Aguek Arop, San Diego State Aztecs, March Madness

Two defense-first teams come out of the Orlando region in (5) San Diego State (South) and (4) Tennessee (East).


The Orlando Region featured some of the public’s favorite first-round upset picks. In a weekend with a notable absence of last-second heroics, Furman’s J.P. Pegues made up for everything by sinking a deep three off of a steal to shock Virginia. Oral Roberts did not make the same impression, as Duke cruised past them, 74-51. Nonetheless, it was San Diego State and Tennessee who escaped into the second weekend.

Orlando Region Most Outstanding Player

Olivier Nkamhoua, Tennessee

A mere role player leading up to the second round, including just 7 points in the Round of 64, Nkamhoua turned it on against Duke. What was especially unexpected was his range, knocking down a season-high in triples. Nkamhoua was efficient from everywhere on the court, shooting 4-for-5 from around the rim, 3-for-4 from the mid-range, 3-for-4 from beyond the arc, and 4-of-5 from the foul line. Nkamhoua finished with 27 points in a 66-52 Volunteers victory.

Orlando Region First Team

  • G: J.P. Pegues, Furman – 2 games (10.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.5 APG)
  • G: Jeremy Roach, Duke – 2 games (18.0 PPG, 2.5 APG, 1.5 RPG)
  • G: Matt Bradley, San Diego State – 2 games (13.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.0 BPG)
  • F: Jordan Brown, Louisiana – 1 game (16.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 58.3 FG%)
  • C: Olivier Nkamhoua, Tennessee – 2 games (17.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 57.1 3P%)

3 Takeaways

#1: Duke was overlooked because of how hot they were

The Blue Devils breezed through the latter stage of conference play and the ACC Tournament, entering the Big Dance as winners of their previous nine games. A blowout victory over a dangerous Oral Roberts team inhibited even more public confidence in Jon Scheyer’s squad.

What many of us did not consider is Tennessee’s ability to shut down any offense, especially from the perimeter. One would think a 27.3% three-point shooting night is simply a cold night but that is right on par with the Volunteers’ season-long opponent average. Lo and behold, Duke was handled by what was likely their toughest opponent in the 2023 calendar year.

#2: San Diego State saved the Mountain West from further negative perception

The Mountain West has historically performed poorly in the NCAA Tournament. Despite another promising regular season, this year started no different, with Nevada losing in the First Four, and Utah State and Boise State falling in the Round of 64. San Diego State saved the day, grabbing the MWC’s first March Madness win since 2018, and then getting into the Sweet Sixteen, the conference’s first since 2014. Just like Tennessee, they did it on the defensive end, holding high-powered offenses in Charleston and Furman under 60 points.

#3: Virginia is a prime example of the wacky nature of March Madness

Virginia’s last four tournament appearance has ended in three first-round exits…and a national championship. This makes it difficult to draw conclusions as to whether Tony Bennett’s style is well-equipped to the NCAA Tournament or not. One could say that the title run was a fluke. However, since the Cavaliers won six consecutive games in the biggest stage, the argument that they had three “fluky” first-round losses is equally applicable.

The way I see it, March has strange, unexplainable results by nature and Virginia has just seen both extreme ends of it. Yes, their slow pace allows for fewer possessions and higher variance, but we have seen that same style thrive in most regular-season games.

Lookahead for San Diego State

The Aztecs have what is likely the toughest Sweet Sixteen draw in top overall seed Alabama. It is merely impossible to get into a shootout with the Crimson Tide and outscore them. Gonzaga did it, but that was several months ago, and regardless, the Aztecs do not have that offensive firepower.

Instead, San Diego State will have to do its best to muck up the game defensively and get Alabama out of its comfort zone. In fact, Tennessee is an extreme version of San Diego State, and they held the Crimson Tide to a season-low 59 points in a victory. Especially considering Alabama’s ability to protect the rim, the Aztecs are also going to have to let some more shots fly than usual. This year, San Diego State ranked 10th out of 11 in the Mountain West in three-point rate.

Lookahead for Tennessee

As I previously stated, Tennessee takes San Diego State’s defense-first tendency to an extreme. They rank 1st in Torvik’s defensive efficiency and 54th offensively.

History does not favor the Vols. Teams with similar profiles average just 1.8 tournament wins. There is an exception: 2019 Texas Tech, who made it to the finals. But overall, dynamic guards that can shoot off the dribble tend to triumph, and I am not sure Tennessee has an abundance of that.

The good news is that they may have yet another favorable matchup in Florida Atlantic. The Owls have been one of the most successful teams in the country at spacing and attacking off the dribble. The question is whether they get flustered by a quality of defense they are not used to. According to Torvik, the best defensive team FAU has previously is North Texas, who barely places in the top 25.