NCAA Tournament 2022: Power Ranking the Men's Final Four Teams

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 30, 2022

NCAA Tournament 2022: Power Ranking the Men's Final Four Teams

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    Kansas' Remy Martin
    Kansas' Remy MartinCharles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and Villanova have combined for 17 national championships, 61 Final Fours, 187 NCAA tournament appearances and 8,773 wins in the history of men's college basketball. Even though only one of them (Kansas) is a No. 1 seed, this is arguably the greatest quartet of national semifinalist programs ever assembled.

    But how do they stack up against one another in their current states?

    Before the dance began, we had Kansas at No. 3, Duke at No. 6 and Villanova at No. 7 in our 68-team power rankings. And even though North Carolina was further down the list at No. 22, I did ask: "Would you really be that surprised if the Heels made a run to the Final Four, reminiscent of when they got there as a No. 8 seed in 2000?"

    Based on a combination of how they looked during the regular season, how they look right now and, to some extent, how we think the standings would shake out if these Final Four teams played a round-robin tournament to determine a champion, we've ranked them from bottom to top.

4. Villanova Wildcats

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    Villanova's Collin Gillespie
    Villanova's Collin GillespieEric Gay/Associated Press

    The Road Behind: For Villanova, this run hasn't much looked like the ones that resulted in titles in 2016 and 2018. Those previous iterations of the Wildcats scored at will in the tournament, but this one scored 71 against Ohio State, 63 against Michigan and just 50 against Houston. And yet, Villanova won each of those games by multiple possessions, leaning on a defense that picked a fine time to figure things out. After an eight-game stretch in which they allowed 73.5 points, the Wildcats are currently on an eight-game run of allowing just 56.5 points.


    The Road Ahead: Both Jay Wright and Bill Self are coaching in their fourth Final Four in what will be a rematch of a 2018 national semifinal. Villanova had six players score in double figures in that 95-79 victory, but surely this will be a lower-scoring affair. Win that one and it will set up either a rematch of the 2016 national championship against North Carolina or a rare showdown with Duke. In 21 seasons at Villanova, Wright has only faced Mike Krzyzewski one timewinning in a 23-point blowout in the 2009 Sweet 16.


    Reason to Buy: Villanova does all the little things well. This is the best free-throw shooting team ever. It rarely commits turnovers. It always controls the pace of the game with a methodical offense. And it has been excellent on defense thus far in the tournament. As a result, the Wildcats have been able to win games even when their (many) three-point attempts aren't falling, and they'll really be a problem if they're hitting those jumpers in the Superdome.


    Reason to Sell: Even before losing Justin Moore to a torn Achilles', Villanova had minimal depth. Players beyond the primary six-man rotation combined for four points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in the first four tournament games, and most of that came late in the 80-60 opener against Delaware. Now, depth is a serious concern for a team that already had some question marks in the frontcourt. Don't be surprised if Bill Self draws up a ton of post touches for David McCormack and a ton of drives for Remy Martin in hopes of either drawing fouls or getting uncontested shots at the rim.


    Will Win It All If...: Triples makes it safe. Triples is best. Barring some sudden change of strategy for the first time in nearly a decade, Villanova is going to attempt 25-30 threes. And if Collin Gillespie (41 percent), Caleb Daniels (38 percent) and Eric Dixon (52 percent) are each converting at anywhere near their usual rate, the Wildcats can beat anyone.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels

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    North Carolina's Armando Bacot
    North Carolina's Armando BacotChris Szagola/Associated Press

    The Road Behind: It's hard to believe it has been barely a month since North Carolina was a team devoid of quality wins, because there's no question this No. 8 seed was the better team against No. 1 Baylor and No. 4 UCLA. The Tar Heels caught fire late in the regular season, announced their arrival with a 94-81 road win over Duke and then carried that momentum into the dance with statement, high-scoring wins over Marquette and Baylor. And perhaps most impressive of all, UNC did the seemingly impossible by beating Saint Peter's in the Elite Eight.


    The Road Ahead: After decades of heated battles at Cameron Indoor and the Dean Dome, North Carolina will travel to New Orleans for the biggest game it has ever played against those loathed rivals from just a few miles down Tobacco Road. And if the Heels can knock off the Blue Devils, it'll set up either a rematch of the 2016 national championship against Villanova or a little Hubert Davis vs. Bill Self action in a Roy Williams Showdown against Kansas.


    Reason to Buy: North Carolina only really has four scoring options, but what a quartet it is. Each of Armando Bacot, Brady Manek, Caleb Love and RJ Davis scored at least 20 points in that win at Duke on March 5, and each of the four has scored at least 55 points thus far in the dance, including 30-point performances by each of Love and Davis. If the three perimeter options are hitting shots and Bacot is dominating down low, this team is tough to beat. This is also one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the nation.


    Reason to Sell: North Carolina has been lucky thus far in the three-point defense department, but can the Tar Heels really get through six games without that season-long issue rearing its ugly head? This team also has no depth worth mentioning and could be up a creek without a paddle if someone gets into foul trouble or rolls an ankleespecially if that someone is Bacot.


    Will Win It All If...: One or both of the guards catches fire. Bacot will likely go for 15 points and 15 rebounds. Manek can likely be counted on for at least 15 points, too. But Love and Davis have been a bit more erratic. UNC has won nine straight games in which Davis scores at least 15, as well as 15 of the past 16 in which Love puts up at least 11. If either one gets hot from distance, the Heels will be in business. And if both show up in a big way on offense, they might even be able to survive some serious regression to the mean in three-point defense.

2. Duke Blue Devils

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

    The Road Behind: Mike Krzyzewski's final NCAA tournament has not been devoid of drama. Duke trailed Michigan State by five with five minutes to go in the second round and was down by four midway through the second half in the Sweet 16 against Texas Tech. But this juggernaut-ish offense never panicked, closing out the MSU game on a 20-6 run and outscoring TTU 28-19 down the stretch of the latter game. Duke got bounced in incredible games in the Elite Eight in both 2018 and 2019, but it got the job done this year against Arkansas, never trailing in the final 34 minutes.


    The Road Ahead: Duke vs. UNC. It's a matchup we've seen 257 times in the history of men's college basketball, but never before in the NCAA tournament. And for the Blue Devils, it's a chance for redemption after the Tar Heels waltzed into Cameron Indoor and spoiled Coach K's going-away party less than one month ago. We almost got this season's third rendition of the greatest rivalry in the ACC championship, but Virginia Tech had other ideas. Getting Round III in the Final Four is one heck of a Plan B.


    Reason to Buy: Duke's offense has been a well-oiled machine, a runaway freight train, a blistering inferno. Choose your own metaphor. The Blue Devils have scored at least 78 points in nine of their past 10 games, and they have not been held below 1.0 points per possession in a game since the end of January. As a result, Paolo Banchero and Co. have surged to No. 1 in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency. Also, if you had to bet on anyone to win an all-blue blood Final Four, why not the guy who has won it all five times in his career?


    Reason to Sell: While the offense ranks No. 1 in adjusted efficiency, the defense currently ranks 45th. That doesn't mean Duke can't win it all, but if it did happen, it sure would be unusual. In the KenPom era, no national champion has ended the tournament ranked lower than 22nd in AdjDE. Mark Williams and Theo John are great erasers at the rim, but Duke does not force turnovers and occasionally has major issues guarding the three. Basically, there is a reason the Blue Devils had to use their "Break in Case of Emergency" zone defense in the second half of each of the past two games.


    Will Win It All If...: The offense stays red-hot. Duke's defense has allowed 69.8 points per game in the tournament, but that's of minimal concern when the offense has averaged 79.8 points. If Banchero, Williams, Jeremy Roach, AJ Griffin, Trevor Keels and Wendell Moore Jr. continue to shine, there's not a whole lot that any defense can do to slow down six dudes who will be playing in the NBA soon. Even Texas Tech's No. 1-ranked defense was helpless against the Blue Devils. Duke should win it all as long as it doesn't beat itself.

1. Kansas Jayhawks

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    Kansas' Ochai Agbaji
    Kansas' Ochai AgbajiTony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Road Behind: It wasn't a breeze to the Big Easy for the only No. 1 seed to get here. Creighton had the ball down by one with one minute to play in the second round. Providence led by one with less than six minutes remaining in the Sweet 16. And then Miami was up by six at halftime in the Elite Eight before that one got out of hand. However, as far as the year-to-date metrics are concerned, this is the best team still standing. Maybe the Jayhawks will finally deliver a complete-game performance in the Final Four.


    The Road Ahead: Up first is an intriguing showdown with a shorthanded Villanova team that isn't exactly renowned for its shot-blocking or rebounding. Kansas could and frankly should win that game in the paint. Although, anything is possible if Villanova has a repeat of the 2018 Final Four against Kansas and shoots 18-of-40 from three-point range again. And then it's either Duke or UNC in what would be the most high-profile national championship clash since one decade ago when Kansas lost to Anthony Davis and Kentucky.


    Reason to Buy: With Remy Martin finally playing well, Kansas has five guys capable of taking over at any moment, each of whom has scored at least 22 points in a game this season. This is a well-rounded team with no clear Achilles' heel, refined by one of the most challenging schedules in the country. So long as at least three of the five stars play well, Kansas is mighty tough to beat. And if all five show up, forget about it. Game over.


    Reason to Sell: For starters, being No. 1 in our power rankings has been a death knell lately. It took out Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 and then Houston in the Elite Eight. But the more rational concern is that Kansas has issues defending slashing guards. Providence stormed back from a 13-point second-half deficit because of it. Miami jumped out to a six-point halftime lead because of it. And both Duke and North Carolina are wired to capitalize on those openings.


    Will Win It All If...: The defense holds up. Kansas isn't exactly Gonzaga or Duke on offense, but it is going to score. It has put up at least 70 points in 16 of its last 18 games, thanks to a top-30 effective field-goal percentage, a top-40 offensive rebound percentage and respectable turnover numbers. So, if the defense that KenPom narrowly rates as the most efficient left in the tournament does its thing, the Jayhawks will be celebrating in New Orleans on Monday night.


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