NCAA Tournament 2022: Power Ranking the Men's Elite Eight Teams

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 26, 2022

NCAA Tournament 2022: Power Ranking the Men's Elite Eight Teams

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    Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski
    Duke head coach Mike KrzyzewskiTony Avelar/Associated Press

    This isn't the collection of eight men's college basketball teams that anyone expected to see playing in the regional finals this weekend, but one thing is official and undeniable:

    They are Elite.

    Gone are Gonzaga, Arizona, Baylor, Kentucky and 56 others who started this dance with dreams of winning it all, leaving behind an Elite Eight in which it truly feels like anyone could claim the national championship.

    Yes, anyone. Even little ol' Saint Peter's.

    That said, these final eight teams aren't exactly equals.

    Could Arkansas beat Duke on Saturday? Certainly.

    Would the Razorbacks be expected to win a seven-game series against any of the other teams who won on Thursday night (Duke, Houston and Villanova)? Certainly not.

    One important thing to note: Difficulty of the path to the national championship has no bearing on this list. Rather, this could be considered a ranking of how we would reseed the remaining eight teams based on perceived strength.

    We'll examine how teams have played thus far, their Most Outstanding Player candidates and what they need to do to win it all.

8. Miami (FL) Hurricanes

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    Miami's Charlie Moore
    Miami's Charlie MooreChris Carlson/Associated Press

    Sweet 16 Power Rank: No. 15


    What We've Learned: Rebound margin is overrated. I mean, we already knew that. It's one of the most useless stand-alone statistics in basketball. But Miami has really pushed the limits of how much you can accomplish without any presence on the glass.

    The Hurricanes were minus-12 in the first round against USC, minus-8 against Auburn and minus-9 against Iowa State. But when you're getting at least 10 steals in every game while rarely committing fouls, all those minuses in the rebounding department don't seem so bad.

    What was really impressive in the opening weekend was how they defended in the paint despite being on the wrong end of the size disparity. USC and Auburn theoretically should have feasted down low against the Hurricanes, but Miami made 21 more two-point buckets than it allowed in those first two games.


    Most Outstanding Player Candidate: Charlie Moore. However, this is the toughest call of the eight teams, because Kam McGusty and Isaiah Wong have each had multiple 20-point performances in the tournament while Jordan Miller has been so big on both ends of the floor. But Moore is the sixth-year veteran and the straw that stirs Miami's drink. He's sitting at 38 points, 22 assists, eight steals and seven turnovers thus far in the dance.


    X-Factor: Steals. Miami had 12 live-ball takeaways in the first win over USC, 10 against Auburn and 11 more against Iowa State. The 'Canes also had 15 steals in that road win over Duke back in January. It's such a huge part of what they do, largely because (at least throughout the regular season) their half-court defense just wasn't very good when they weren't getting takeaways.


    Championship Blueprint: Steals, steals and more steals. Rebound margin is overblown, but turnover margin can be huge, especially for a team like Miami that shoots well above the national average. If the Hurricanes can continue wreaking havoc on opponents' offensive rhythm, they could win it all.

7. Saint Peter's Peacocks

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    Saint Peter's KC Ndefo
    Saint Peter's KC NdefoTim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

    Sweet 16 Power Rank: No. 16


    What We've Learned: Sometimes, the regular season just does not matter. The best win Saint Peter's had prior to the tournament was a road game against Monmouth, which doesn't even rank top 150 on KenPom. The Peacocks got swept by both Iona and Siena. They lost by 14 to Providence. They lost by 21 to St. John's.

    Oh well. That's ancient history.

    So, too, is Saint Peter's season-long difficulty with committing turnovers and making both two-point and one-point buckets, it seems. The Peacocks shot 68.3 percent from the charity stripe during the regular season, but they're at nearly 80 percent in the dance and shot better than 90 percent against Purdue. They also just committed fewer than 10 turnovers in back-to-back games for the first time all season.

    Cinderella sure did pick a fine time to figure things out.


    Most Outstanding Player Candidate: KC Ndefo. Doug Edert is the dude with a Buffalo Wild Wings NIL deal that everyone loves, but Ndefo is the star in the paint who embodies what Saint Peter's wants to accomplish in terms of defense and physicality. He only had seven points against Kentucky and four against Purdue, but even in those games, he played a huge role in slowing down an elite offense.


    X-Factor: Saint Peter's is the X-factor. The Peacocks have played three damn near perfect games to this point, with Shaheen Holloway seeming to draw up the perfect play during every single break in the action. They have already made history by becoming the first team seeded No. 13 or lower to reach the Elite Eight, and all of the pressure will remain on their opponent(s) the rest of the way. 


    Championship Blueprint: Keep finding ways to shut down great offenses. Saint Peter's entered the tournament with great defensive metrics, and it has backed that up in a huge way. The only guy they couldn't shut down thus far was likely National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe. And if they continue allowing 67.7 points per game, they could keep winning.

6. Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Arkansas' JD Notae
    Arkansas' JD NotaeMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Sweet 16 Power Rank: No. 13


    What We've Learned: The Muss Bus is fueled by grit and doubt. On the grit front, they were able to grind out close calls against both Vermont and New Mexico State last weekend, winning the latter despite shooting 27.5 percent from the field. And then in the marquee win over Gonzaga on Thursday, the Razorbacks drove straight into Chet Holmgren's chest and swarmed Drew Timme in the post all night, holding a normally elite offense to 0.88 points per possession.

    On the doubt front, I surely wasn't the only one who felt like Eric Musselman was talking directly to me when he told Tracy Wolfson after the Gonzaga win, "We read everything, I'm telling you. We put it up on our screen every single meal. Thank you to everybody that said we got no chance."

    Might as well continue fueling that fire with this ranking.


    Most Outstanding Player Candidate: JD Notae. Arguments for Jaylin Williams are welcome here, as he has recorded a double-double in each game in addition to a handful of drawn charges. But Notae is the guy taking all of the shots (21.0 FGA per game) and the one with his fingerprints all over the box score, averaging 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.7 steals thus far in the tournament. He's not an efficient scorer, but it's hard not to award this spot to a guy who scored 28 and 30 in February wins over Auburn and Kentucky, respectively.


    X-Factor: Fouls and turnovers. Arkansas is not a good shooting team, especially from three-point range, but it has made up for it with a plus-15 turnover margin and 20 more made free throws than its opponents through three games. 


    Championship Blueprint: Get Notae going and don't get outworked. Same blueprint as it was in our Sweet 16 rankings. When Arkansas is the aggressor on 50-50 balls and Notae is doing his thing, this team is very tough to beat. And by "doing his thing," we're not even talking about accuracy. It took him 29 shots to score 21 points against Gonzaga. But he's a volume scorer who can impact the game in a bunch of ways and who can propel this team to a title.

5. North Carolina Tar Heels

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    North Carolina's Caleb Love
    North Carolina's Caleb LoveChris Szagola/Associated Press

    Sweet 16 Power Rank: No. 10


    What We've Learned: The best offense in the tournament belongs to a No. 8 seed. After scoring 84, 88 and 94 in their final three games of the regular season, the North Carolina Tar Heels have averaged 87.3 points through their first three games of the dance.

    And the funny thing is they only really have four scoring options. Fifth starter Leaky Black has scored just 10 points in 113 minutes played in the tournament, and this team has just about no bench whatsoever. But the quartet of Caleb Love, RJ Davis, Brady Manek and Armando Bacot has been a runaway freight train for most of the past month.

    Manek, in particular, has been the difference maker. North Carolina has now won 10 consecutive games in which he has scored at least 13 points, a threshold that he hit exactly in the Sweet 16 victory over UCLA.


    Most Outstanding Player Candidate: Caleb Love. Armando Bacot just tied Oscar Tshiebwe for the most double-doubles in the country this season (28), but what Love did in the second half against UCLA (27 points) was the stuff of legends. He shot 6-of-13 from three-point range in that one, and had an identical 6-of-13 line en route to 23 points in the opening round against Marquette. As long as either he or RJ Davis shows up in a big way, the Heels can beat anyone.


    X-Factor: Perimeter defense. North Carolina has one of the worst turnover-forcing defenses in the country, and it had some serious issues defending the three-point arc throughout the regular season. But the three-point gods have smiled down on the Tar Heels thus far in the dance, as both Baylor and UCLA missed quite a few wide-open looks in the second halves of those games. And Saint Peter's does have a pair of solid perimeter shooters in Daryl Banks III and Doug Edert.


    Championship Blueprint: Keep scoring at a high level and keep dominating on the glass. Against UCLA, North Carolina fell well shy of the 94.0 points it scored in the first two games, but the Tar Heels still had a great offensive showing in a slow-paced game against the Bruins. They have also had a rebounding margin of at least plus-9 in each game thus far. And when you both shoot well and own the glass, you're not going to lose very often.

4. Villanova Wildcats

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    Villanova's Collin Gillespie (2) and Jermaine Samuels (23)
    Villanova's Collin Gillespie (2) and Jermaine Samuels (23)David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Sweet 16 Power Rank: No. 6


    What We've Learned: This defense isn't too shabby. Between Feb. 2 and March 1, Villanova played six games against NCAA tournament teamsProvidence twice, Connecticut twice and Seton Hall and Marquette once each. And in each of those six games, the Wildcats allowed at least 1.09 points per possession, with cumulative averages of 1.14 PPP and 75.5 points per game.

    Through three tournament games, however, they're sitting at 0.97 PPP and 58.7 PPG.

    The numbers late in the regular season were troubling and suggested the Wildcats were prone to an early exit. But the way they both defended in the paint and kept rebound margin from playing any sort of factor against both Ohio State and Michigan was mighty impressive. Villanova won both of those games somewhat comfortably, despite shooting just 17-of-53 (32.1 percent) from three-point range.


    Most Outstanding Player Candidate: Jermaine Samuels. We all know that the MOP would probably go to fifth-year lead guard Collin Gillespie if Villanova wins it all, but its fifth-year power forward has been sensational in the dance, averaging 18.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks. And he has been a critical component of that interior defense, spending a lot of time down low against the likes of E.J. Liddell and Hunter Dickinson. If he's able to maintain those averages against Houston's frontcourt, Villanova should be headed to New Orleans.


    X-Factor: Free throws. Villanova led the nation in free-throw percentage during the regular season, and it has only expanded that lead in the tournament, shooting 91.7 percent against Delaware, 85.0 percent against Ohio State and 83.3 percent against Michigan. The Wildcats don't draw many fouls, so all that accuracy has only resulted in 38 points. But not having a single free-throw liability on the roster is a nice little ace up the sleeve at the end of a close game.


    Championship Blueprint: Keep winning the three-point battle. I noted before the Sweet 16 matchup with Michigan that this team was a perfect 19-0 when making at least seven three-pointers and holding its opponent below 37.5 percent from beyond the arc. Time to update that to 20-0, because the Wildcats made nine triples and limited Michigan to 33.3 percent. And perimeter shooting will be huge against a Houston team that isn't proficient from deep and allows a lot of three-point attempts.

3. Kansas Jayhawks

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    Kansas' Remy Martin
    Kansas' Remy MartinStacy Revere/Getty Images

    Sweet 16 Power Rank: No. 4


    What We've Learned: Remy Martin is finally here. The transfer from Arizona State was supposed to be Kansas' NPOY candidate back when the regular season began. But after a hit or miss first six weeks, Martin dealt with leg injuries, missed 10 games and was a non-factor for the entire Big 12 season.

    He started making an impact in the Big 12 tournament, though. When he scored 10 points against TCU in the semifinals, it was his first double-digit performance in nearly three full months.

    And he has just gotten better from there, scoring 12 in the B12 championship, 15 in the NCAA tournament opener, 20 in the second round and 23 on Friday night against Providence. As far as KenPom is concerned, Martin was the MVP of all three tournament games, after not earning that distinction even once before the dance.


    Most Outstanding Player Candidate: Ochai Agbaji. Martin has been awesome thus far. However, MOP is much more of a Final Four weekend award than it is a full tournament award, and Agbaji is Kansas' first-team All-American. If the Jayhawks are going to win it all, he's probably going to play a huge role in New Orleans.


    X-Factor: Rebounding. Usually, the glass is a big positive for the Jayhawks. Going plus-18 in rebound margin basically saved their bacon in the second round against Creighton. But they did get out-rebounded by a combined total of 43 in their six losses. Shouldn't be an issue in the Elite Eight, but certainly something to be mindful of if they happen to draw Houston in the Final Four.


    Championship Blueprint: Bank on the scorers in the backcourt. Rebounds could be a problem. Staying in front of driving guards has also eluded Kansas' grasp at times this season. But if Martin, Agbaji and Christian Braun lead the way on offense, the Jayhawks can overcome a litany of other shortcomings to win a tournament that has been extremely unkind to No. 1 seeds.

2. Duke Blue Devils

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    Duke's Paolo Banchero
    Duke's Paolo BancheroMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Sweet 16 Power Rank: No. 5


    What We've Learned: This team is tougher than we thought. After watching the Blue Devils struggle with the scrappy defense of Miami, the physical defense of (back when it was healthy) Florida State and the pack-line defense of Virginia during the regular season, we didn't give them much of a chance against an outstanding Texas Tech defense.

    Lo and behold, Duke scored 78 points against the Red Raiders, seemingly incapable of missing anything in the final nine minutes of a come-from-behind victory. Duke also showed a lot of mental toughness (and ridiculous talent) late against Michigan State with 20 points in the final five minutes to overcome a Spartans team that started out 11-of-19 from three-point range.

    Had the Blue Devils wilted in either game, the narratives about a team filled with NBA players not caring enough about the NCAA tournament would have just about written themselves. Instead, these soon-to-be draft picks look quite committed to sending Coach K out in style.


    Most Outstanding Player Candidate: Paolo Banchero. Jeremy Roach and Mark Williams have both been sensational, but Banchero is the star averaging 19.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. His triple-threat ability to either deftly drive to the hoop for a layup, pull up for a three-pointer (7-of-13 in the tournament) or dish it to a wide-open teammate when the double-team comes is what has made Duke's offense so unstoppable.


    X-Factor: Perimeter defense. Duke can get anything it wants on offense, but will it get enough stops on the other end? Duke hasn't forced 13 turnovers in a game since mid-January and has been at eight or fewer in each of its last five games. Three of the last six opponents have also made at least 10 triples against the Blue Devils.


    Championship Blueprint: Lean on the talent. According to the consensus big board compiled by, there are six players left in the Elite Eight who are ranked in the top 30 of this year's draft class. Five of them play for Mike Krzyzewski. (The other is Kansas' Ochai Agbaji.) If this all-star roster continues working as one cohesive unit, it can and perhaps should win it all.

1. Houston Cougars

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    Houston's Kyler Edwards
    Houston's Kyler EdwardsEric Gay/Associated Press

    Sweet 16 Power Rank: No. 3


    What We've Learned: Houston is for real. On the morning of March 13, Houston had precisely one win over an NCAA tournament teaman early December blowout of No. 16 seed Bryant. In less than two weeks since then, however, the Cougars have beaten No. 9 seed Memphis, No. 12 seed UAB, No. 4 seed Illinois and No. 1 seed Arizona, each by a margin of at least a dozen points.

    They were already top five on KenPom, but now they've proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that they can actually beat quality opponents.

    Also, apparently the Cougars can make three-pointers. Two of their four best perimeter performances of the season have come in the past three games, shooting 45.0 percent against Arizona and 47.6 percent against UAB. If that keeps up and they continue defending at an elite level, there's not much anyone can do to stop them.


    Most Outstanding Player Candidate: Kyler Edwards. Want to know why Houston is suddenly making threes at a high level? Edwards is 15-of-29 from downtown and averaging just a shade under 20 points per game. The Texas Tech transfer has twice as many threes as his next-closest teammate for the year, and Houston is just about unbeatable when he starts cooking. Fabian White Jr. entered the dance looking like Houston's top MOP candidate, but because of Edwards (and Jamal Shead and Taze Moore), the Cougars are thriving despite getting just 5.0 points out of their main big man over the past two games.


    X-Factor: Free throws. With how physically they play, fouls are a frequent occurrence on both ends of the floor. And Houston is pretty dreadful from the free-throw line, shooting just 66.7 percent as a team on the season (64.9 percent in the tournament). Hasn't much mattered in these recent wins by double digits, but the charity stripe did play a huge role in the early-season nail-biter losses to Alabama and Wisconsin (shot 19-of-34; allowed 36-of-46).


    Championship Blueprint: Keep the status quo. Over its last four games, Houston has a plus-22 turnover margin, a plus-16 rebound margin and has blocked 18 shots. There might not be a single NBA player on the roster, but Kelvin Sampson's guys are out there giving about 164 percent on every possession. That's a championship formula, especially if Edwards stays hot.