March Madness 2023: Players Still Adapting to New Wilson Ball

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As the nation’s best teams try to survive and advance in the 2023 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, some players are still adjusting to the new basketball—Wilson Sporting Goods’ Evo NXT—that the NCAA rolled out for championship play last season. The switch previously met with criticism, and the transition continues to be far from smooth, according to certain players and coaches.

Top-seeded Purdue came into the tournament shooting 34% from behind the arc at home with its Nike ball but shot just 19% when it was eliminated in the first round by Fairleigh Dickinson University. Baylor, too, saw its 3-point shooting percentage drop by 15% once they got to the second round of the tournament.

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“Yeah, I just feel like sometimes the balls are just a little too bouncy,” Alabama guard Jahvon Quinerly said earlier this week. “I don’t think it’s affected me personally this tournament, but, you know, it’s been something that the guys talk about in the locker room.”

The Evo NXT is touted as the “highest caliber” of basketball with its micro-touch cover and stands out because of its bright orange color. The ball, which is also used for the women’s championships, typically isn’t used at most schools during the regular season. The NCAA doesn’t require teams to play with a specific brand of basketball during the regular season, just a ball that fits specific guidelines.

For some, playing with a ball you haven’t used all season is less than ideal, especially for games of such magnitude. Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes questioned why there’s no uniform ball. Other coaches including Gonzaga’s Mark Few have accused the ball of being overinflated and having too much bounce. But there’s no indication that the PSI levels are irregular.

“The last thing we should be doing is playing with brand-new, slick basketballs,” Few told Stadium. “We need to have the ball inflated less, and we’d see better shooting and less fumbling with the ball.”

Wilson, the supplier for the NCAA tournament since 2002, has defended the innovation and technology behind the ball since last season. Last year’s criticism wasn’t enough to stop the NCAA from signing an extension with the Chicago supplier last fall that goes until 2028. 

As part of that deal, the Big Ten started using the Wilson ball for its conference championships, joining other Power Five conferences like the SEC and Big 12. But the rough shooting stretches haven’t slowed down.

“Bring back the other basketballs,” former Villanova guard Collin Gillespie, who is now on the Denver Nuggets, tweeted on Tuesday

For some players, though, the Evo NXT is an afterthought.

“Both teams had to play with the same ball,” Michigan State guard AJ Hoggard said after the Spartans’ loss to Kansas State Thursday night.

The NBA dealt with a similar hubbub when it ended its partnership with Spalding after nearly 40 years to team up with Wilson in 2021. The new official game ball was met with criticism, namely from high profile players, but the disapproval has quieted since last season.

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