, one of the few teams the offense had to match. While I bounced Virginia off Furman, a potential sweet 16 tilt against the slow-moving Cavaliers would have been a huge stylistic contrast. However, the bottom half of the region is now wide open, which could benefit Baylor or Creighton. The Bears have struggled defensively but have elite guards, while Creighton have been one of the best teams in the country with a healthy Ryan Kalkbrenner. One of the two could now find themselves in the Elite Eight.

Gasaway: Alabama. None of that will come into play for the Crimson Tide until next weekend, of course, but removing numbers 2 and 4 from your bracket will help the team at the top. Even when the brackets were announced, the South was viewed as relatively hospitable to ‘Bama. Now the region has become even more accommodating.

Medcalf: Yes, definitely Alabama. Arizona’s size and speed were the biggest test in the region. With Arizona gone, chances are Alabama will put together a pretty dominant run to the Final Four. And Tony Bennett’s defensive adjustments for Virginia have been problematic for most teams. Alabama’s path is much easier now.

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