The 2023 NCAA Tournament has reached one of the most iconic points in the annual March Madness schedule: The Elite Eight is underway. Saturday's two regional finals will send the winning teams on to college basketball's biggest stage, the Final Four, where they'll play for a shot at the national championship in Houston. All the chaos of the early rounds is brought to a head here in the Elite Eight, with just one team emerging from each corner of the bracket.
And while there is some sadness that we no longer have wall-to-wall tournament action for 12 hours or need to flip back and forth between games, there is some urgency in the scarcity. This is the end of the road for the 2023 season, so just like the teams looking to capitalize on each remaining opportunity, there is an entire collection of sports fans who tune in to the Elite Eight to soak up each last shining moment.
Saturday's Elite Eight action starts with the East Regional final between No. 3 seed Kansas State against No. 9 seed FAU and will be followed by the West Regional final between No. 3 seed Gonzaga and No. 4 seed UConn.
Let's get into some key storylines heading into both games.
Battle of the bigs
The battles on the block between Gonzaga center Drew Timme and UConn forward Adama Sanogo will be entertainment worthy of its own promotional billboard in Las Vegas, advertising a clash of bigs that will determine the tournament fate of two proud programs. Timme is coming off an all-time NCAA Tournament performance with 36 points and 13 rebounds in the Sweet 16 win against UCLA, setting a new tournament record with 10 games of at least 20 points. Now stepping on the court for his 13th career NCAA Tournament game, Timme likely needs another big performance to keep Gonzaga's title hopes alive.
That path to Houston currently runs right through Sanogo, who lacks Timme's tournament experience but is playing at an elite level, averaging 23.3 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game across the Huskies' three wins. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound junior has been an integral piece in UConn's build to this year's breakthrough. Now just one win from the Final Four, it's impossible to think he won't play a big role in Saturday night's showdown.
When Gonzaga has been pressed in tight games against TCU and UCLA in this tournament, the offense has solely focused on getting the ball to Timme down low. Getting similar possessions in this contest would mean the game, and the season, hinges on winning those post-up battles. And while Timme may fill up a score sheet, he'll also have to worry about boxing out Sanogo on the other end since UConn is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. Yes, UConn guard Jordan Hawkins just went for 24 points in the win over Arkansas, and Gonzaga wing Julian Strawther just dropped an iconic game-winner from the logo against UCLA. Given the way these teams match up, however, the key to the game is going to be in the battle of the bigs.
Mr. New York City's encore
Kansas State guard Markquis Nowell has not downplayed the significance of getting these all-time basketball moments inside Madison Square Garden in New York City. Nowell has embraced having these NCAA Tournament opportunities in his hometown, and his showmanship in a record-setting 20-point, 19-assist performance against Michigan State has fans everywhere buzzing about the encore. But while more and more fans are just coming to know Nowell and this high-energy Kansas State squad, what many have known is that the Wildcats have been playing like this for a good portion of the year.
Nowell and teammate Keyontae Johnson were both All-Big 12 First Team selections, and coach Jerome Tang was named the league's Coach of the Year for guiding the team to a third-place finish after being picked last in the preseason poll. Kansas State beat Baylor twice, took down Kansas at home and Texas on the road, and started the year 15-1 despite having a roster with some of the least year-over-year continuity in the entire country. Only two players from Kansas State's eight-man rotation were on the team last year, and one of them was Nowell. Tang's arrival has coincided with Nowell's explosion as one of the sport's elite guards, and now he's got one more game in Midtown Manhattan to get Kansas State to the Final Four for the first time since 1964.
FAU out to prove No. 9 seeds can fly
The 43 previous tournaments since the NCAA started seeding teams in 1979 have produced 172 Final Four appearances. The No. 1 seed accounts more of those Final Four bids than any other seed line with 69 different teams making it from the top seed line all the way to the national semifinals. The number of Final Four appearances by seed line drop considerably when you get deeper into the bracket, with the No. 2 seeds (37), No. 3 seeds (19) and No. 4 seeds (14) combining for 70 appearances. The fact that 80.8% of the Final Four appearances have come from those top four seed lines speaks to how difficult it is for Cinderella teams to maintain magical runs all the way through four games over two weekends of tournament chaos.
While there is some debate as to whether a 34-win FAU team should count as a "Cinderella," there is no debate that a win would put the Owls in rarified air as a 9 seed to make it to the Final Four. A 9 seed has made it to the Final Four just twice: Penn in 1979 and Wichita State in 2013. You could argue that the 9 seed has a bracket disadvantage with a potential matchup against the 1 seed in the second round, but that doesn't explain why the 8 seed has made it to the Final Four seven times, the second-most of any seed outside the top four. For whatever reason, the No. 9 seeds haven't reached the Final Four as often as the No. 8 or even the No. 11, but FAU can join that exclusive club on Saturday.
Check out the full TV and streaming schedule for Saturday's Elite Eight action below:
|Time (ET)||Game||TV / Stream|
|6:09 p.m.||(9) FAU vs. (3) Kansas State |
Madison Square Garden -- New York
|TBS (watch live)|
|8:49 p.m.||(4) UConn vs. (3) Gonzaga|
T-Mobile Arena -- Las Vegas
|TBS (watch live)|