We're just 16 games into the 2023 NCAA Tournament, but there's already been some headlines. Here are the five biggest.
No. 5: Pressure bursts tourney pipes
These aren't professionals -- the vast majority will never play beyond college. And while NIL deals have infused legal payments into the sport, these are still young adults, after all. Watching these players nervously blow gaskets creates the beautiful chaos. Instead of taking a timeout, Virginia hoisted the ball in the air -- and lost because of it. Arizona's offense fell face first in the final minutes of a tight game. Boise State shot just 3-for-11 with two turnovers as their game wound down. Kids doing kids stuff is what makes the brackets crazy.
No. 4: There's no tournament without Cinderella
Princeton. Furman. Northern Kentucky. These were the most interesting parts of Thursday's action. With the NCAA's realignment toward super conferences, there's been talk of the Power 65 holding their own tournament. It's the worst idea ever. You absolutely need the Ivy Leagues, underdogs, and low-majors in the big dance to create intrigue. No one cares if Iowa beats Auburn, but when Iona is leading with four minutes left to play, the world tunes in.
No. 3: Tony Bennett's skeletons never go away
Virginia's national title in 2019 is one of the greatest acts of redemption ever. But, it's only because they suffered the most humiliating loss in tournament history, one year earlier. It's impossible to separate Bennett's squad with the laundry list of ignominious upsets. In 2015, the 30-win Cavaliers (2-seed) got bounced in the Round of 32. Three years later, they were the only team ever to lose to a 16-seed, as UMBC's victims. Last year, the 4-seeded Cavs lost to 13-seed Ohio to open the tourney. And yesterday, it was yet another 13-seed, Furman, that pulled the trick. So, their opening-round flameouts with Bennett are as memorable as the title.
No. 2: Arizona is an annual imposter
I wish I'd stopped believing in them years ago. Yet again, the Wildcats looked primed to make a deep run, only to short-circuit during the opening weekend. This time it was Princeton that bamboozled Arizona, shutting them out during the final five minutes of play. How does a group of future lawyers and financial advisors do it? Follow the yearly script of keeping the game close and seeing the Cats disintegrate. Perennially, the committee rewards Arizona with a West Coast site, and they cough it up. In 2015-2016, they fell as a 1-and 2-seeds to Wisconsin in SoCal. In 2017, the 2-seeded Cats got dumped by 11-seed Xavier in San Jose. The next spring, they were the victim of a 13-seed upset against Buffalo in Boise. Last year as a 1-seed, they were taken to overtime by 9-seed TCU, and eliminated by 5-seed Houston in the Sweet 16. A depressing trend.
No. 1: Houston looks wobbly
The Cougars played nothing like a No. 1 seed on Thursday. Northern Kentucky trailed by only three at the half, and actually had things tied with 14 minutes to go. Ultimately, Houston dispatched the Norse, but damage was done. They're vulnerable. All-American Marcus Sasser reinjured himself, sitting for the entire second half. Without him on the floor, Houston's offense melted into a puddle. Luckily, the 16-seeded Norse were worse. Northern Kentucky was an abysmal 5-for-33 from beyond the arc, and had only a handful of those gone in, these Coogs would've been on the ropes. They look like an incredibly fragile 1-seed that'll be lucky to make it to the second weekend.