Guide to the 2022 NCAA Tournament
The best time of the year is here: March Madness. Whether you are filling out your bracket or you just want to know what to look out for throughout the month, here is the ultimate guide to this year’s NCAA Tournament.
In no certain order, here are the biggest contenders to really compete for a national championship this year.
Arizona Wildcats (Champs in 13.3% of Brackets)
Arizona is a do-it-all team that is having tremendous success in Tommy Lloyd’s first year as head coach. The Wildcats have the number five ranked offense and the number 20 ranked defense in the country. They are led by two likely first rounders in Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko. Arizona has three losses on the year, one coming from Tennessee 77-73. The other two losses come from UCLA and Colorado, two teams that the Wildcats beat later in the season.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (Champs in 27.3% of Brackets)
As of recent, Gonzaga is always considered a contender at this point in the season, but they are never able to get it done. Will this year be different? The talent is there with Drew Timme and top-3 pick Chet Holmgren. The Bulldogs are first in net rankings with their 26-3 record and all three losses coming against Quad 1 opponents. Because of this, I doubt they get bounced early, but will it be another year of heartbreak?
Kansas Jayhawks (Champs in 8.4% of Brackets)
After winning their record breaking twelfth Big 12 title, Kansas has earned a number one seed. The Jayhawks come in with the most Quad 1 wins in the nation, going 12-5 against those opponents. It is clear that Kansas most likely won’t be upset early and have the ability to beat anybody they face down the stretch.
Tennessee Volunteers (Champs in 4.3% of Brackets)
If you want to pick a champion outside of the top two seeds, the Vols are a good pick. With a win over Arizona, two wins over Kentucky, and a win over Auburn, Tennessee has shown that they can beat anybody in the country. They also got a decent pull being in the South Region, my region of vulnerability.
The Bracket Busters are the teams that will make the tournament fun. Cause some chaos, write a Cinderella Story, set the league on fire. Every tournament has them, so the question isn’t about if, it’s about who.
Virginia Tech (Sweet 16 in 19% of Brackets)
Personally, I don’t see Virginia Tech winning games too much of a bracket buster, but the 11 seed shows they had to win the ACC Championship to get in. Which they did. Why? Because the Hokies are red hot. After starting the season 10-10, Virginia Tech has gone 13-2 in their last 15 games, including beating UNC and Duke by a combined 28 points in their last two. Beating Texas might not get the league talking as 53.2% of brackets having the Hokies doing it. But with Purdue having some holes and Aluma and Mutts both being matchup nightmares for the Boilermakers, Virginia Tech could make at least the sweet sixteen if they stay hot.
Vermont (Round of 32 in 22.3% of Brackets)
Vermont dominated the America East this entire year, finishing 17-1 in conference play. The Catamounts are led by Ben Shungu, who is averaging 16 points and shooting over 42% from three. Ryan Davis and Finn Sullivan also shoot over 40% from deep. Vermont has shooters, but threes won’t make-or-break the Catamounts. They rank third in the nation in 2-point field goals, shooting nearly 60% from inside the arc. Arkansas is going to try and speed this game up, but if Vermont can turn it into a shotting match, give me the 13 seed.
Chattanooga (Round of 32 in 16.4% of Brackets)
Chattanooga has a backcourt that can matchup with almost anybody in the nation. David Jean-Baptiste has made over 80 threes this season. I’m sure you’ve seen his game winner against Furman by now. Joining him at guard is SoCon Player of the Year Malachi Smith. Smith averages just over 20 points per game. They’re not too shabby on the inside either, where they have big man Silvio De Souse, who averages 11 points, 7 rebounds, and a block. The Mocs’ first round opponent – Illinois – likes to rely on the three a little bit, and Chattanooga defends the perimeter well. They hold opponents to just 30% from deep. Chattanooga’s biggest challenge will be finding an answer for Kofi Cockburn (more on him later).
South Dakota State (Round of 32 in 29.8% of Brackets)
Typically, even after going undefeated in the Summit League like the Jackrabbits did, smaller schools have trouble against bigger schools due to a lack of size and athleticism. Not much you can do there. But the way to even things up is by shooting the ball efficiently. South Dakota State does that and more. They lead Division I in field goal percentage (over 52%), 3-point percentage (45%), and they rank second in the nation in overall scoring (87.2 PPG). The Jackrabbits are the only team in the country who have three players who average 15+ points per game. South Dakota State is probably the worst pull Providence could have gotten in the first round. In all of the Friar’s five losses, it was because they had season worst performances against the three. Not a stat you want to have before playing the country’s three-point shooting leaders.
Colgate (Round of 32 in 3.8% of Brackets)
I don’t predict Colgate to beat Wisconsin, but if you’re looking for a crazy first round upset, this is the one. Colgate beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome earlier this season by hanging 100 points on them. The Raiders have won 19 of their last 20 to win the Patriot League. They shoot over 40% from three, second to only the team we just talked about.
You have Bracket Busters, and you have Bracket Busts. The Bracket Busts are the negative side of a busted brackets. They’re the dreamers. The teams that hope to win the title and do have a shot, but won’t be able to get it done.
Villanova (Champs in 3.7 % of Brackets)
We know that Villanova has experience and championship pedigree, but we also know the Wildcats lack size in the front court. A lot of their game is small ball or four guard lineups behind Collin Gillespie. It’s cute but it won’t win you a title. Villanova can get past the first rounds, but they struggle with the big boys, posting an 8-6 Quad 1 record.
Duke (Champs in 6.4% of Brackets)
Don’t get me wrong, Coach K always has a chance to win it all. But Duke lacks tournament experience, which doesn’t look great in the eyes of history. The Blue Devils have some bad losses in the tail end of the season, mostly because of some defensive struggles. They have some of the best talent in the country, but a 6-3 record against Quad 2 opponents could put the Blue Devils on serious upset alert in the second or third rounds.
Purdue (Champs in 2.4% of Brackets)
Purdue looked like one of the best teams in the country a couple times this year, but they haven’t been able to illustrate it lately, going 6-4 in their last 10. And you never want to go cold before the biggest two weeks of your life. Jaden Ivey is one of the best guards in the country, but he has shown inconsistency at times. Catch Ivey on a bad day and Purdue falls.
Auburn (Champs in 4.4% of Brackets)
Auburn is 16-0 at home. That’s great. But as we know, the NCAA Tournament isn’t played at home. The Tigers are 8-3 on the road and 3-2 in neutral sites this year. They went hot for a while, winning 19 in a row at one point this season, but they split their last six, losing in the SEC Tournament Quarterfinals. Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler could be the nations best duo, but the Tigers problems come from the backcourt. Wendell Green Jr. and K.D. Johnson are undersized guards who commit too many turnovers and often take bad shots. The two have shot a combined 31% from the field in Auburn’s last 10 games. The Tigers as a team scored less than one point per possession in four of their late-season games against teams that made the tournament.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Who are the guys that will make a difference for their team, be a leader, boost their draft stock, and get their team a title? There are many electric players who could do just that in this tournament.
Keegan Murray (Iowa)
23.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2 BPG, 1.3 SPG
Keegan Murray has been one of the best scorers in college basketball this year. The 6-8 forward is averaging just over 40% from three. Murray went on a tear throughout the Big 10 Tournament and has scored 30-plus points five times this season.
Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga)
14.2 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.6 BPG
Chet Holmgren still has a chance to prove he’s the number one pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. The 7-foot center is one of the best defenders in the nation with his 3.6 blocks per game. He racks up double-doubles and can shoot the three, firing at 41% from behind the arc.
Jabari Smith (Auburn)
17.1 PPG, 7 RPG, 1.2 SPG
Over the length of the season, Jabari Smith has moved his way up to being the projected number one overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Smith is a shooter with size, just what today’s NBA looks for. The 6-10 forward shoots 42.8% from the perimeter, averaging 2.3 threes made per game. Smith can go off at any moment, he’s scored 20-plus points 12 times this season.
Paolo Banchero (Duke)
17 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG
Paolo Banchero is another guy with a shot at that number one pick. The 6-10 forward is a machine that can score and grab boards. The most dangerous thing about Banchero come tournament time is his consistency. He’s only been held to single digits twice this season.
Jaden Ivey (Purdue)
17.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.2 APG
Jaden Ivey is one of the, if not the most electrifying playere in the country. The Naismith College Player of the Year Candidate jumped from 25.8% from three to 37.1% in his second season. It didn’t initially look like Ivey would be a fit with Purdue’s big man scheme, but he quickly learned to lead the team to a three seed. Now the question is whether he can lead them through an incredibly tough East Region.
Kofi Cockburn (Illinois)
21.1 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 60% FG
Kofi Cockburn is one of the best big men in the country. The 7-foot center is averaging a fantastic 60% from the field. After a disappointing first round exit for the fighting Illini last year, Cockburn is motivated going into this tournament and will have to dominate early to get past a very good Chattanooga team.
Oscar Tshiebwe (Kentucky)
17 PPG, 15.1 RPG, 60% FG
6-9 forward Oscar Tshiebwe enrolled as a four-star recruit at West Virginia in 2019. He is now a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award with Kentucky. Tshiebwe often gets the ball fed to him down low and leads the nation with 15.1 rebounds per game.
Ochai Agbaji (Kansas)
19.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG
3-and-D player Ochai Agbaji has been a huge reason for the Jayhawks success this season. The 6-5 guard can shoot from anywhere, averaging 49% from the field and 42% from behind the arc.
Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona)
17.4 PPG, 2.6 APG, 5.6 RPG, 1 SPG
Bennedict Mathurin has been a huge part of Tommy Lloyd’s first year success. Mathurin has shown an ability to score inside and hasn’t been bad around the arc this year either, averaging 2.2 threes made per game. The sophomore will be the guy with the ball in his hand for the Wildcats come clutch time.