Around March Madness: Final Four completely different from last year; Markquis Nowell goes off again


Before we blast off to H-Town for the Final Four, let’s take a look at the wild second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. 

Best Games 

No. 3 Gonzaga stuns No. 2 UCLA in wild finish, 79-76 

The frontrunner for the best ending to a game in this year’s tournament is this one. After trailing by double digits early in the second half, Gonzaga stormed back, with a huge performance from star forward Drew Timme. He had 36 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two blocks on 16-for-24 shooting. Despite UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. putting up 29 points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals on 12-for-25 shooting, the Bruins showed that the losses of Jaylen Clark and Adem Bona cost the team a spot in the Elite Eight. Gonzaga’s hero was guard Julian Strawther, who hit a 3-pointer with 7.2 seconds remaining, answering a triple on the other end by UCLA guard Amari Bailey. The past three NCAA Tournament games between these two programs have lived up to the hype every single time. 

No. 3 Kansas State advances over No. 7 Michigan State in overtime, 98-93 

Ladies and gentlemen, the Markquis Nowell game. He had an incredible game, breaking the single NCAA Tournament game record for most assists with 19 on Thursday night in New York City. Along with that, he had 20 points and 5 steals on 7-for-18 shooting. He was incredible. All-American forward Keyontae Johnson had 22 points, with the highlight of March Madness being an incredible alley–oop from Nowell to Johnson. Nowell’s fifth steal gave the Wildcats a spot in the Elite Eight. Four of Michigan State’s starters scored in double figures, with guard A.J. Hoggard leading with 25 points and six assists. 

No. 9 Florida Atlantic continues dream season with Final Four-clinching win over No. 3 Kansas State, 79-76 

Nowell continued to be the biggest star in the NCAA Tournament for Kansas State, but it wasn’t enough for the Wildcats to go to their first Final Four since 1964. Instead, Florida Atlantic went from winning their first NCAA Tournament game in the first round to going to their first Final Four in program history. Owls center Vladislav Goldin led the team to Houston with 14 points and 13 rebounds, along with two blocks. Guard Alijah Martin led the team in scoring with 17 points. Four of FAU’s starters had ten points or more, while Nowell and Nae’Qwan Tomlin were the only double-figure scorers for K-State. Florida Atlantic trailed with eight minutes left but was able to overcome the deficit and get to Houston. 

No. 5 San Diego State punches ticket to Houston over No. 6 Creighton, 57-56 

San Diego State has one of the top defenses in the NCAA Tournament, and they proved it by holding back Creighton’s prolific offense to advance to their first Final Four. Creighton saw two of their starting guards not score in double figures, with Ryan Kalkbrenner leading with 17 points. The Bluejays were abysmal from long range, shooting under 20%. Despite San Diego’s leading scorer Matt Bradley only scoring two points, Lamont Butler and Darrion Trammell led the Aztecs to victory, combining for 40 points. Trammell was fouled with the game tied, and he went to the free throw line, missing the first and making the second. A Scott Burrell-like heave went out of bounds and the game was over. 

No. 5 Miami (FL) comes from behind to upset No. 2 Texas, 88-81 

There will be no Texas teams in Space City as Miami came back to punch their first ever ticket to the Final Four. Head coach Jim Larrañaga has done this before with George Mason back in 2006. The Hurricanes made the Elite Eight last season, losing to eventual national champion Kansas. This time, the U put an end to the streak of Big 12 teams winning the national championship. The Canes trailed by 13 points in the second half, but pulled ahead thanks to this trio of guards: Nijel Pack, Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller, who all combined for 66 points in the win. Miller was the best of the three, putting up 27 points on perfect shooting in Kansas City. Marcus Carr, Timmy Allen and Sir’Jabari Rice were the only Longhorns who scored double figures. 

Most Outstanding Players 

Darrion Trammell, G, San Diego State (12.75 PPG, 4 RPG, 31.3 FG% 38 3PT%) 

Trammell was huge in San Diego State’s run to the Final Four, putting up 21 points against No. 1 Alabama in the Sweet Sixteen. The Seattle transfer averages 9.9 points per game this season and averages nearly two steals per game in his career. When I thought of San Diego State, Matt Bradley was the first current player to come to mind. Now, with the past two games, Trammell made his name heard. 

Markquis Nowell, G, Kansas State (23.5 PPG, 13.5 APG, 3.5 RPG, 4 SPG, 44.6 FG%, 41.9 3PT%, 96 FT%) 

Kansas State may have not advanced to the Final Four, but they were a 3-pointer away from doing so. Nowell is from Harlem, New York, and his homecoming weekend could not have been more special. His 20-point, 19-assist game was already mentioned, but he didn’t just come out of nowhere. The 5-foot-9 guard has been playing this way all season and is the definition of heart over height. Even though the result of the Elite Eight game wasn’t as hoped, the Little Rock transfer put quite the curtain call on his final season of college basketball. 

Nijel Pack, G, Miami (FL) (18.5 PPG, 2.75 RPG, 1 SPG, 50 FG%, 44 3PT%, 92.8 FT%) 

Speaking of Kansas State, Nijel Pack is in his first season at Miami since transferring from K-State. He may not be their leading scorer, but he led the Hurricanes to the Final Four, scoring from everywhere on the floor. He had seven 3-pointers in Miami’s huge upset over No. 1 Houston. The Indianapolis native is just one of the many guards that UConn will have to watch out for on Saturday night. 

Jordan Hawkins, G, UConn (17.25 PPG, 3 RPG, 1.25 APG, 45 FG%, 51.6 3PT%, 93.7 FT%) 

Hawkins is the only player on here that didn’t transfer from anywhere. He won the West Region’s Most Outstanding Player even with no points in the first half of the first two rounds in Albany. Since the second half of the Saint Mary’s game, he’s been on fire. He had 24 points in the Sweet Sixteen win over Arkansas and put up six triples in Saturday’s win over Gonzaga. He’s a future lottery pick, with one of the best shooting strokes in college basketball. 

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