NCAA Tournament 2022: Early Predictions for Sweet 16 Teams Post-Selection Sunday

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIMarch 14, 2022

NCAA Tournament 2022: Early Predictions for Sweet 16 Teams Post-Selection Sunday

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Filling out a March Madness bracket isn't easy. And it's practically impossible to get anywhere close to doing so perfectly. There has to be a balance between favorites and underdogs winning games, but it's hard to identify the tournament's one or two Cinderella teams.

    On Sunday, the 68-team field for the 2022 NCAA men's basketball tournament was announced. The event will get underway with the First Four round, which features a pair of games on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Then March Madness gets underway in earnest with the first-round matchups Thursday and Friday.

    Many people will soon be filling out their brackets and entering them in pools at home and in the office before tipoff.

    It's the most exciting time of the year for men's college basketball fans, and now that the bracket has been revealed, here are some early predictions for the Sweet 16 matchups for this year's NCAA tournament.

West Region

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    Ellen Schmidt/Associated Press

    No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 13 Vermont

    Gonzaga may not be as dominant this year as it was last season, but it's still among the best teams in the 2022 NCAA tournament. The talented Bulldogs should have no trouble reaching the Sweet 16.

    As for Vermont, it has the potential to pull off two upsets: in its first-round matchup against No. 4 Arkansas and against the winner of No. 5 UConn vs. No. 12 New Mexico State. The Catamounts didn't have a tough schedule, but they are capable of putting up points because of the senior duo of Ryan Davis and Ben Shungu. They are unlikely to get past Gonzaga, but a Sweet 16 appearance would still be a tremendous showing.

                        

    No. 2 Duke vs. No. 11 Rutgers

    Although Duke fell short of winning the ACC tournament by losing to Virginia Tech in the championship game, the Blue Devils are poised to rebound in the NCAA tourney. Their players won't want longtime head coach Mike Krzyzewski's retirement to come too soon, providing extra motivation.

    Of the eight teams playing in the First Four round, Rutgers has the best chance to reach the Sweet 16. The Scarlet Knights shouldn't have trouble taking down a cold Notre Dame team, and the leadership of senior forward Ron Harper Jr. will lead them through the first two rounds.

East Region

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 4 UCLA

    While Baylor may not win the national championship for the second straight year, it will at least reach the Sweet 16. The Bears will face a stiff test from No. 8 North Carolina or No. 9 Marquette in the second round, but they are a better team than both and will find a way to pull out a victory in either matchup.

    Not only is UCLA a strong team, but it's also experienced, as its top five leading scorers are all upperclassmen. The Bruins will rely on that leadership to avoid any early upsets and to possibly even take down the defending champs.

                       

    No. 7 Murray State vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech

    Few teams in the country are as hot as Virginia Tech, which has won 13 of its past 15 games and had a stellar showing while winning the ACC tournament for the first time in program history. The Hokies are a strong offensive team capable of taking down No. 6 Texas and No. 3 Purdue in the first two rounds.

    Could Murray State get past No. 2 Kentucky in the second round? Don't be surprised if it happens. The Racers have won 20 games in a row, play strong defense and are great rebounders. They are a dangerous sleeper team in this year's bracket.

South Region

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 Illinois

    No upsets will happen in the top half of this region. Arizona and Illinois shouldn't have any trouble reaching the Sweet 16, and there are plenty of people probably considering picking the Wildcats to win the national championship after they improved to 31-3 by winning the Pac-12 tournament.

    The Fighting Illini lost in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, but don't forget they played well enough all season to earn the No. 1 seed. They may even give Arizona a test in this matchup.

                      

    No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 11 Michigan

    Michigan is going to be out to prove it was worthy of being included in the tournament field despite having a 17-14 record. The Wolverines have navigated a difficult schedule quite well, which will have prepared them to beat No. 6 Colorado State and No. 3 Tennessee in the first two rounds.

    As for Villanova, it should carry over its momentum from winning the Big East tournament. The Wildcats could play a close second-round game against either No. 7 Ohio State or No. 10 Loyola-Chicago, but their excellent guard play will power them through.

Midwest Region

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 5 Iowa

    Kansas won the Big 12 tournament. Iowa won the Big Ten tournament. And neither team should face much of a threat over the first two rounds of the NCAA tourney. The Jayhawks are one of the best teams in the country, while the Hawkeyes have won 12 of their past 14 games.

    With how well Iowa has been playing, this could be a roadblock Kansas won't get past. Hawkeyes sophomore forward Keegan Murray scored at least 26 points in each of his team's three Big Ten tourney wins, including 32 against Indiana in the semifinals. He could end up being one of the stars of March Madness.

                         

    No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 11 Iowa State

    Iowa State's defense could push it into the Sweet 16, especially because it should have two winnable games to open the tournament. The Cyclones should beat No. 6 LSU in the first round without much trouble, and don't be surprised if they outlast No. 3 Wisconsin in the second round.

    Auburn struggled down the stretch and lost its SEC tournament opener to a hot Texas A&M team. But the Tigers won 22 of their first 23 games this season and are capable of recapturing that form. They may just need freshman forward Jabari Smith to put up some big numbers to reach this point.

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