- San Diego State’s run to the national championship game is historically anomalous.
- Drake and Utah Valley both have dominant players who could power future runs.
- The NCAA transfer portal will greatly affect the Cinderella market.
The 2023 college basketball national championship has come and gone. UConn defeated San Diego State, 76-59, to finish off one of the craziest NCAA Tournaments in the history of March Madness.
For now, bettors will need to put away their March Madness brackets and NCAA basketball odds. (That said, there’s always the futures market for next year’s college basketball national championship odds.)
NCAA Tournament Recap: San Diego State in Rare Air
For college basketball fans, one of the enduring memories of this year’s tourney will undoubtedly be San Diego State.
The Aztecs emerged from a much-maligned Mountain West basketball conference to run all the way to the national title game, earning wins over No. 1 Alabama and multiple other top-20 teams along the way.
Runs like this are rare in both college football and college basketball. It’s common to see non-power schools crack the top 10 or reach the second weekend of the tournament, but it’s very uncommon to see mid-majors still alive once championship weekend arrives.
But with NIL and the transfer portal flattening the competitive landscape in college basketball, it may become more common to see deep runs like San Diego State’s from schools that look more like David than Goliath.
It’s foolish to expect one NCAA Tournament to resemble another, and it’s downright silly to speculate about roster composition so early in the offseason.
But I don’t care. I’m doing it anyway. Let’s have some fun.
Here are a handful of teams to keep an eye on over the next year. If there’s going to be another San Diego State in the 2024 edition of March Madness, there’s a decent chance it could be one of these four teams.
The first and most obvious selection here is Florida Atlantic — a team that already reached the Final Four this tournament and could easily repeat the feat next year.
Lots of college basketball writers have highlighted how FAU used the transfer portal to its advantage, even as a mid-major school with no track record of historical success. College basketball odds analysts have written about how FAU didn’t get priced out, even when they cracked the top 25.
But in the context of the 2024 championship, the most impressive thing might be that there are virtually no seniors on this team. The Owls will play the 2024 season with the experience and confidence of a squad that was about three seconds away from the national title game.
It doesn’t take an NCAAB expert to see the pathway here. The best comparative point is Butler, who reached the 2010 Final Four with a young core but was written off as a product of a particularly chaotic NCAA Tournament; one season later, the Bulldogs were back in the Final Four with that same core of battle-hardened players.
College of Charleston
Like Florida Atlantic, the Cougars are another team that might have had another round or two in them if they hadn’t drawn San Diego State. As it was, their first-round game was tied, 53-53, with a couple of minutes to play.
Here’s the bad news: Charleston’s three elder statesmen are leaving because of eligibility. Dalton Bolon, Ryan Larson, and Pat Robinson III were all graduate student guards who have finally run out of eligibility. Their college careers will come to an end.
All three averaged 10 points per game. Bolon was the team’s leading scorer this past season; Larson was the CAA Tournament MVP.
But the rest of Charleston’s core is young, talented, and experienced, which is a pretty lethal combination in today’s college basketball game. The Cougs have proved they can add key pieces through the portal, too, which means they might be one addition away from running it back as CAA champions.
The CAA isn’t quite what it once was, but we know its champion can still make some noise during March Madness.
Head coach Mark Madsen is out the door, headed to Cal, and leading scorer Justin Harmon is in the transfer portal.
Still, I think there are reasons to be bullish on Utah Valley, which outlasted some pretty good teams in the WAC for both a regular-season championship and a tournament berth.
Another year of eligibility could be in line for Trey Woodbury, if the NCAA accepts his petition. And since the NCAA is handing out eligibility like doughnuts after Sunday church, I’m inclined to think we haven’t seen the last of Woodbury in Orem.
The real hardwood threat here might be Aziz Bandaogo, who showed some real NBA flashes during Utah Valley’s NIT run. It’ll be hard to keep him away from the pro game and other programs this offseason — especially right now, when Utah Valley hasn’t even hired a replacement for Madsen.
But if you’re looking for out-of-nowhere contenders for next year’s NCAA Tournament, Utah Valley deserves its candidacy. Bandaogo could be the kind of diamond-in-the-rough player who develops into a total college basketball mismatch, regardless of what the name on the front of the jersey is.
Two words: Tucker DeVries.
The Drake swingman is one of the best watches in all of college basketball. He’s also just a sophomore, and his Bulldogs had Miami on the ropes in the first round of this year’s tournament with just a couple of minutes to play.
Then, the Hurricanes hit the nitrous button and mounted the first of several improbable tournament comebacks.
The truly curious thing about Drake’s loss to Miami was how awful DeVries was. He was 1-for-13 from the floor, scoring only three points to cap a season where he had managed at least 11 in 33 of 34 games. Yikes.
But DeVries is just a sophomore, and it sounds like he’ll be back at Drake next year. Even more interesting is the portal status of five-star prospect Hunter Sallis, who is leaving Gonzaga and has been linked to Drake (among other schools).
Sallis and DeVries are former AAU teammates, which could mean the MVC has a real shot at landing one of the real transfer prizes of this upcoming offseason.
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