Trayce Jackson-Davis Michael Reaves/Getty Images

NCAA Tournament 2023: 5 Potential Matchups We'd Love to See

David Kenyon

When the 2023 men's NCAA tournament bracket was released, the first thoughts of college basketball fans likely centered on upsets and which teams could go all the way. But as the initial excitement settles, the tone may begin to change.

Looking at the bracket again, a different conversation often begins to float around our basketball-loving brains:

"Wouldn't it be cool if this school played that program?"

Last year, for example, Duke—in the final season of Mike Krzyzewski's legendary tenure—played rival North Carolina in the Final Four. That was undeniably cool. Before the 2023 edition of March Madness tips off, we're looking for other such moments.

The choices are subjective but focus on each team's playing style and potential connections between the programs. Each quadrant of the bracket has one selection, along with a national title matchup.

Make your picks: Play the NCAA March Madness Men's Bracket Challenge and Tournament Run.

South Region: Creighton vs. Arizona

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Do you like offense? I like offense.

Arizona ranks seventh nationally with a 59.5 true shooting percentage, while Creighton is tied for 31st at 57.4. Both teams feature three quality perimeter shooters with a 6'11" or 7'0" center as the leading scorer.

Creighton leans on Ryan Kalkbrenner, who averages 15.4 points and 2.2 blocks. But the Bluejays also have All-Big East honorable mention players Baylor Scheierman and Trey Alexander, along with high-level facilitator Ryan Nembhard. Each one shoots at least 36.8 percent from three-point range on four-plus attempts per game.

Ažuolas Tubelis is Arizona's key player with 19.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. The backcourt includes Courtney Ramey and Kerr Kriisa, who are both above 37 percent on threes at 6.5 attempts per game, and 40 percent long-range shooter Cedric Henderson.

The styles are different—Arizona plays a much faster tempo—but the efficiency and build of both teams is comparable.

East Region: Duke vs. Kentucky

Oscar Tshiebwe Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Duke and Kentucky aren't the best teams in the East Region. No, they're seeded fifth and sixth in a hugely competitive part of the bracket.

But they are Duke and Kentucky.

Initially, your reaction might be, "Really, dude? Again?" However, the programs have not played in March Madness since the 1998 Elite Eight when UK stormed back from a 17-point second-half deficit to win 86-84.

The matchup would include an interesting clash between Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe and Duke freshman Dereck Lively II. Tshiebwe has a powerful stature and is an elite rebounder, while Lively is thinner but four inches taller and a top-tier shot-blocker.

Potential NBA draft lottery picks Cason Wallace (UK) and Dariq Whitehead (Duke) highlight the clash in the backcourt, too. Kyle Filipowski (Duke) is also a projected first-round talent.

The blend of history, bigs with opposing styles and NBA-caliber talent would be fascinating to watch.

Midwest Region: Houston vs. Indiana

Kelvin Sampson Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No bad blood here, no sir-ee!

Kelvin Sampson served as the Indiana coach for less than two seasons. He resigned in February 2008 after an NCAA investigation into recruiting violations—which also happened at his previous stop, Oklahoma—led the school to quickly set in motion the parting of ways.

At that moment, IU held a 22-4 record. The school ended up losing in the first round of the conference and NCAA tournaments before the entire roster (minus two walk-ons) turned over in the offseason.

The next year, Indiana trudged to a 6-25 finish for the program's worst season in the NCAA tournament era.

Sampson headed to the NBA for a half-decade but returned to the college level with Houston in 2014. The top-seeded Cougars have excelled this season and stand atop the Midwest Region.

Indiana, though, is a 4-seed. They could meet in the Sweet 16, and it's fair to say IU fans would be desperate for an upset win.

West Region: Gonzaga vs. UCLA

Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Don't take it from me.

Here's what Jon Wilner—the Mercury News writer who reported the news of USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-12—said about Gonzaga and its potential as a replacement team for the league.

"They are the only program remotely capable of filling the void left behind when UCLA leaves for the Big Ten in the summer of 2024."

Oh, and this is a revenge game, too.

During the 2021 Final Four, UCLA fell to Gonzaga on Jalen Suggs' 40-foot buzzer-beater in overtime. Most of UCLA's current key players—Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell, David Singleton and the injured Jaylen Clark—all watched helplessly as Suggs' shot banked in.

As if that's not enough, Gonzaga rolled to an 83-63 triumph over the Bruins early in the 2021-22 season. UCLA is assuredly tired of falling to the Zags, but it might earn a shot at redemption.

National Title: Alabama vs. Houston

Brandon Miller Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Alabama is the No. 1 team in the country. Houston is second.

Alabama loves to play a fast-paced game, ranking fourth nationally in KenPom's adjusted tempo metric. Houston wants to grind out a victory, checking in 343rd among 363 teams.

Alabama is fourth on KenPom's defensive rating—not in the least because the Tide are first in two-point defense and third in three-point defense. Houston is third on KenPom, then fifth and second, respectively. Alabama ranks 16th in total rebound rate, while Houston is eighth.

And on and on.

There are any number of similarities to mention, but the takeaway is simple: This matchup would put the nation's best teams in a championship showdown that features two heavily contrasting styles despite their overlapping strengths.

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