It’s exciting to see the beloved NCAA March Madness basketball tournament return to its regional roots, with fans, band, and alumni back in the stands.
The 2022 field looks wide open, so let’s preview the opening round and see who we think will come away victorious.
(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Georgia State
This is Gonzaga’s second straight year as the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament, and they have advanced to the Sweet 16 in the last six tournaments, including two national runner-up finishes and two Elite Eight exits, so they aren’t just a safe pick in the first round.
(8) Boise State vs. (9) Memphis
In terms of tempo, this will be a clash of styles. The Tigers play at the 34th-fastest tempo nationally, but the Broncos (307th) like to push the ball. It will also be a matchup of strength on the boards, where Memphis is ranked fifth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and Boise State is ranked fifth in defensive rebounding percentage. Memphis commits a turnover on almost 23 percent of their offensive possessions, which puts extra emphasis on those offensive boards. As a result, offensive rebounds allow Memphis to maximize their chances of scoring in those possessions where a shot is attempted.
Pick: Boise State
(5) Connecticut vs. (12) New Mexico State
In UConn’s first-round loss to Maryland last year, Adama Sanogo, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound sophomore, was held to four points. Thanks to Sanogo, the Huskies lead the nation in offensive rebound percentage and rank fifth in defensive field goal rate. Three UConn players average between 13 and 16 points per contest, including senior and leading assist man R.J. Cole (15.7 points per contest) and 3-point shooter Tyrese Martin (13.7).
(4) Arkansas vs. (13) Vermont
In many metrics, the Catamounts are considered a better overall team than several teams ranked ahead of them, including Miami (FL), Rutgers, Richmond, and New Mexico State. Vermont ranks 5th in the country in defensive rebound rate, 3rd in field goal rate and they really know how to slow down the pace of a game. That can really frustrate a team like Arkansas, loaded with scorers like J.D. Notae (18.4 PPG), Au’Diese Toney (11), and Stanley Umude (11.). But the Razorbacks are also a top-20 defensive team and it will be hard for Vermont to come up with enough offense to pull the upset.
(6) Alabama vs. (11) Rutgers/Notre Dame
The Crimson Tide somehow managed to knock off Baylor, Houston, Tennessee, and Arkansas but are just 19-13 overall after a mediocre .500 SEC run. Alabama also enters the tournament on a three-game skid, which bodes well for the play-in winner. We’re siding with the underdog here, especially if it’s Rutgers.
Pick: Rutgers/Notre Dame (*** Upset)
(3) Texas Tech vs. (14) Montana State
This is the first NCAA appearance for Montana State in 25 years and they have the misfortune of playing a deep and talented Red Raiders squad, which boasts and elite defense and forces a ton of turnovers. We don’t like the Bobcats’ chances at all.
Pick: Texas Tech
(7) Michigan State vs. (10) Davidson
Davidson’s top score Foster Loyer suited up at Michigan State for three seasons and now gets to opportunity to embarrass his former teammates. Bob McKillop’s Bobcats are a tremendously efficient club and can score with the Spartans. But this won’t be easy for Davidson, who must face Tom Izzo’s squad that is making it’s record 23rd consecutive March appearance. Under Izzo, the Spartans are 16-6 in the opening round.
Pick: Michigan State
(2) Duke vs. (15) Cal State Fullerton
Speaking of long on-going streaks, this is the final run for legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is retiring once the Blue Devils’ season ends. While Duke has lost some opening-round games as a high seed, and the Blue Devils are probably over ranked as a No. 2, we don’t expect them to bow out this early.
(1) Arizona vs. (16) Wright State/Bryant
The Wildcats romped through the Pac-12 tournament to secure top-billing in the loaded South Region. Zona will have no problems dispatching an overmatched 16-seed.
(8) Seton Hall vs. (9) TCU
Taking care of the ball is paramount in these 8/9 tossup games. That greatly favors Seton Hall, who committed far fewer turnovers than the Horned Frogs, who managed to come from 20 points down to knock off Texas in the Big-12 tournament despite having a losing conference record. KenPom ranks the Horned Frogs at 38, three spots behind Seton Hall at 35, so it should be a close one.
Pick: TCU (* Upset)
(5) Houston vs. (12) UAB
Houston finally manage to knock off Memphis, who handed the Cougars two of their five losses on the season. This UH squad made an improbable run to the Final Four last season and despite dealing with significant injuries, has the feel of a cohesive squad that can make another run. UAB’s Jordan Walker will score but Houston’s defense will keep them dancing.
(4) Illinois vs. (13) Chattanooga
Illinois boasts one of the nation’s top players in junior center Kofi Cockburn, a first-team AP All-American. While Cockburn and company exited the Big Ten Tournament far too early, they should be too much for the Mocs to handle.
(6) Colorado State vs. (11) Michigan
The Wolverines have been quite mediocre of late, which has included the turmoil of Jalen Howard’s suspension after an altercation against Wisconsin. Howard’s club has the size that can give Colorado State some problems but the Rams shoot nearly 36% from 3-point range.
Pick: Colorado State
(3) Tennessee vs. (14) Longwood
Even ranked as high as a 3 seed still feels too low for Tennessee, who has won seven straight games including a run through the SEC conference tournament. Conversely, this is the first-ever NCAA appearance for Longwood, who has the misfortune of playing one of the hottest teams in basketball, who should be plenty motivated by not being awarded a top-2 billing.
(7) Ohio State vs. (10) Loyola Chicago
Loyola Chicago has a new head coach, Drew Valentine, and Cameron Krutwig, who was crucial to the Ramblers’ run to the Final Four last year and its Sweet 16 appearance last year, has left, but the University is among the programs that have most exceeded expectations. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have failed to get past the second round in five straight March Madness appearances. In their last five overall games, the Buckeyes have lost four, and three of the five losses have come against teams that finished in the bottom five of the Big Ten standings. Loyola Chicago has better balance and, well, they’re just a better story.
Pick: Loyola Chicago (** Upset)
(2) Villanova vs. (15) Delaware
The leading scorer for Delaware is Jameer Nelson Jr., whose father led Saint Joseph’s to the Elite Eight of the 2004 NCAA tournament. The second-leading scorer for Delaware is Dylan Painter, who spent his first two seasons at Villanova. Nova, led by two-time Big East Player of the Year Collin Gillespie, is a popular pick to make a run to the Final Four and should have no issues with Delaware.
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(1) Kansas vs. (16) Texas Southern/Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
The Jayhawks are considered one of the prohibitive favorites for many reasons. Bill Self’s squad should have no problems dispatching another lesser team from Texas.
(8) San Diego State vs. (9) Creighton
This should be a low-scoring slugfest between two superlative defensive teams. KenPom.com really favors the Aztecs, here, so that fortifies our lean in a matchup that appears to be very tight.
(5) Iowa vs. (12) Richmond
The Hawkeyes’ No. 2-ranked offense is powered by sophomore guard Keegan Murray, who had 32 points on 8-of-10 shooting from long range against Indiana in the Big Ten semis. Iowa is playing some of its best basketball of the season after winning the Big Ten tournament, as it has won 12 of its last 14 games, six of which came against NCAA tournament teams, and one of the two losses came against the eventual Big Ten champions, Illinois.
(4) Providence vs. (13) South Dakota State
The Friars‘ games could have fewer possessions than the average game, so a lesser team might benefit from greater variance in potential outcomes, which lessens Providence’s chances in the NCAA tournament. Providence is ranked No. 273 nationally in tempo, which means fewer possessions could result in fewer possessions and thus fewer potential victories for Providence. Meanwhile, South Dakota State’s 44.2% 3-point field goal percentage led the country and the Jackrabbits are riding a 21-game winning streak into a matchup that looks primed for an upset.
Pick: South Dakota State (**** Upset)
(6) LSU vs. (11) Iowa State
The Tigers dismissed head coach Will Wade last weekend, but this is a very good LSU team thanks in part to a top-5 defense. Despite the coaching concerns, clubs that can slow down their opponents often outperform expectations in March and we think the Tigers can defeat an Iowa State team that already had offensive concerns.
(3) Wisconsin vs. (14) Colgate
Colgate is a nice program that ranks No. 2 in the country in 3-point field goal percentage and blew out Syracuse earlier this season but the Badgers have too much size and are built to win the sort of low-scoring struggle that many of these tournament games turn into between programs that aren’t familiar with one another.
(7) USC vs. (10) Miami (FL)
Miami can score but is not an efficient defensive team. The Hurricanes also have struggled to beat tournament-quality teams of late. The Trojans, meanwhile, are very balanced and enter March Madness with a ton of momentum over the last 6-8 weeks.
(2) Auburn vs. (15) Jacksonville State
The Tigers spent a significant amount of time this season ranked No. 1 but has only gone 3-3 in their last six contests. That sort of cold streak is concerning in March but Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler should prove to be too much for the ASUN champions.
(1) Baylor vs. (16) Norfolk State
Even though the defending national champions are hobbled by injuries, the Bears have too much size and athleticism for Norfolk State’s solid defense.
(8) North Carolina vs. (9) Marquette
The Tarheels can score with the best of them when R.J. Davis, Brady Manek, and Caleb Love are nailing outside shots and getting the ball inside to Armando Bacot, who can dominate the paint and glass against a smaller Marquette lineup. The Golden Eagles can also run up and down the court, so this should be an entertaining matchup with shootout potential.
Pick: North Carolina
(5) Saint Mary’s vs. (12) Wyoming/Indiana
There seems to be at least one 12-seed to win every season. Having picked UCONN, Houston, and Iowa already, we’re going to go with the underdogs here, especially if the Hoosiers knock off the Cowboys. Both Wyoming and Indiana are balanced teams and both can hit free throws- an underrated and all-too-important factor in March.
whisper: Indiana -4 is an Official Vegas Whispers Play.
Pick: Indiana – (*** Upset)
(4) UCLA vs. (13) Akron
The Bruins made an improbably run to the Final Four in 2021 as an 11-seed but they won’t be sneaking up on anyone in 2022. Three of UCLA’s seven defeats this season came against teams seeded No. 1 in this very tournament and the roster that made last year’s run is still mostly together. The Zips like to slow the pace down but they don’t have the scoring to keep pace with the Bruins.
(6) Texas vs. (11) Virginia Tech
The Longhorns have been one of the most frustrating teams to follow. After a fast start, Texas struggled in Big 12 play and were bounced in the first round after blowing a 20-point lead to TCU. Losers of three straight, Texas will have a hard time keeping pace with a Hokies’ team that just won their first-ever ACC Tournament Championship.
Pick: Virginia Tech (*** Upset)
(3) Purdue vs. (14) Yale
It is no secret that Purdue earned a No. 4 seed and suffered an upset against North Texas last season. Nonetheless, the Boilermakers returned nearly every rotation player to create the nation’s third-most efficient offense, according to the rankings at KenPom.com. Yale, however, doesn’t shoot particularly well and will still have trouble keeping pace with the Boilermakers.
(7) Murray State vs. (10) San Francisco
The Murray State Racers enter this game on a 20-game winning streak and boast a nifty 30-2 overall mark after going 15-0 in Ohio Valley play. San Francisco can shoot extremely well and shoots a ton of 3-point shots. This game has the potential to be one of the highest-scoring bouts of the opening round but we like the experience of the Racers.
Pick: Murray State
(2) Kentucky vs. (15) Saint Peter’s
Kentucky’s streak of not making the tournament ends at one and the Wildcats are one of the prohibitive favorites to not only emerge from the East Region but to win it all. They shouldn’t have any difficulties with a Saint Peter’s team that lacks any signature wins in 2021-22.