2022 NCAA Bracket Predictions: Best Picks for Every Matchup

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 14, 2022

2022 NCAA Bracket Predictions: Best Picks for Every Matchup

0 of 15

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    No matter what you hear for the next few days, just know there is no right way to pick your bracket for the 2022 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament.

    Millions and millions have tried to fill out a perfect bracket and it has never happened. If there was a statistical way to reliably predict what will happen in March Madness, someone would have figured it out by now and Las Vegas would have a much harder time paying its electricity bill.

    So just go with your gut.

    That's what I did.

    And after several hours of writing about why I made the picks that I made in the span of about two minutes, those rapid-fire decisions pretty well align with the conclusions I would've come to if spending half an hour agonizing over each and every pick.

    Now, because my gut has spent the vast majority of the past four months feasting on hours upon hours of games and data, it's theoretically better conditioned for those gut picks than yours is. So if you find yourself struggling with what to do in a certain matchup or you just want to straight-up copy someone's picks for a bracket pool, what's mine is yours.

    But if you follow me into the unknown and you find yourself winning a whole bunch of jelly beans when we end up with a Gonzaga-Arizona championship, my DMs are open, all right? Share the wealth.

First Four

1 of 15

    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    The Picks: Wyoming over Indiana, Rutgers over Notre Dame, Texas Southern over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi; Bryant over Wright State

         

    Budding Buzzer-Beater: Indiana vs. Wyoming

    Wyoming won 25 games, but the predictive metrics hated the Cowboys. You know why? Because everything came right down to the wire. Four wins in overtime. Six wins in regulation by a single possession. Wyoming games are always dramatic.

    And that has certainly been true of Indiana games as of late, too. Four of the last five were decided by three points or fewer, plus the late collapses against Ohio State and Wisconsin in February. And in that type of game, I'm going with the Cowboys, because I trust their triple-double threat of a point guard (Hunter Maldonado) to come through in the clutch.

        

    Upset Special: Rutgers over Notre Dame

    It's obviously not a seeding upset, but KenPom.com has Rutgers projected as a two-point underdog against Notre Dame. And as a rule of thumb, I always pick against the team that least deserved to get into the tournament, even though it almost always backfires.

    And this year, that team is Notre Dame. At one point, Rutgers won four consecutive games against AP Top 25 opponents. Notre Dame won four games in this entire season against the top two quadrants. The Fighting Irish shouldn't be dancing, and they won't be for long.

       

    Player to Watch: Peter Kiss, Bryant

    The nation's leading scorer playing in the First Four? Now that's fun. I was rather hoping we would get to see Bryant face Gonzaga, because Kiss and Drew Timme exchanging post-bucket celebrations would have been awesome. But I'll settle for at least getting to watch Kiss play twice in the tournament. He'll score 30 against Wright State before running into a wee bit stiffer resistance against Arizona on Friday.

First Round, East Regional

2 of 15

    Budding Buzzer-Beater: No. 7 Murray State vs. No. 10 San Francisco

    Some people hate it when the selection committee pairs two of the best mid-majors against one another, but I love it. Case in point: This should be a great game, and one of these teams is going to get a shot at Kentucky in the second round.

    My assumption is that 30-2 Murray State will win, because San Francisco's M.O. for the past few months has been winding up on the losing end of hard-fought battles against tournament teams. The Dons lost by five at Saint Mary's, lost by two at home against the Gaels and lost a five-point game against Loyola-Chicago in Utah. They'll come to play, but it'll be either KJ Williams or Tevin Brown getting the late game-winning bucket for the Racers.

        

    Upset Special: No. 11 Virginia Tech over No. 6 Texas

    The Hokies feel like the hottest team in the country after steamrolling through Notre Dame, North Carolina and Duke to win the ACC tournament. The predictive metrics loved this team all season, and by golly, that run in Brooklyn was a feather in the cap of brainiacs like Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin.

    If you love fast-paced games, go ahead and look away from this one. Both Texas and Virginia Tech love to drag out possessions on both ends of the floor. This could end up being a 55-possession game.

    But with the way Virginia Tech is shooting as of late, it is going to end quite a few of those 29-second possessions with dagger three-pointers. Texas never quite lived up to the hype this year, and this first-round exit is going to have fans worrying that Chris Beard is Shaka Smart 2.0.   

          

    Player to Watch: Zach Edey, Purdue

    There is absolutely no shortage of star power in the East Region, but for this first round, give me 7'4" Edey against a Yale team that doesn't have a single player in its rotation taller than 6'8".

    When the Bulldogs stunned Baylor in the first round in 2016, they were awesome on the glass. They didn't have giants, but they had guys with that junkyard-dog mentality that could legitimately contend with power-conference frontcourts. This year's Yale team doesn't have that, and it's not likely it'll have an answer for Edey if Purdue relentlessly feeds the big man.

    Then again, failing to capitalize on a substantial size advantage is exactly what got Purdue bounced in recent first-round games against North Texas and Arkansas-Little Rock. So, either get ready to watch Edey feast, or get ready to scream into your TV at Matt Painter for not utilizing that eight-inch advantage in the post.

First Round, South Regional

3 of 15

    Budding Buzzer-Beater: No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Loyola-Chicago

    I was going to put Colorado State vs. Michigan here, but did you know Michigan has played in only three games (win or lose) decided by fewer than five points and none that went to overtime? The Wolverines either win big or fall flat, which I guess checks out if you've watched that team this season.

    Rather, let's go to a different Big Ten school with Ohio State taking on Loyola-Chicago.

    In 2018, the fightin' Sister Jeans played three straight games that came right down to the wire. And while the roster has almost completely turned over since then, this team still plays in a lot of close games. The Buckeyes have been no stranger to nail-biters, either, even starting out this season with a buzzer-beater against Akron. This should be a great one.

       

    Upset Special: No. 12 UAB over No. 5 Houston

    I don't care that this is going to be the most popular upset pick. I'm going with it.

    Houston has been the nation's colossal question mark all season. Prior to beating Memphis in the AAC championship, the Cougars didn't have a single win worth mentioning. And yet both NCAA Evaluation Tool and KenPom paint them as one of the top candidates to win it all. They're like Bizarro Providence in that regard, and they were going to be one of the most popular first-round upset picks regardless of their draw.

    But then the selection committee matched them up with the best No. 12 seed in UAB.

    Not only are the Blazers good, but it looks like a good matchup for them. They have a turnover-averse offense that shoots it very well from three-point range, and they're facing a Houston defense that tries to feast on steals and blocks and that allows a lot of three-point looks. I suspect Kelvin Sampson will do to UAB what he did to Alabama in December and instruct his players to aggressively try to run those three-point weapons off the three-point line, but I still love UAB's chances of getting that big W.

       

    Player to Watch: David Roddy, Colorado State

    Just in case the Rams don't survive that first-round matchup with Michigan, let's be sure to highlight their do-it-all star right away.

    Roddy averages 19.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 45.5 percent from three-point range. He's also a major asset on the defensive end with more than one block and more than one steal per game. In Colorado State's two games against major-conference competition, he lit up Creighton for 36 points and went for 19 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three blocks in a close win over Mississippi State.

    Unless you want to count Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme at Gonzaga, Roddy is hands-down the best mid-major player in the country. Even though I have the Wolverines pulling off the upset, I will not be sad in the slightest if we get to watch this star play multiple games.

First Round, Midwest Regional

4 of 15

    Budding Buzzer-Beater: No. 6 LSU vs. No. 11 Iowa State

    I should have clarified this before making the pick, but does it have to be a successful buzzer-beater or just a game-winning attempt at the horn? If it's the former, I'm not sure picking a game between two teams ranked outside the top 180 in effective field-goal percentage was the way to go here.

    However, put me down for overtime in this showdown between two mediocre offenses and two elite defenses. Both LSU and Iowa State rank top-10 in the nation in turnover percentage on defense and outside the top 300 in turnover percentage on offense, so this is going to be a sloppy, low-scoring game. Vegas could literally set the over/under at 99.5 and I'd have to think about the under. So it's unlikely that either team will run away with those one.   

        

    Upset Special: No. 13 South Dakota State over No. 4 Providence

    Providence fans have been calling me a hater all season. They might as well keep that going with my biggest first-round upset pick of them all.

    I don't actually hate the Friars. I couldn't care less either way about them. But any time I pointed out predictive metrics, that fanbase acted like I was personally attacking them. Sorry for loving the numbers, gang, but after that blowout loss to Creighton in the Big East semifinals, Providence is all the way back down to No. 49 on KenPom. I did have the Friars projected for a No. 4 seed, but it's kind of a miracle they got one, given where they ended up.

    Like Houston, Providence was going to be a trendy pick to be upset no matter who it drew. But then the selection committee paired the Friars up with merely the best shooting team in the entire country, and now I simply have to pick it.

    One of my favorite stats to bring up on occasion is that South Dakota State could miss its next 80 three-point attempts and would still rank No. 1 in three-point percentage. The Jackrabbits are sitting at 44.9 percent on the season. They're also at 52.5 percent from the field, which makes them and Gonzaga (52.7) the only teams above 50.

    Their defense is bad. Like, really bad. Terrible, if we're being honest. But Providence does not have a prolific offense. So give me the Jacks.

       

    Player to Watch: Keegan Murray, Iowa

    You cannot go wrong with Kansas' Ochai Agbaji, Wisconsin's Johnny Davis or Auburn's Walker Kessler and Jabari Smith. Aside from missing out on Oscar Tshiebwe, you could add Keegan Murray to that list and have a half-decent first-team All-American ballot.

    From that incredible group, I'll take the guy who is hotter than the sun right now. Murray has been an exceptional scorer all season, but he's averaging 25.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game since the beginning of February. He put up 103 points in carrying Iowa to four straight Big Ten tournament victories, including shooting 8-of-10 from three-point range against Indiana. Dude is just on a different planet. 

First Round, West Regional

5 of 15

    Budding Buzzer-Beater: No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 13 Vermont

    Though I'm not quite brave enough to pick this upset, I do think Vermont is going to give Arkansas a whale of a battle.

    The Razorbacks have been hot for the past two months, but they are still a pretty bad three-point shooting team that has played in a lot of close games. Just in those two months, they've won two overtime games, won seven other games by single digits and had two dramatic losses.

    Meanwhile, Vermont has been just as hot, blazing through the America East Conference with an offense that shoots very well and doesn't commit turnovers and a defense that neither commits fouls nor allows second-chance opportunities. The Catamounts also have a dynamic duo in Ryan Davis and Ben Shungu who will cause problems for Arkansas' JD Notae and Jaylin Williams.

    Again, my official pick is Arkansas to win, but I already know I'll be sweating out this one.

        

    Upset Special: No. 11 Rutgers over No. 6 Alabama

    Save for No. 9 Memphis over No. 8 Boise State, I almost went all chalk in this region. But then I remembered an important bracket factoid (a bracktoid, if you will): One of the at-large play-in teams always wins a first-round game.

    Maybe not ALWAYS. If memory serves, it didn't happen in 2019. Maybe there was one other year. But far more often than not, someone pulls it off. And every now and then, a 2011 VCU or a 2021 UCLA goes from First Four to Final Four.

    I don't think Rutgers is consistent enough to pull that off, although it certainly has enough quality wins to suggest it's possible. As already mentioned earlier, the Scarlet Knights did win four straight games against ranked opponents this season. But I've got to go with Rutgers in this battle between two of the most Jekyll-and-Hyde teams in tournament history.

    Frankly, I'm glad we're getting this as a first-round matchup, so that Alabama and Rutgers can't both break my bracket. Both of these teams have the potential to catch fire and win it all and have also proved themselves entirely capable of losing to anyone. Anybody who tries to convince you they know what will happen is entirely full of something I'm not allowed to type, but give me Rutgers because of that First Four trend.        

        

    Player to Watch: Foster Loyer, Davidson

    He's nowhere near the brightest star of the region, but I am so intrigued by Loyer's matchup with Michigan State, aka the team he transferred away from this past offseason.

    We've seen plenty of "player vs. former team" games throughout the season. Heck, I think Georgia played in at least five such games. But getting that type of showdown in the NCAA tournament—especially where the underdog is being led by a guy who was basically deemed not good enough for the favorite—should be great theater.

Second Round, East Regional

6 of 15

    Budding Buzzer-Beater: No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech

    UCLA-Saint Mary's might be the better choice for this spot, but I wanted to make sure to at least mention the Virginia Tech over Purdue upset pick, and I'll be focusing on a different one below.

    I don't love this Hokies pick, but I like it more than trusting Purdue, which has managed just 1.06 points per possession over its last six games. For the first three months of the season, the Boilermakers seemed like a team that could simply outscore the opposition well enough to make up for any defensive shortcomings. But that superefficient offense has gone missing over the past month or so, leaving them even more vulnerable to an early exit.

    Maybe they'll turn it around. Maybe Jaden Ivey catches fire and non-Big Ten teams struggle to deal with Sasha Stefanovic's limitless range. But I think they're going to run into a close game against Virginia Tech and that their struggles in end-game situations will send them packing.

             

    Upset Special: No. 8 North Carolina over No. 1 Baylor

    I'll admit, I got a little carried away with the upsets in this round in this region. But there's always (at least) one region that implodes, and there are almost always at least a combined total of two No. 1/No. 2 seeds that don't make it to the Sweet 16. And that's a big part of my rationale with this pick.

    I also think this is a spot where not having Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua is going to rear its ugly head for Baylor. North Carolina certainly doesn't have a deep frontcourt, but Armando Bacot vs. Flo Thamba is a massive advantage for the Tar Heels.

    The Bears often rely on offensive rebounding, but Bacot leads one of the best defensive rebounding units in the country. He's also more than capable of getting Thamba into early foul trouble, in which case Baylor would really be in some trouble. (Conversely, if the early whistles go the opposite way and Bacot has to play cautiously, bye-bye, Heels.)

    Brady Manek has caused matchup problems for Baylor's defense before. In one game while with Oklahoma, he went for 21 points, 10 rebounds and four steals. And he has been such a pivotal piece for them, especially since the end of January. He can both defend Matthew Mayer and cause major problems for him on the other end of the floor.

    Also, did you know the reigning national champion has been eliminated before the Sweet 16 in four consecutive tournaments and hasn't made it to the Elite Eight since Florida repeated in 2006-07? Food for thought, y'all.

            

    Player to Watch: Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky

    It's the region of double-double machines, as Bacot is going to rebound Baylor to a pulp and Tshiebwe is going to do the same to either Murray State or San Francisco.

    Both of those teams actually have impressive rebounding numbers on the season. In fact, Murray State ranks sixth in the nation in rebound margin. But holding your own against the Ohio Valley Conference and West Coast Conference can hardly be considered a precursor for dealing with Big O. The presumptive National Player of the Year enters the tournament at 17.0 points and 15.2 rebounds per game, and he also provides the Wildcats with a fair amount of defense. He should feast against a mid-major in the second round.

Second Round, South Regional

7 of 15

    Budding Buzzer-Beater: No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 10 Loyola-Chicago

    I already had Loyola surviving the first round in a nail-biter, so why wouldn't the Ramblers play in another one?

    Both Villanova and Loyola-Chicago play at a pretty slow pace and shoot the ball well. They'll be mutually comfortable with a 64-61 type of ballgame. But it's hard not to like Villanova in a close one considering it leads the nation in free-throw percentage.

    Really, I just hope we get this matchup this year. Once we got to the Final Four in 2018, I was hoping this would be the championship game.

             

    Upset Special: None

    Did you know that in 2019, there was exactly one second-round upset and that it was a No. 5 seed over a No. 4 seed? As chaotic as the NCAA tournament can be, there can also be an eye of the hurricane where things are calm. And I think after a first round with quite a few upsets, this region holds to form into the Sweet 16.

    If I had to go with an upset, it would be Michigan over Tennessee. But who can trust the Wolverines to win two games in a row when they haven't done so since Feb. 8 and 10?

            

    Player to Watch: Kofi Cockburn, Illinois

    With a hat tip to Arizona's Bennedict Mathurin, I suspect Cockburn will be the star of this round.

    I love this UAB team with Jordan Walker running the show, but the Blazers are quite small aside from their 7'0" center Trey Jemison, who frequently battles foul trouble even when not dealing with a force of nature the likes of Cockburn. If and when he neutralizes Jemison and starts to take over the game, the notion of a second UAB upset will evaporate in a hurry.

Second Round, Midwest Regional

8 of 15

    Budding Buzzer-Beater: No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 13 South Dakota State

    Maybe "scoreboard buster" is better than "buzzer-beater," because I do think Iowa wins this without too much trouble. But I cannot wait until we need to start looking up how long it has been since both teams eclipsed 100 points in an NCAA tournament game.

    That type of scoring bonanza is absolutely on the table in this projected matchup between uptempo, superefficient offenses and mutually nowhere-near-as-good defenses. Iowa does defend a whole lot better than South Dakota State does, but expect a ton of back-and-forth buckets in what might feel like a high-profile version of a YMCA showdown.

                      

    Upset Special: No. 7 USC over No. 2 Auburn

    I'm not going to say I went into the selection show looking for the earliest possible place to pick Auburn to lose, but I did know there was no path in which I was going to take the Tigers to the Final Four. They've had well-documented issues playing away from home all season long, and instead of relying more heavily on their two brightest stars (Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler), they seem to be growing increasingly content with letting Wendell Green and K.D. Johnson shoot them into oblivion.

    Against a tall team like USC that excels in offensive rebounding and two-point defense, this sure looks like another spot where they may settle for threes way more often than the shooting percentages suggest that they should.

    And, you know, the Trojans are pretty good. This isn't just an anti-Auburn pick. If Isaiah Mobley, Drew Peterson and Boogie Ellis all show up, a second consecutive run to the Elite Eight is well within the realm of possibility here. USC played a combined total of five games against Arizona and UCLA, and though the Trojans only won the home game against the Bruins, there was only one game in that quintet (vs. Arizona) in which they looked out of their league. They can get this done.

            

    Player to Watch: Johnny Davis, Wisconsin

    Going from Iowa vs. South Dakota State on Friday to Iowa State vs. Wisconsin on Saturday is going to feel like two completely different sports. The winning score of the former might be higher than the combined score of the latter.

    But against a tough Cyclones defense, let's see if Davis can shine. The Badgers star got hurt in the season finale against Nebraska but played 34 minutes in the Big Ten quarterfinal against Michigan State, so probably nothing to worry about there. However, he has been held below 20 points in each of his past five games, which is highly unusual. I'm expecting big games from him in each of the first two rounds.

Second Round, West Regional

9 of 15

    Budding Buzzer-Beater: No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 5 Connecticut

    This one should be all sorts of awesome. JD Notae vs. RJ Cole. Adama Sanogo vs. Jaylin Williams. Even Eric Musselman vs. Dan Hurley will be super entertaining. And as far as KenPom is concerned, it'll be No. 18 Connecticut vs. No. 20 Arkansas.

    In other words, no separation. And in other other words, plenty of last-second drama potential.

    I'm leaning toward Arkansas because it toppled three giants in February (Auburn, Tennessee and Kentucky) and won three games against LSU in the past two months. Before seeing the brackets, if I had to pick one of these teams to get hot and reach the Elite Eight, it would've been the Hogs. But this may well be the best game of the opening weekend.

                      

    Upset Special: None

    Yes, it's me again: The guy who sometimes picks the top four seeds of a region to make it into the Sweet 16.

    I will say, though, that I don't need to squint hard to see this one going haywire. Memphis is way better than its No. 9 seed and has the physicality and depth to give Gonzaga a run for its money. Rutgers could knock off a Texas Tech team that frequently has issues on offense. Connecticut-Arkansas is a coin flip. And who bets against Tom Izzo in March?

    But give me another healthy dose of chalk here.

            

    Players to Watch: Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga; Jalen Duren, Memphis

    Holmgren and Drew Timme vs. Jalen Duren and DeAndre Williams is going to be fascinating. Gonzaga should get the win because, well, it actually has a point guard and it prides itself on not committing turnovers. I can't say the same about Memphis.

    But I really, really want to see what happens if Duren goes up for a dunk and Holmgren tries to block it. Because through all the naysaying about Holmgren being too frail for the NBA, he has held up quite well throughout the season. And if he actually wins that meeting at the rim against a guy like Duren who is already built like an NBA star (6'11", 250 lbs...most of it muscle), that will be the end of those concerns about Holmgren. 

Sweet 16 and Elite 8, East Regional

10 of 15

    No. 5 Saint Mary's over No. 8 North Carolina

    I've yet to really say much thus far about Saint Mary's in here, but I love this Gaels team. I loved them before the huge win over Gonzaga and love that they actually got a seed worthy of the season they had.

    And I think this is the exact type of team that can annoy the heck out of North Carolina.

    The Tar Heels want to get out and run and, when not feeding Armando Bacot in the post, take a fair number of rhythm three-pointers. But those things just don't really exist against Saint Mary's. I know UNC convincingly won both games it played against Virginia, but the Cavaliers were broken this year. This will be a much stiffer test for the Tar Heels, and their defensive issues will plague them.

            

    No. 2 Kentucky over No. 11 Virginia Tech

    It probably won't even last this long, but Virginia Tech's absurd hot streak and three-point luck have to run out eventually, right?

    In those ACC tournament victories over North Carolina and Duke, the Hokies shot a combined 19-of-42 from three-point range while allowing 7-of-46. The former number is sustainable for them. This is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, but 7-of-46 on defense is preposterous. Kellan Grady might hit seven three-pointers by himself in this game. And if he doesn't, Oscar Tshiebwe should overpower a frontcourt defense that hasn't been anything special.

            

    No. 2 Kentucky over No. 5 Saint Mary's

    As much as I love Saint Mary's, I can't bring myself to pick the Gaels to win three consecutive games against blue bloods to reach the Final Four. That would be one heck of a historic run, though.

    Beyond that, it's just not a great matchup for the underdog. Saint Mary's does a great job of limiting three-point attempts with its defense, but Kentucky also is one of the least three-point-dependent teams in the country. The Wildcats will be happy to just feed the post and gradually ride their talent edge to victory.

Sweet 16 and Elite 8, South Regional

11 of 15

    No. 1 Arizona over No. 4 Illinois

    Well, we've already seen this matchup once this season, and Arizona got the win on the road.

    In that first meeting, Illinois shot a ridiculous 16-of-36 from three-point range, but the Illini needed that perimeter assault just to hold their own against Benn Mathurin and Co. And that's because Arizona was one of the few teams that have been able to neutralize Kofi Cockburn. He still got to 13 points and 13 rebounds but on 15 shots and with five turnovers. The combined force of Christian Koloko, Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo was just too much for Cockburn, and it will be again.

              

    No. 2 Villanova over No. 3 Tennessee

    Oh look, another rematch from nonconference play, which Villanova won by 18 points in Connecticut.

    Villanova didn't even shoot that well (8-of-24 from distance), but it did have a much better day than Tennessee (5-of-28). The Wildcats also dominated the turnover battle, which was highly unusual for the Volunteers. Usually, Tennessee is the one benefiting from steals, but the Vols couldn't do anything to rattle what is always a turnover-averse Villanova offense.

    I suspect turnover margin will be a nonfactor the second time around and that the game will be much closer. But if I had to go down swinging with either Collin Gillespie or Kennedy Chandler in a college basketball game right now, I'm going with the Wildcats every time. (By no means does that mean I'd draft Gillespie over Chandler, though, just to be clear.)

            

    No. 1 Arizona over No. 2 Villanova

    Here's where Villanova's frontcourt size/depth becomes a major problem.

    Eric Dixon has developed very nicely for Nova since last year, and Jermaine Samuels is rock-solid in the post. But this team simply is not equipped to hold its own against Koloko, Tubelis and Ballo.

    It's Villanova, so there's always a chance it drains like 20 three-pointers and overcome that mismatch in the post. But I'm going with the Wildcats of Arizona.

Sweet 16 and Elite 8, Midwest Regional

12 of 15

    No. 1 Kansas over No. 5 Iowa

    Iowa caught fire during the Big Ten tournament and finally got its first win of the season against a KenPom top 25 team. Good for the Hawkeyes, who I do trust enough to take care of business in the first two rounds against a No. 12 and a No. 13 seed. Goodness knows they have blown out plenty of teams of that ilk this season.

    But I can't pick Iowa over Kansas no matter how incredible Keegan Murray has been lately. Because prior to that B1G championship win over Purdue, getting stops on defense had been a season-long dilemma for the Hawkeyes. In the semifinal against Indiana, Murray made eight threes and the Hawkeyes still needed Jordan Bohannon to bank in a triple right before the buzzer to get the win, because they couldn't stop Indiana from scoring.

    They'll get a fair number of points against a Kansas team that does have some issues defending opposing guards, but they won't get enough stops against a Jayhawks team loaded with scoring options.

              

    No. 3 Wisconsin over No. 7 USC

    If USC can beat Auburn, I can totally see the Trojans upsetting Wisconsin too. I mean, I'm not picking them, obviously, but I can see it.

    I just don't trust the Trojans to bring their A-game for two straight big games. There were too many random Tuesdays and Thursdays over the past two months where I was up way too late on the East Coast watching this team barely survive against the likes of Arizona State, Oregon State and Pacific. I like their potential to pull off one big upset but not to go on a sustained run.

    Plus, Wisconsin might not commit a single turnover in this game. The Badgers are one of the best at avoiding giveaways, while the Trojans rank among the worst at generating takeaways. Pretty significant X-factor there.

            

    No. 1 Kansas over No. 3 Wisconsin

    The dreams of Johnny Davis carrying Wisconsin on a Kemba Walker-type of run to a national championship end here.

    Davis has had an unbelievable season, but a one-man show isn't beating Kansas. Not if David McCormack shows up. Not if Remy Martin stays healthy. And especially not if both Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun get into a groove.

    And for the second straight year, we'll have to spend the entire week leading up to the Final Four hearing about how the Big Ten sent the most teams to the dance and didn't get any into the national semifinals. Such is life. 

Sweet 16 and Elite 8, West Regional

13 of 15

    No. 1 Gonzaga over No. 4 Arkansas

    This could be a thrill-a-minute track meet, as both Gonzaga and Arkansas love to get out and run.

    Here's the problem: You're not going to beat Gonzaga at its own game, and the Razorbacks do not shoot anywhere near well enough to try to go bucket for bucket with the Bulldogs.

    Where things could get interesting is if charge-drawing connoisseur Jaylin Williams can get Drew Timme and/or Chet Holmgren into early foul trouble. Short of that, however, I like the Zags by double digits.

                     

    No. 3 Texas Tech over No. 2 Duke

    If the January loss to Florida State and the two games against Virginia taught us anything about Duke, it's that the Blue Devils do not enjoy playing in a physical, slow-paced grind.

    Duke isn't a run-and-gun team or anything. It plays at a pace roughly on par with the national average. But the Blue Devils want a free-flowing game where guys can step into jumpers and both teams stay out of foul trouble. Basically, they want to play an NBA game, which makes sense, given the number of future members of the Association on that roster.

    But Texas Tech isn't going to oblige that request. The Red Raiders are going to muck up this game. They're going to push around Paolo Banchero. They're going to force turnovers against a Duke team with no true point guard. And if the Blue Devils shoot threes as poorly as they did in the ACC tournament this past week, Mike Krzyzewski's career might end in a blowout loss.

              

    No. 1 Gonzaga over No. 3 Texas Tech

    I definitely struggled with this pick, even though Gonzaga beat Texas Tech by 14 earlier this season. The Red Raiders really gave the Zags a fight and did so without Terrence Shannon. And even with Rasir Bolton and Andrew Nembhard getting hot from three-point range, Gonzaga only managed to score 69 points in that game.

    But that was also before Holmgren really turned the page and became the superstar that he is today. I also suspect Drew Timme is going to be better prepared for Texas Tech's physicality this time around. He seemed almost taken aback with how much the Red Raiders were focused on shutting him down, and he never got going in the slightest.

    Even if they do shut down the two frontcourt stars again, Gonzaga still has three great shooters and Texas Tech has just one. The Bulldogs should win again. 

Final Four

14 of 15

    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    West No. 1 Gonzaga over East No. 2 Kentucky

    Would you believe that (at least in the past 72 seasons) these two teams have only ever squared off one time? It was in the third-place game of the 2002 Maui Invitational. But maybe we'll finally get the Zags and the 'Cats in the NCAA tournament.

    If we do, it's going to be amazing. I mean, it's probably not going to top the Jalen Suggs half-court shot to beat UCLA in overtime in last year's Final Four. But a little battle in the paint between Oscar Tshiebwe and Drew Timme/Chet Holmgren in New Orleans could be equally entertaining.

    The most important factor in this game would be how well Gonzaga neutralizes Tshiebwe on the offensive glass. Holmgren is excellent in that regard, but Timme and Julian Strawther also get in on the action in a big way. And I think that three-on-one might be enough to limit him to just three or four offensive rebounds, which would officially be considered a win for Gonzaga.

    Because if the Wildcats don't have a big rebounding edge and this thing boils down to shooting percentages and turnover margin, Gonzaga is going to a national championship game for the third time in six years.

               

    South No. 1 Arizona over Midwest No. 1 Kansas

    As was the case in our Sweet 16 pick of Arizona over Illinois and our Elite Eight pick of Arizona over Villanova, it's hard not to like the Wildcats' advantage in the paint here.

    Even if "Good David McCormack" shows up—which is no guarantee from one night to the next—the Wildcats have a three-headed monster in the paint while Kansas typically has to play some combination of Jalen Wilson or Mitch Lightfoot at the 5 for about 19 minutes per night.

    If anyone can figure out how to turn this disadvantage into an advantage, it's probably Bill Self. If the Jayhawks can go small and force the Wildcats to do the same, Kansas might win.

    But I think Ochai Agbaji and Benn Mathurin play to a stalemate while Christian Koloko, Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo prove to be too much in the paint for KU to handle.

National Championship Game

15 of 15

    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    No. 1 Gonzaga over No. 1 Arizona

    Who doesn't love a good master vs. apprentice showdown?

    Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd had spent the past two decades by Mark Few's side at Gonzaga before filling the Wildcats vacancy and immediately instilling that program with a Zags-like approach to the game.

    With all due respect to Sean Miller, Arizona wasn't even fun to watch in recent years. Lloyd steps in and gets them to play with tempo and take high-percentage shots, and all of a sudden they're an entertaining team with a very real shot at winning a national championship.

    Can he beat his former employer, though?

    While I'm picking Gonzaga, it has nothing to do with that coaching battle. That's just a fun sideshow that we would end up hearing about nonstop from Saturday to Monday if this matchup actually transpired.

    Rather, I'm picking Gonzaga for the same reason I picked them last year and have probably picked them now four times in the past six tournaments: This is the best team in the country, and it's not all that close.

    On KenPom, the gap in adjusted efficiency margin between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Arizona is wider than the gap between No. 2 Arizona and No. 14 Purdue. You can yell about the weakness of the WCC all you want, but it's an adjusted efficiency margin. Opponent quality is factored in and the Zags are still ahead of the pack by leaps and bounds.

    That doesn't mean Arizona couldn't win the game. It doesn't mean the battle between Drew Timme/Chet Holmgren and Christian Koloko/Azuolas Tubelis will be anything less than awesome. And Benn Mathurin is an ever-present threat to drop 35 points and carry the Wildcats to their first national championship in 25 years.

    But I think this is where Gonzaga finally gets that elusive title. And if it doesn't, I'll probably think the same thing again next year.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.


X