Projecting a Final Four for the men's NCAA tournament before even seeing the bracket is a nearly impossible exercise. Even if all four of your picks make the tournament, they might all end up in the same region.
(Unless you pick four teams from the same conference, which we'll get to shortly.)
But it's something I do every preseason, and five weeks into the regular season, it's your turn to throw four darts and hope for the best.
On Tuesday, we asked our B/R app users to give us their way-too-early predictions for the 2022 Final Four.
Here are some of the submissions that stood out.
Blue Bloods Bonanza
@daqbbraden08: Baylor, Duke, UCLA, Kentucky
@bpapick: Kansas, Duke, UCLA, Gonzaga
@comingright4us: Duke, Baylor, Kansas, UNC
While no one was quite willing to leave out both Baylor and Gonzaga to go with four blue bloods, just about everyone had two in there, and these three users went with three.
Just to be clear, college basketball's blue bloods are: Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA. Every now and then there's a push to add a "new blood" to that mix—be it Connecticut, Gonzaga, Louisville, Michigan State, Villanova, Virginia or, now, Baylor. But those have been the six blue bloods for decades.
And they all have a legitimate shot at making a Final Four this year.
All six are ranked in the top 31 on KenPom.com. Kansas (No. 3), Duke (No. 7) and UCLA (No. 8) are the serious threats, while Kentucky (No. 21), Indiana (No. 26) and North Carolina (No. 31) are each one impressive win away from moving into "should at least make the Sweet 16" territory.
Though they have a combined 95 Final Four appearances, there has not yet been a tournament in which four made it to the promised land. Moreover, there have only been three instances in which three blue bloods made it to the national semifinals: 1991, 1993 and 2008.
But if an all-blue-blood Final Four is ever going to happen, this seems like a good year for it.
Speaking of things that might happen for the first time...
One Conference to Rule Them All
@RealAlexLarsen: UConn, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence
There were a handful of responses that were clearly a joke, but I'm choosing to believe this all-Big East Final Four was at least a semi-serious answer. Personally, I would have gone with Xavier instead of Providence, but either way, the top half of this league is looking very good and I wouldn't be surprised if any of them made a deep run.
So why not four of them?
It would be a first, and it would be just the second time that at least three teams from the same conference got to the Final Four. The only previous example was the Big East in 1985 when St. John's, Georgetown and Villanova all pulled it off. Boston College came close to making it a clean sweep too. The Eagles were the No. 11 seed in the fourth region, but they made it to the Sweet 16 and fell just two points shy of playing in a regional final.
If any league is going to pull off the feat, though, it would probably be the Big Ten, right? Purdue is the obvious candidate, while Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State each received at least one nomination from an app user.
The SEC could also mess around and make it happen with a top tier of Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, LSU and Tennessee. No one in that group feels like a serious threat to win it all (especially after Alabama got smoked by Memphis on Tuesday night), but all seven feel like fringe Final Four candidates.
One thing's for sure, though: The ACC won't be doing it. I'm not even sure that league is going to receive four bids.
Go West, Young Bracket
@johnwachholtz: USC, UCLA, Alabama, Gonzaga
@XirishX0301: U of A*, Duke, UCLA, Gonzaga (*I'm assuming that's Arizona and not Alabama)
March 31, 1997.
Titanic had not yet been released in theaters.
The first book in the Harry Potter series had not yet hit the shelves.
But that was the most recent time that a team west of the continental divide won a national championship, when Arizona finished off its miraculous run of three wins over No. 1 seeds.
But maybe, just maybe, this will be the year that drought ends.
B/R user @johnwachholtz was the only person within the first seven hours of comments to nominate the USC Trojans for a spot in the Final Four, which is entirely plausible. They are 10-0 as of Wednesday morning, after all.
But the more likely trio of Arizona, Gonzaga and UCLA came from @Xirish0301.
Gonzaga needs no explanation, and in fact is the betting favorite to reach the Final Four with even odds (+100).
A lot of people at least temporarily wrote off UCLA after the 20-point loss to Gonzaga, but the Bruins opened the season at No. 2 in the AP poll and haven't lost since that Nov. 23 defeat. If and when big man Cody Riley returns from the knee injury that he suffered early in UCLA's season opener, this team will reemerge as a favorite.
And while Arizona is the surprise of the bunch as far as preseason expectations go, the Wildcats might actually be the best of the group, already boasting wins away from home over Michigan and Illinois.
I will point out for devil's advocate purposes that, as things stand, it's very likely that either UCLA or Arizona would be the No. 2 seed opposite Gonzaga as the No. 1 seed in the West Region, which makes the "three West Coast teams in the Final Four" idea less of a reality.
But let's also be sure to note that the WCC is more than just Gonzaga this year. BYU, Saint Mary's and San Francisco are all fringe candidates to win four straight games in March to crash the Final Four.
Does No One Remember the Alamo?
Nobody on the App:
Absolutely Nobody on the App:
Me: You know, Texas could totally reach the Final Four.
Considering Texas lost at Gonzaga and at Seton Hall, has nothing better than a home win over Northern Colorado and plays in the same conference as Baylor and Kansas, I can understand why not a single app user nominated the Longhorns as a threat to play in the national semifinals.
But if y'all have completely written off this team, you may want to reconsider.
Chris Beard went a little overboard with the transfer portal in his first year in Austin, bringing in Timmy Allen from Utah, Tre Mitchell from Massachusetts, Christian Bishop from Creighton, Marcus Carr from Minnesota, Devin Askew from Kentucky and Dylan Disu from Vanderbilt.
That sextet combined to average 87.9 points per game last season. Combine that with the 32.0 points per game that returnees Andrew Jones, Courtney Ramey and Jase Febres averaged and you're up to 120 points per game—which meant a lot of guys needing to adjust to new roles during a potentially bumpy start to the year.
On top of that, Disu just made his season debut Tuesday after sitting with a knee injury, so the Longhorns have been a bit short-handed/undersized in the frontcourt.
Basically, it's not a surprise that this team hasn't come close to reaching its potential yet, but Beard is a great coach, capable of turning this thing around.
@Owen_Jorgenson10: Duke, Gonzaga, Baylor, and who ever shows up.
When I compiled the responses Tuesday evening, there were 42 legitimate ones. (By "legitimate," I mean ignoring @ndynamite1's submission of Georgia, Pittsburgh, Missouri and Butler, or @HowardMagoo's proposal of McNeese State, George Mason, TCU and Wyoming.)
Of those 42, 32 had Duke, 31 had Baylor and 27 had Gonzaga, and no other team appeared in more than one-third of the quartets.
Alabama (14), Purdue (13), Arizona (11) and UCLA (10) were the most popular "other" selections, but the consensus was basically the Blue Devils, the Bears, the Zags and let's see what our options are in the fourth region on Selection Sunday.
And that sounds about right.
As mentioned, Gonzaga is at even odds. Duke is listed at +180 to reach the Final Four, while Baylor is at +330.
Considering the Bears are the No. 1 team in the land, fresh off a 21-point win over Villanova, it's not hard to understand why they were such a popular selection. But I do feel obligated to mention that both Purdue (+180) and Kansas (+300) have better Final Four odds than Baylor—and only six of those first 42 responses included the Jayhawks.
The season is still quite young, though. We'll probably run this back again in a month and see how much the consensus has changed. But it's interesting to see that we have a clear top tier of three favorites.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.
Final Four odds were according to DraftKings Sportsbook as of Tuesday afternoon.
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