The 2022-23 college basketball season was advertised as the year of the big. The reigning National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe returned to Kentucky. North Carolina’s Armando Bacot, Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, Indiana’s Trayce Jackson–Davis and Purdue’s Zach Edey were notable returning players poised for monster seasons. Edey is the NCAA odds’ runaway favorite to win National Player of the Year. This will be the third consecutive season with a center winning the award, as Iowa’s Luka Garza won in 2021.
Even with the resurgence of centers in college basketball, not much has changed. Guards are still king in the NCAA Tournament. No Elite Eight matchup encompasses this better than No. 5 Miami against No. 2 Texas. Both teams have dominated the competition led by small lineups that are guard heavy. Let’s look at the final eight teams, and why the winner of Miami-Texas will be a great March Madness pick to win the national championship.
Few Dominate Frontcourt Players Remain
Upsets have demolished March Madness predictions once again. Many teams that fell early leaned heavily on their frontcourt. For example, No. 1 Purdue fell to No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson in perhaps the biggest upset in tournament history. There were concerns about the Boilermakers’ guard play going into the tournament. The backcourt struggled in the first-round upset as Edey posted 21 points and 15 rebounds.
UNBELIEVABLE!! THIS TOURNAMENT CAN’T GET ANY BETTER!!! FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON DOES IT!! (1) PURDUE IS DOWN!!! pic.twitter.com/rVjJDTBEVr
— NCAA Buzzer Beaters & Game Winners (@NCAABuzzerBters) March 18, 2023
No. 2 Arizona lost in the first round against No. 15 Princeton. The Wildcats had the nation’s best frontcourt with Azuolas Tubelis (19.8 points) and Oumar Ballo (14.2 points). However, Arizona had inconsistent guard play. Against Princeton, Tubelis and Ballo combined for 35 of the team’s 55 points. The Wildcats’ three starting guards combined for only 13 points.
We could go back to last season when No. 2 Kentucky lost to No. 15 Saint Peter’s. The Wildcats’ guards did not show up while Tshiebwe posted 30 points and 16 rebounds.
Despite frontcourt players taking the center stage over the last three seasons, they have not led to winning. March Madness expert picks often point to excellent guard play. It has rang true once again. In fact, only three elite centers remain in the field: UConn’s Adama Sanogo (17.3 points and 7.5 rebounds), Gonzaga’s Drew Timme (21.5 points and 7.5 rebounds) and Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner (15.9 points and 2.1 blocks).
Gonzaga is the only team that has some imbalance with shaky guard play. UConn and Creighton are not totally reliant on its center with great backcourts. The rest of the field is led by exceptional guard play.
Why the Best Backcourt Will Cut the Nets
San Diego State, Miami and Texas’ top three scoring leaders are guards. Three of Florida Atlantic’s top four scorers are guards. Kansas State’s point guard Markquis Nowell (17.2 points and 8.1 assists) has taken the tournament by storm and had a record-breaking 19-assist performance against Michigan State in the Sweet 16.
Miami and Texas feature college basketball’s top backcourts. The Hurricanes have enjoyed excellent play from Isaiah Wong (16.3 points), Jordan Miller (15.1 points) and Nijel Pack (13.8 points). The Longhorns have coasted to the Elite Eight led by guards Marcus Carr (15.8 points), Sir’Jabari Rice (12.9 points) and Tyrese Hunter (10.4 points).
MARCUS CARR WITH A CIRCUS SHOT 😨#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/VdEAyLHSCP
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 25, 2023
Texas has the best two-way backcourt remaining, which reflects on the odds to win March Madness. The sportsbook has the Longhorns as the second choice to win the championship (+350). Miami has the best shooting backcourt remaining. Pack comes off a ridiculous night, shooting seven of 10 on 3-pointers against Houston.
The winner of the highly anticipated Miami-Texas matchup has a great shot to win it all. No remaining team would have a backcourt on par with the Canes or Longhorns. As we have seen through four rounds, the best backcourt typically wins. In 2021, Baylor won the NCAA Tournament with the country’s top backcourt. The Bears’ top four scorers were guards. Kansas in 2022 had an elite backcourt as well, led by guards Ochai Agbaji (18.8 points) and Christian Braun (14.1 points).
March Madness taught us one important lesson this year. Amid the chaos, guards still rule. Most of the teams to survive this topsy-turvy 68-team field have steading forces in the backcourt that carry the scoring load. Maybe our brackets won’t be wrecked next year if we keep this in mind. Elite guard play wins. It’s that simple. Watch Miami against Texas and you will see why guards are king.