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NCAA Tournament 2022: Updated Bracket and Matchups to Watch in Final Four

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 28, 2022

North Carolina's Armando Bacot (5) reacts during the second half of a college basketball game against UCLA in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament, Friday, March 25, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

An unpredictable NCAA men's basketball tournament has set up two mouthwatering Final Four matchups between the sport's premier programs. 

The Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels will be on top of the Final Four marquee in New Orleans on Saturday. 

Duke and North Carolina have never met in the NCAA tournament. The two sides split their regular-season series in the ACC. The Tar Heels won the last meeting, which was Mike Krzyzewski's final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

There are countless positional battles to watch in the Duke-UNC game, but one of them is more pressing than the others because of the importance of the paint players to both squads. 

The Kansas Jayhawks and Villanova Wildcats open the Final Four festivities in New Orleans. Villanova comes into Saturday short-handed after Justin Moore tore his Achilles in the Elite Eight. 

Villanova will have even more reliance on its remaining healthy star player to deal with Kansas, which needs its own top star to show up to make a run at the national title. 

       

Updated NCAA Tournament Bracket

     

Matchups to Watch

Collin Gillespie (Villanova) vs. Ochai Agbaji (Kansas) 

Eric Gay/Associated Press

The Big East and Big 12 Players of the Year will go head-to-head in Saturday's opener at 6:09 p.m. ET. 

Villanova's Collin Gillespie has been one of the most reliable players in college basketball over the last few years, and he will take on a larger responsibility against Kansas and potentially in the national championship. 

Gillespie will shoulder a larger load on offense because Moore, a junior guard who averaged 14.8 points per game, suffered a torn Achilles in the Elite Eight win over the Houston Cougars. Villanova uses a small rotation, so it will need the rest of the squad to make up the difference. 

Gillespie should match up with Ochai Agbaji on a handful of occasions throughout the contest. 

Agbaji recorded his NCAA tournament high of 18 points on Sunday versus the Miami Hurricanes. He did not go above 15 points prior to the Elite Eight. 

Kansas needs Agbaji to score more at the Superdome to challenge for the title. The Jayhawks have relied on Remy Martin and a few others to contribute while Agbaji struggled to get going. The Big 12 Player of the Year also has to shut down one of Villanova's top scorers to make the task even harder on the Big East tournament champion. 

A 20-point performance combined with strong defense from Agbaji could set up Kansas to contend with either Duke or North Carolina in the national championship.

Gillespie needs to play a near-perfect game for Villanova to have a chance of beating a full-strength Kansas, but we are talking about a team that gave the Baylor Bears their toughest test last season without an injured Gillespie.  

    

Mark Williams (Duke) vs. Armando Bacot (North Carolina) 

Chris Seward/Associated Press

The Duke-UNC showdown has a plethora of fascinating matchups across the court. The deciding matchup could be the battle down low between Mark Williams and Armando Bacot. 

Williams recorded a double-double in the Elite Eight win over the Arkansas Razorbacks and in the last matchup with the Tar Heels. 

Williams scored in double figures in each of his four NCAA tournament appearances. Duke needs him to continue that scoring run and challenge Bacot on every possession to frustrate the UNC big man.

Bacot has 29 double-doubles this season. He produced 20 points and 22 rebounds against the outmatched Saint Peter's Peacocks on Sunday. 

The UNC big man had 23 points and seven rebounds in the March 5 win at Cameron. He only had 12 points and five rebounds in Duke's win over UNC on Feb. 5. 

Whichever one of Bacot and Williams slows down his opponent more should help their team pick up a victory. 

It seems simple, but the paint is the one area of the floor where Duke or North Carolina can gain a distinct advantage. Williams won the battle in the first meeting, and Bacot thrived in UNC's regular-season win. 

Paolo Banchero, Jeremy Roach, Caleb Love, Brady Manek and others will score from the perimeter and in the mid-range game. 

Bacot and Williams are the best paint players on their rosters, and if either is slowed down, their team's season could end on Saturday. 

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