Madness in March: Three Unlikely Stories from this Year’s Tournament


The madness may have ended, but the 2023 NCAA March Madness tournament lived up to its hype. Over three weeks in March and April, 68 men’s basketball teams competed in a series of elimination games, vying for the NCAA championship. From buzzer-beaters to Cinderella stories to historic performances, the tournament brought much excitement. While the University of Connecticut’s championship receives much of the glory from the tournament, Falriegh Dickinson’s upset over Purdue, Marquis Nowell’s electrifying performances, and Florida Atlantic’s success are three storylines that gained unexpected national attention.

Early on, fans witnessed one of the greatest upsets in tournament history. Lowest-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson faced off against frontrunner Purdue. Purdue was led by Naismith Player of The Year, Zach Edey. Edey, the tallest player in the tournament, was set to play the shortest Division 1 basketball team in Fairleigh Dickinson. 

Despite all signs pointing towards Purdue, Fairleigh Dickinson shocked the world and won 63-58. This became only the second time in history that a sixteen seed had beaten a one seed, the first time taking place in 2018. Although this devastating loss is quite uncommon, upsets are not entirely new for Purdue. In their last three tournament appearances, they have been knocked out by double-digit seeded teams (#13 North Texas, #15 St. Peter’s, #16 Fairleigh Dickinson). 

While Purdue has been disappointing in recent years, they are still a projected top-ten team for next year’s season. On the other hand, Fairleigh Dickinson is bound to face troubles as head coach Tobin Anderson signed a five-year deal with Iona University. Though the future is not looking bright for Fairleigh Dickinson, their historic victory is a testament to size is not everything in March Madness.

This theme persists in the form of Kansas State guard Marquis Nowell. Standing at just 5’8”, Nowell gave fans some of the most exciting performances of the tournament. Nowell had a stellar regular season for the Wildcats, but truly elevated his performance in the tournament. He led the Wildcats to victory in the first two games of the tournament, averaging 22 points and 11.5 assists. Yet, his most notable performance was against Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen. Nowell led the way to a 98-93 win with 20 points and a record-breaking 19 assists. Nowell had done it all for the Wildcats, and with under a minute to go, he threw a reverse alley-oop to Keyontae Johnson giving Kansas State the lead. Unfortunately, Nowell’s run with the Wildcats ended in the Elite Eight against FAU in a thriller.

In FAU’s first season with over 30 wins and being ranked as high as nineteenth in the AP poll, the team was set for its second appearance in the NCAA tournament. They began the tournament against #8 Memphis in a nail-biter, winning the game with a layup with just two seconds left on the clock . The next game against Fairleigh Dickinson was the only game that FAU was favored to win all tournament; they were led to another victory by Johnell Davis. He put on a clinic with 29 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals. Davis, alongside Alijah Martin and Vladislav Goldin, continued to lead the Owls as they next beat Tennessee and Kansas State. 

FAU’s biggest game came versus San Diego State in the Final Four. The Owls were in the lead for most of the game, leading by as much as fourteen in the second half. Yet, the Aztecs proved their resilience as they slowly clawed back, and when the buzzer sounded, Lamont Butler hit a game-winning jump shot to send SDSU to their first National Championship. With spirit held high from Butler’s game-winner, the Aztecs attempted to carry that energy to the final game, though they could not keep up with Huskies, as UConn won by seventeen points.

The Owls’ season ended in such a heartbreaking fashion that left many forgetting all they had achieved. Coach Dusty May had rewritten school history with tournament appearances, winning totals, and establishing a new basketball culture. May had entirely turned around a program, and after the tournament signed a 10-year extension to continue coaching at FAU.

The 2023 NCAA tournament had played out unlike any other, having held the lowest-seeded Final Four in history, and setting new records. As fans await next year’s tournament, many can reflect on these storylines that hide behind the glory of the Huskies’ national title.