NCAA Men's Bracket 2022: Complete Guide to East Region
For 17 teams in the 2022 men's NCAA tournament, the road to the Final Four runs through Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
And more specifically, the reigning-champion Baylor Bears.
Baylor has claimed the No. 1 seed in the East Region after posting a 26-6 record. It's also the second successive year the Bears—which claimed a share of the Big 12 regular-season crown with Kansas—have stood atop one quadrant of the bracket.
Other top-seeded teams in the East are the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats, No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers and No. 4 UCLA Bruins.
Ahead, B/R has pieced together a comprehensive preview with the first-round schedule, must-see matchups, top players, potential Cinderella team and predicted results for the East Region.
1st-Round Schedule and TV Info
The play-in game is scheduled for Tuesday, March 15. First-round games will be played Thursday, March 17 or Friday, March 18. All game times are ET.
No. 12 Indiana vs. No. 12 Wyoming, 9:10 p.m. ET (truTV)
No. 16 Norfolk State vs. No. 1 Baylor, 2 p.m., TBS
No. 15 St. Peter's vs. No. 2 Kentucky, 7:10 p.m., CBS
No. 13 Akron vs. No. 4 UCLA, 9:50 p.m., TBS
No. 12 Indiana/Wyoming vs. No. 5 Saint Mary's, 7:20 p.m., TBS
No. 10 San Francisco vs. No. 7 Murray State, 9:40 p.m., CBS
No. 9 Marquette vs. No. 8 North Carolina, 4:30 p.m., TBS
No. 14 Yale vs. No. 3 Purdue, 2 p.m., TBS
No. 11 Virginia Tech vs. No. 6 Texas, 4:30 p.m., TBS
No. 12 Play-in Game: Indiana vs. Wyoming
After all, it's Tuesday night in the first matchup of the East Region. Indiana is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years, and Wyoming last appeared in 2015. The winner in Dayton will advance to meet fifth-seeded Saint Mary's.
No. 10 San Francisco vs. No. 7 Murray State
We'll cover Murray State in-depth momentarily, but the Racers capped a perfect Ohio Valley Conference run with a 30-2 record. They'll take on San Francisco, which is making its first trip to March Madness since 1998 and only second since 1982. In all likelihood, second-seeded Kentucky awaits the winner here.
No. 11 Virginia Tech vs. No. 6 Texas
Virginia Tech enters the Big Dance on a roll. After heading to the ACC tournament on the bubble, the Hokies defeated Clemson, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Duke to secure the automatic bid. Texas, meanwhile, has dropped five of its past eight games, including three straight to Baylor, Kansas and TCU.
Baylor's Short-Handed Title Defense
Despite losing four key players from last season's championship team, Baylor is once again a No. 1 seed. However, the Bears are approaching March Madness with a couple of key injuries. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (knee) will not play, and LJ Cryer is "game-to-game" with a foot issue. Baylor has played well without them anyway, but those are two major absences to know.
Kentucky's Return to the Big Dance
After opening the 2020-21 season as the nation's No. 10 team, the 'Cats floundered to a 9-16 record and missed the NCAA tournament. This year, though, three transfers—Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia), Kellen Grady (Davidson) and Sahvir Wheeler (Georgia)—reinforced a roster that also welcomed star freshman TyTy Washington. Kentucky coach John Calipari last reached the Final Four in 2015.
Murray State's Chase for Respect
Look, the numbers are what they are. Murray State is 30-2 yet has only played six opponents in Quadrants 1 or 2 this season. Relative to top-seeded teams, the Racers are extremely untested. Also, you know, they're 30-2, so doubt them at your own risk. Murray State ranks fifth nationally in total rebound rate and 41st in steal rate. San Francisco is up first, but a possible second-round clash with Kentucky is interesting for us neutral observers to think about.
Stars to Watch
Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky
TyTy Washington deserves a mention, but Oscar Tshiebwe is the star of Kentucky's show. While averaging 17.0 points, he leads the country with 15.2 rebounds per game. Tshiebwe has also produced 1.8 steals and 1.6 blocks. He's an all-around force, a definite All-American and potential National Player of the Year.
James Akinjo and Adam Flagler, Baylor
Baylor is hoping to have a healthy LJ Cryer in the backcourt with James Akinjo and Adam Flagler, who both average 13.4 points. They're an excellent complementary duo, considering Akinjo has dished 5.7 assists per night as Flagler hits 39.3 percent of his 6.1 three-points attempts per game.
Jaden Ivey, Purdue
Purdue's interior tandem of Trevion Williams and Zach Edey is intimidating, but neither player averages more than 20 minutes. Purdue is most reliant on Jaden Ivey, who paces the Boilermakers with 17.4 points and dishes 3.2 assists per game. He's a possible top-five pick in the 2022 NBA draft.
Favorite Most Likely to Fall
No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers
In the first game? Probably not. Yale doesn't have anyone in the rotation who is taller than 6'8", and that seems awfully problematic against 7'4" Edey and 6'10" Williams.
Purdue hasn't played all that well recently, though.
Dating back to the mid-February shellacking at the hands of Michigan, the Boilers are 6-4 in their past 10 games. The most concerning part is five of those victories included an eight-point winning margin or less; even Purdue's wins were uncomfortable.
Among the four highest-seeded teams, Purdue seems to be in most danger of an upset on the opening weekend.
Most Likely Cinderella
Interestingly enough, two ACC teams are probably the strongest options. After a below-standard season from the conference, both North Carolina and Virginia Tech are still dangerous teams.
Virginia Tech, though, would need to navigate a mostly healthy Kentucky rotation. North Carolina—provided it can beat Marquette in the first round—may have the good fortune of encountering Baylor without both Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Cryer.
And the Tar Heels have Armando Bacot.
This season, he's averaged 16.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. Baylor bigs Flo Thamba and Jeremy Sochan are good players, but they never opposed an All-American forward/center at any point in the regular season or conference tourney.
Plus, UNC has shooters who could counteract Baylor's disruptive backcourt. Caleb Love, RJ Davis and Brady Manek all attempt at least 4.5 triples per game and shoot 37.0-plus percent on them.
Who Makes the Sweet 16?
No. 1 Baylor Bears
North Carolina wouldn't be a fun matchup for Baylor. Still, the Bears are more consistent and could capitalize on UNC's shaky perimeter defense. The reigning champs advance to the second weekend.
No. 4 UCLA Bruins
Saint Mary's has a suffocating defense and the fifth-slowest tempo of all NCAA tournament teams, per KenPom. This potential clash would probably be a low-scoring slugfest, though UCLA's superior talent with Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell wins out in the end.
No. 11 Virginia Tech Hokies
All season long, predictive metrics have loved the Hokies. They kept dropping games, though, and very likely wouldn't have made the Big Dance without an ACC tournament title. But now, the Hokies are hot. That doesn't mean everything in March, yet it's hard to ignore the recent struggles of both Texas and Purdue in comparison to Virginia Tech and the nation's No. 4 three-point shooting group.
No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats
Not expecting much drama in the opening matchup with St. Peter's. However, either Murray State or San Francisco should present a real challenge for the 'Cats in the second round. Kentucky pulls out a close victory on the strength of its backcourt.
The Elite Eight Matchup Will Be...
Ah, yes, the chalk. Top-seeded Baylor meets No. 2 Kentucky with a trip to New Orleans at stake.
Baylor's injury concerns are cause for hesitation, and feel free to reevaluate this prediction if Cryer does not return by the Sweet 16. The longer the Bears stay in March Madness, the more his continued absence will be felt. That's not a shocking statement.
Based on his game-to-game status, though, there is lingering optimism for Baylor's rotation adding a key piece. And, again, they've won games recently anyway. They tripped up Kansas, Texas and Iowa State in successive games and only bowed out of the Big 12 tournament because Oklahoma caught fire from the perimeter.
Kentucky, meanwhile, takes advantage of a friendlier-than-Purdue showdown with Virginia Tech. Strong perimeter defense is key to limiting the Hokies, and UK's has ceded just a 30.4 three-point clip.
And the Final Four Team Is...
At full strength, Baylor would probably be the choice. But with or without Cryer, the Bears would be facing a major disadvantage down low because of Tchamwa Tchatchoua's absence. Tshiebwe presents a very difficult matchup for Thamba and Sochan.
Baylor is 19-1 when it secures 50-plus percent of total available rebounds. Below the mark, however, the Bears are 7-5. Kentucky has fallen short of 50 percent in only four contests this season.
Should this happen, UK would seal its fifth appearance in the Final Four during John Calipari's 13-year tenure.