Men's NCAA Tournament 2022: 6 Potential Matchups We'd Love to See

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2022

Men's NCAA Tournament 2022: 6 Potential Matchups We'd Love to See

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    Filling out a bracket is typically the most enjoyable part of March Madness. But as the clicks are finished or ink is dried, we start dreaming up interesting clashes in the men's NCAA tournament.

    What if Duke plays Michigan State in a battle of legendary coaches? What if Murray State gets a shot at Kentucky?

    Mathematically, the odds of a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quadrillionwhich is 9, 2 and 17 zeroes, for the record. So, look, there's any absurdly high number of possible matchups, even if you exclude the unlikelihood of a No. 16 seed advancing. And we're narrowing that gargantuan total to a mere six.

    The choices are subjective but consider both on- and off-court storylines, team strengths and playing styles.

West Region: Duke vs. Michigan State

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    In the immortal words of Daft Punk: One more time.

    Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is retiring after the season, is merely two victories shy of 1,200 for his career. Provided the Blue Devils win their opening-round game, Coach K will have an opportunity to extend his record to a nice, round number.

    But there's a good chance Tom Izzo and Michigan State will stand in the way of that pursuit.

    Michigan State takes on Davidson in the first round, and there's no guarantee the Spartans advance. Still, it'd provide a fitting matchup for Krzyzewski's final NCAA tournament; he and Izzo have squared off in March Madness five timesincluding both the 1999 and 2015 Final Four and the 2019 Elite Eight.

East Region: Kentucky vs. Murray State

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    Kentucky is a strong contender to reach the Final Four, sharing co-favorite status with top-seeded Baylor in the South Region.

    Before the 'Cats look too far ahead, though, they might take on a 30-win team in the second round.

    Murray State only landed a No. 7 seed because its strength of schedule isn't high, but the Racers have obliterated teams all season. Heading into March Madness, they're riding a 20-game winning streak that includes 13 double-digit margins.

    Kentucky would be the favorite, unquestionably. However, this matchup would both provide an early test for UK and give Murray State an excellent shot to silence the SOS critics.

South Region: Arizona vs. Illinois

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    Arizona is a clear championship threat, but the Sweet 16 includes a possible clash with No. 4 Illinois or No. 5 Houston.

    Earlier this season, Arizona edged Illinois 83-79 in a trip to Champaign. Benn Mathurin poured in 30 points for the Wildcats, who narrowly held on for the victory as the Illini put together a three-point barrage and knocked down 16 triples.

    Let's run it back.

    This time around, the Illini would have sophomore guard Andre Curbelo, who missed that contest and two months of the regular season because of a concussion. He has since returned to the lineup and has given Illinois another potential weapon in the backcourt.

Midwest Region: Iowa vs. South Dakota State

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    Do you like a defensive slog? Skip ahead, my friend.

    If scoreboard-breaking offense with little resistance is your preference, start dreaming of fifth-seeded Iowa meeting No. 13 South Dakota State in the second round.

    Iowa ranks second nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom. Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, this roster boasts Keegan Murraywho ranks No. 4 nationally at 23.6 points per gameand the fourth-highest scoring average (83.8) in the country.

    Also, the Hawkeyes have surrendered 83-plus points in four regulation losses. South Dakota State is certainly built to take advantage of a soft defense, considering the Summit League-winning Jackrabbits lead the country with a preposterous 44.9 three-point clip and 60.4 effective field-goal percentage. 

    But they're not playing much defense, either. South Dakota State has ceded 86-plus points in regulation seven times, including 104 to Alabama in November.

    First to 100, please and thanks.

Elite Eight: Kansas vs. Auburn

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    While this is a chalky matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the Midwest Region, it's an intriguing contrast of play styles.

    Kansas runs through its backcourt. Auburn is strongest down low.

    Kansas is efficient from the perimeter but ranks 271st in three-point attempt rate, spending more effort attempting to create shots inside the arc. However, that's where Walker Kessler resides; he's racked up 4.5 blocks per game this season.

    On the other end, Auburn isarguably to a faultwilling to let its perimeter players miss a bunch of shots in hopes of second-chance opportunities. Five of Kansas' six losses have included the opponent grabbing 11-plus offensive rebounds, and Auburn has reached double digits in 16 of 32 games this season.

    Something's gotta give, right? And if this matchup happens, a trip to New Orleans for the Final Four would be at stake, too.

National Title: Gonzaga vs. Arizona

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    Early in the NCAA tournament, bring on the chaos, buzzer-beaters, upsets, comebacks and every other form of highlight-reel mayhem that drives our passion for March Madness.

    When the lights are brightest, though, give us the best teams. And in 2022, the best teams certainly seem like Gonzaga and Arizona.

    The storylines here are fantastic, too.

    Gonzaga coach Mark Few has a 656-128 career record with 23 seasons of West Coast Conference dominance. However, the Zags are still chasing that elusive NCAA championship. They've reached the Elite Eight in four of the past six tournaments, finishing as the national runner-up in both 2017 and 2021.

    Arizona, meanwhile, is guided by first-year coach Tommy Lloyd, who previously spent two decades on Few's staff at Gonzaga. Arizona last won an NCAA title in 1997.

    Gonzaga has star freshman Chet Holmgren, the potential No. 1 selection in the 2022 NBA draft. Arizona's top scorer, Benn Mathurin, has emerged as a possible lottery pick, too.

    Any championship showdown will be exciting, but Gonzaga clashing with Arizona is this year's dream scenario.

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