2022 March Madness Bracket Predictions: Expert Picks For A Gonzaga-Winning Bracket, Feat. Houston In Final Four

2022 March Madness Bracket Predictions: Expert Picks For A Gonzaga-Winning Bracket, Feat. Houston In Final Four article feature image

Getty Images. Pictured: Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin.

Welcome to the madness!

The goal of my annual March Madness bracket breakdown is to provide you with the tools and strategies needed to create a pool-winning bracket by walking through my decisions on every game as I build my bracket.

There are two variables I consider before picking a team to advance:

  1. My projected odds of that team advancing through each round based on results of 10,000 simulations run using my custom team ratings
  2. The average percentage of users who have that team advancing on ESPN and Yahoo!

Combined, I create my leverage score for each team to get a sense of which the market is over- or underrating, with the goal of maximizing our leverage score as much as possible throughout the bracket build:

(my projected odds) – (% of users) = Leverage

This doesn't mean that I blindly let the leverage score dictate my pick for every matchup — I'm also factoring in how likely an outcome will happen. There will be many instances in which I'm taking a team with a negative leverage score and explaining why in my breakdown.

And finally, I created a downloadable March Madness Bracket Builder so you can tailor your own bracket while still using my leverage scores and general strategies in order to create a bracket that makes the most sense for your pool(s). You can click here to skip to a brief guide on how to use the builder.

Without further ado, let’s get to building our 2022 bracket!

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March Madness Bracket Predictions

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West Region

I'm starting with the West region because it's essential to pick which team you have winning the championship before you fill out the rest of your bracket.

For my 2022 bracket (spoiler alert), I'm taking Gonzaga to win it all — don’t worry, I'll explain later.

I prefer this backward approach because it's impossible to win your bracket pool without getting the winning team right. You can have a ton of incorrect picks throughout your bracket, but if you correctly pick the winner, you have a shot at winning your pool. It reminds me of this great scene from the movie Adaptation where Nicolas Cage's character is struggling to write a screenplay, and the advice of Brian Cox's character is to focus on having a great ending — the rest will fall into place.

Round of 64

1 Gonzaga (W)
16 Georgia State

Georgia State is one of the worst shooting teams in the country (344th in effective FG%). This squad does not stand a chance against Gonzaga, but you already knew that.

8 Boise State (W)
9 Memphis

Boise State is our first excellent leverage spot. Only 36% of users are taking Boise State here, but I'm giving the Broncos a 48% chance to win (+12% leverage score).

Memphis is excellent at offensive rebounding and getting to the line. However, Boise State limits teams from doing either. Memphis turns the ball over at one of the highest rates in the country (22.9%, which ranks 352nd). I can see that being the deciding factor for this matchup.

5 UConn
12 New Mexico State (W)

Having No. 12 New Mexico State face No. 13 Vermont in the Round of 32 is a sneaky play as they offer good leverage opportunities. However, choosing one of those teams to pull off the upset is the sharper play.

Of the two, I'm going with New Mexico State's +11% leverage score against UConn.

4 Arkansas (W)
13 Vermont

Despite being tempted to have the 12- and 13-seed face off in the next round, the more prudent play is to have either the 4- or 5-seed advance to the Sweet 16. And Arkansas offers positive leverage scores once the Razorbacks reach the Sweet 16.

6 Alabama (winner if Rutgers beats Notre Dame)
11 Notre Dame (winner if Notre Dame beats Rutgers)

The Notre Dame/Rutgers play-in game winner will dictate how I handle this matchup. I would take Notre Dame and its +14% leverage score here. However, if Rutgers wins the play-in game, I'll go with Alabama.

3 Texas Tech (W)
14 Montana State

This is a perfect example of a matchup where it's alright not to let Texas Tech's -4% leverage score scare us away. I'm giving the Red Raiders an 89% chance to advance, and there is no strategic need to fade them here.

7 Michigan State
10 Davidson (W)

61% of users are on Michigan State, despite only being 1-point favorites here. My model agrees as I have this game closer to a coin flip. Davison’s +11% leverage score is too good to pass up.

2 Duke (W)
15 Cal State Fullerton

Duke struggled to close out the season, going 2-2 over the past four games. Look for Duke to get back on track here — I don't see how Fullerton will be able to keep this one close.

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Round of 32

1 Gonzaga (W)
8 Boise State

Gonzaga will likely be the only team favored by 10+ in the Round of 32. I would expect the Bulldogs to be 11- to 12-point favorites against either Boise State or Memphis.

12 New Mexico State
4 Arkansas (W)

I'm only giving New Mexico State a 9% chance to advance to the next round, so take the Aggies’ +4% leverage score with a grain of salt. I don't feel this is a spot where we need to get too crazy. Since I have Gonzaga winning the championship, I will benefit from any chaos (like having No. 12 New Mexico State or No. 13 Vermont making it to the Sweet 16 to face Gonzaga). Therefore I don't see the need to double down here.

11 Notre Dame or No. 6 Alabama*
3 Texas Tech (W)

*Contingent on whether Notre Dame beats Rutgers in the First Four

Things get a bit messy here until we find out who the 11-seed is. Either Notre Dame or Alabama would be a viable pick here, but I like taking Texas Tech since I have my eyes set on the Red Raiders knocking out Duke in the next round.

10 Davidson
2 Duke (W)

There is some serious upset potential in this spot, and if you are in a massive bracket pool (1000+ teams), I would consider taking Davidson's +9% leverage score. However, since I'm taking Gonzaga to win it all, I don't mind being a bit "chalky" for the Sweet 16 in the West. Any sort of chaos in the West — that doesn't involve Gonzaga getting beat — will only help my bracket.

Sweet 16

1 Gonzaga (W)
4 Arkansas

Arkansas would be the first matchup where Gonzaga isn’t a double-digit favorite. I would expect the spread to be right around 9. However, if the Bulldogs face any other team here, Gonzaga would be 10+ favorites again.

3 Texas Tech (W)
2 Duke

Duke would only be 1- to 2-point favorites in this potential matchup, yet 60% of users are taking the Blue Devils. Texas Tech ranks first in defensive efficiency, setting the Red Raiders up for a possible deep run this year. I like using them to knock off Duke and get a leg up on chalkier brackets.

Elite Eight

1 Gonzaga (W)
3 Texas Tech

Gonzaga would only be a 6- to 8-point favorite if it were to face Texas Tech or Duke here. However, in any other scenario, the Bulldogs would be 10+ favorites … again.

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Midwest Region

Considering I have a chalky West Region and have a very chalky champion pick in Gonzaga, I'm going to have to ramp up my aggressiveness with the rest of my bracket.

The Midwest has the potential to be a chaotic one as Kansas is very beatable as a 1-seed.

Round of 64

1 Kansas (W)
16 Texas Southern or Texas A&M-CC

Kansas is a weaker 1-seed, but there is no reason to get crazy here.

8 San Diego State (W)
9 Creighton

53% of users are on Creighton, despite San Diego State being 2.5-point favorites. San Diego State has a whopping +19% leverage score as a result.

5 Iowa (W)
12 Richmond

Iowa could easily have been a 2-seed, so the Hawkeyes offer a ton of upside later in the tournament.

4 Providence
13 South Dakota State (W)

74% of users are on Providence despite the Friars only having a 59% win probability, making South Dakota State a no-brainer leverage play (+17%). Additionally, South Dakota State ranks first in effective FG% and 12th in offensive efficiency, making the Jackrabbits a dangerous 13-seed.

6 LSU (W)
11 Iowa State

In a situation where I'm in line with the market, it makes sense to go with the team that has a 61% chance to win.

3 Wisconsin (W)
14 Colgate

In my power ratings, Wisconsin is the worst 3-seed, while Colgate is the top 14-seed. Colgate is an excellent three-point shooting team (40% 3P% ranks second) so if the Raiders get hot from beyond the arc, I could easily see them pulling off the upset. If you are in a larger pool (1000+ entries), I would consider taking Colgate here.

I'm going to take Wisconsin here, considering I still have the Badgers winning 77% of the time. But sharper brackets probably won't have them advancing past the Round of 32.

10 Miami (FL) (W)

Miami (FL) isn't going to have many turnovers in this game, and there's something sinister about USC's 66.6% free-throw shooting on the season (ranks 333rd). I can see that being the deciding factor in a matchup that appears to be a coin flip.

2 Auburn (W)
15 Jacksonville State

No reason to overthink this one. Go with Auburn.

Round of 32

1 Kansas
8 San Diego State (W)

Creating a sharp bracket isn't always about picking sleeper teams that will go far. It's also about knowing who to fade and when. Kansas is a very vulnerable 1-seed, so I feel it's ideal to have the Jayhawks going down either here or in the next round. I'm expecting Kansas to only be a 6- to 7-point favorite in this potential matchup. Give me the Aztecs and their +18% leverage score here.

5 Iowa (W)
13 South Dakota State

Iowa offers a +13% leverage score in the Sweet 16, so it's ideal to have the Hawkeyes advance here and take advantage of the upside they provide as a 5-seed.

6 LSU (W)
3 Wisconsin

79% of users are taking Wisconsin over LSU, but I'm confident sportsbooks will make this game close to a pick 'em. I have LSU as 2-point favorites in this hypothetical matchup! This is a fantastic leverage opportunity in taking LSU (+19%).

10 Miami (FL)
2 Auburn (W)

I'm going to eat Auburn's -12% leverage score here. The Tigers should be healthy favorites in this matchup, and I'm only 48% sure Miami (FL) will be their opponent here. It's not a spot where you need to be aggressive. Auburn is a dangerous 2-seed in a region where the 1- and 3-seeds are weak.

Sweet 16

8 San Diego State
5 Iowa (W)

Just getting this matchup correct will give my bracket a massive edge over the field. That's why I'm going to go with the better team here in Iowa, who I give a 64% chance of winning this hypothetical matchup.

2 Auburn (W)

This matchup is the most challenging decision of the entire region. LSU offers a healthy +12% leverage score here, but it's primarily fueled by the Tigers getting past Wisconsin in the Round of 32. If LSU advances to the Elite Eight (18% chance according to my model), my bracket will already have a leg up against the field. Therefore I'm going to go with Auburn.

If you are in a massive pool (1000+ entries) and take Gonzaga as your tournament champion, you should consider having No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 6 LSU as your Elite Eight matchup.

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Elite Eight

5 Iowa (W)
2 Auburn

Iowa offers the highest leverage score (+5.8%) to make it to the Final Four, so I will stay on brand here and go with the Hawkeyes. They could easily have been a 2-seed and are in a region where the 1- and 3-seeds are relatively weak. The betting market agrees, as seen by the current odds to win the Midwest (FanDuel):

  • Kansas +200
  • Auburn +260
  • Iowa +390
  • Wisconsin +1100

Based on the current user pick percentage, we are essentially getting the following odds to win the region:

  • Kansas +125
  • Auburn +350
  • Iowa +1000
  • Wisconsin +850

Think of this if the bracket pool market gives us Iowa at +1000 odds. It's a steal!

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South Region

Looking at the Leverage Chart for the South, I have a few high-level takeaways. No. 5 Houston and No. 10 Loyola Chicago appear to offer a ton of value at the expense of No. 1 Arizona and No. 2 Villanova. No. 3 Tennessee would benefit, as a result, and offers leverage later in the tournament.

Editor's note: Sean Koerner updated his pick for Colorado State vs. Michigan with news that the Wolverines' starting point guard has been ruled out. The graphic below reflects that update.

Round of 64

1 Arizona (W)
16 Wright State or Bryant

No reason to overthink this one. Go with Arizona.

8 Seton Hall
9 TCU (W)

The bracket market is split down the middle for this matchup, and I agree that it's a coin flip. TCU's offensive rebound rate of 37.9% ranks second, and Seton Hall's defensive rebound rate of 70.9% ranks 225th. The extra chances TCU should get on offense could be the difference here.

5 Houston (W)
12 UAB

Houston has a -7% leverage score here, but we always need to think big picture when filling out our bracket. Later on, the Cougars offer a ton of upside, specifically to upset No. 1 Arizona in the Sweet 16.

4 Illinois
13 Chattanooga (W)

I'm torn on this matchup. Chattanooga offers a ton of leverage here (+14%), but I do worry that the Mocs don't have anyone who can match up with 7-foot-0 Kofi Cockburn. I will have Houston beating either of these teams in the Round of 32, so there's only a point at stake here. Sticking true to my bracket strategy of leverage, give me Chattanooga!

6 Colorado State (W)
11 Michigan

Update (5 p.m. ET on Wednesday): With starting point guard DeVante' Jones ruled out due to a concussion, I'm changing my pick to Colorado State. Jones is a key player who is worth 2-2.5 points to the spread.

While 59% of brackets have Michigan advancing, I'm projecting Colorado State as a 1-point favorite now. It creates nice leverage on a 6-seed to beat an 11-seed, which is pretty rare.

Original pick: Michigan is a dangerous 11-seed, but the public is aware of that fact. 53% of users are taking Michigan, which aligns with my expected win percentage. I'm going with the slight favorite here, but the result of this matchup probably won't move the needle too much.

3 Tennessee (W)
14 Longwood

As always, it's essential to work backward a bit when setting your bracket. I know that Tennessee offers leverage later in the tournament, so I'm willing to eat a -3% leverage score here. After all, I have them beating Longwood 91% of the time. There is no reason to get cute here.

7 Ohio State
10 Loyola Chicago (W)

This matchup is essentially a coin flip, but whoever advances will be a serious threat to upset No. 2 Villanova — the weakest 2-seed this year. I'm going to side with Loyola Chicago here, whose slow pace and efficient shooting (seventh in effective FG%) will offer the best chance of taking down Villanova.

Round of 32

1 Arizona (W)

Arizona may be without starting point guard Kerr Krissa for the first couple rounds, but I still like the Wildcats to hold off TCU here.

5 Houston (W)
13 Chattanooga

There is a very good chance Houston could be facing Illinois here, but as long as the Cougars advance, I will have the edge over the field as 47% of brackets have Illinois advancing to the Sweet 16 (I'm only giving the Fighting Illini a 34% chance). On the other hand, Houston has a 48% chance to make it to the Sweet 16, yet only 42% of the brackets have this team advancing that far.

6 Colorado State
3 Tennessee (W)

Once again, I will eat a -13% leverage score on Tennessee to cash in on the upside in the event No. 2 Villanova gets knocked out early.

I'm playing the long game with Tennessee.

10 Loyola Chicago (W)
2 Villanova

This is where things get spicy in the South. Villanova will only be a 3- to 5-point favorite against either Ohio State or Loyola Chicago. A Loyola Chicago-Villanova meeting will be a slow-paced matchup with fewer possessions. I like Loyola Chicago’s chances of pulling off the upset as a result.

Sweet 16

1 Arizona
5 Houston (W)

Similar to No. 5 Iowa, No. 5 Houston could easily have been a 2-seed. The Cougars will probably only be a 4- to 5-point underdog here. However, if Arizona's starting point guard Kerr Kriisa's ankle injury keeps him out for this matchup, we could see the line closer to the 3- to 4-point range. Houston offers a solid +11% leverage score to advance to the Elite Eight.

3 Tennessee (W)
10 Loyola Chicago

If Loyola Chicago can knock out 2-seed Villanova, my bracket will already have a huge leg up on the field. Therefore, I'm going to cash out on Loyola and take No. 3 Tennessee here.

Elite Eight

5 Houston (W)
3 Tennessee

If Houston can knock out No. 1 Arizona, my bracket will have a huge leg up on the field. I'm going to double down on the Cougars here and send them to my Final Four. Taking a look at the current betting odds to win the South Region, sportsbooks agree that Houston is a strong 5-seed (FanDuel):

  • No. 1 Arizona +145
  • No. 3 Tennessee +500
  • No. 2 Villanova +550
  • No. 5 Houston +550
  • No. 4 Illinois +1000

Only 5% of brackets have Houston advancing to the Final Four, so we are essentially getting the Cougars at +2000 odds!

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East Region

The East region is wide open in terms of how to attack it. No. 12 Indiana and No. 10 San Francisco offer a ton of leverage in the opening round, No. 4 UCLA and No. 6 Texas offer leverage in the middle rounds, while No. 1 Baylor and No. 2 Kentucky offer sneaky leverage in the Final Four. I like the idea of saving this region for last, because you can adjust your strategy based on how you handled the other three regions and who you chose as your champion.

I have been fairly aggressive in the first three regions. However, since I have Gonzaga winning it all, I'm going to keep up the aggression in the East. If you are creating a bracket where Gonzaga loses at some point, I think it makes sense to go chalky here and have a No. 1 Baylor or No. 2 Kentucky emerge — maybe even selecting either school to win it all.

Round of 64

1 Baylor (W)
16 Norfolk State

No reason to overthink this one. I'm going with Baylor.

9 Marquette (W)

67% of current brackets have North Carolina advancing due to name recognition. However, I think Marquette is sneaky here as the Golden Eagles should advance around 43% of the time.

5 Saint Mary's
12 Indiana (W)*

Note: There's a chance I end up picking Saint Mary's if Indiana loses its Final Four matchup and the Gaels end up facing Wyoming instead.  

78% of brackets have Saint Mary's advancing, but if Indiana wins its play-in game on Wednesday, I'm expecting this matchup to be close to a pick 'em. Of course, we may see Saint Mary's user pick percentage plummet once people realize this, but for right now, the Hoosiers offer a ridiculous +24% leverage score.

If Wyoming wins the 12-seed, I may have to revisit this pick. However, I will have UCLA beat whoever advances from this matchup, so ultimately this decision will be over a point.

4 UCLA (W)
13 Akron

UCLA is a dangerous 4-seed in a wide-open region. The Bruins have dealt with injuries to key players all season but are entering March Madness at 100% health. I'm going to have them going pretty far in my bracket.

6 Texas (W)
11 Virginia Tech

53% of users are taking the No. 11 seed here?! Don't get me wrong, Virginia Tech is a very good 110seed, but I can't pass up taking Texas' +12% leverage score.

Texas has the fourth-best odds to win the East Region (currently +1100), yet only 1% of brackets have the Longhorns making the Final Four. They offer a ton of upside as a Final Four team for massive pools (1000+ entries).

3 Purdue (W)
14 Yale

Purdue was one of the biggest disappointments of last year's March Madness as the Boilermakers lost to No. 13 North Texas in the opening round. As a result, I don't see them overlooking No. 14 Yale here — they’ll avoid an upset.

7 Murray State
10 San Francisco (W)

San Francisco offers the highest leverage score of the entire tournament (+26%), so I would be a fraud if I didn't take the Dons here. They are a solid 10-seed, and their only three losses of five-plus points all season came against Gonzaga. So can you even blame them?

2 Kentucky (W)
15 St. Peter's

No need to overthink this one. I'm going with Kentucky.

On a side note, I can't wait to see Oscar Tshiebwe's rebound prop for this game. We are projecting him for 17 rebounds. St. Peter's is a terrible shooting team, and he is likely going to be very busy cleaning the glass on Friday.

Round of 32

1 Baylor (W)
9 Marquette

Marquette is a sneaky pick to pull off the upset, but we'll already have a leg up on the field if the Golden Eagles beat UNC in the opening round. So I'm going to play it safe here and go with Baylor.

12 Indiana
4 UCLA (W)

We still don't know if Indiana will be the 12-seed as the Hoosiers play on Tuesday night. However, I like the idea of taking Indiana here if you are set on having Baylor advance to the Elite Eight (or beyond). UCLA will be a very tough matchup in the Sweet 16.

For my main bracket, I'm going with UCLA to take advantage of the leverage the Bruins offer later in the tournament. If Indiana loses its play-in game, it will make my decision that much easier!

6 Texas (W)
3 Purdue

Texas offers a +14% leverage score thanks in large part to only 47% of brackets having the Longhorns reach the Round of 32 (I'm giving them a 59% chance). Additionally, only 18% of brackets have them upsetting Purdue here despite the fact they will probably only be a 3- to 4-point underdog in this potential matchup. That's crazy!

10 San Francisco
2 Kentucky (W)

San Francisco is a dangerous 10-seed and you should consider taking the Dons here in larger pools (1000+ entries). However, I will take Kentucky and its 66% odds to advance to the Sweet 16 here. A San Francisco upset would be a savvy play in a huge bracket pool.

Sweet 16

1 Baylor
4 UCLA (W)

As I said above, UCLA is a strong 4-seed that is finally 100% healthy heading into March Madness. Baylor will only be a 2- to 3-point favorite in this potential matchup, and I think if everyone knew that, we wouldn't see 69% of users taking Baylor over UCLA here.

6 Texas
2 Kentucky (W)

If Texas were to make it this far, I would already have a massive edge over the field in this region. It's time to cash out and go with the better team here in Kentucky.

Elite Eight

2 Kentucky (W)

I believe this potential matchup is one of the trickier decisions of the entire bracket. I love UCLA making it this far, and the Bruins’ +6% leverage score is enticing. However, I already have two 5-seeds making the Final Four, so I don't feel it's necessary to force another contrarian play here.

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Final Four

1 Gonzaga (W)
2 Kentucky

I already set my bracket up to have Gonzaga cutting down the nets at the end. However, Kentucky is a sneaky pick to win it all. If you create a bracket with Kentucky winning it all, you can dial back the aggressiveness/need for upsets in earlier rounds. My colleague Travis Reed made his case for a Kentucky "contrarian" bracket you can check out here.

5 Houston
5 Iowa (W)

It might seem crazy to have two 5-seeds meet in the Final Four, but either one of these teams could have easily been a 2-seed. Iowa offers the most overall leverage once the Hawkeyes reach the Sweet 16, so I'm taking them here. Keegan Murray is one of the best players in college basketball — if he's on his game, Iowa will be very tough to beat.

National Championship

1 Gonzaga (W)
5 Iowa

Surprise! I'm taking Gonzaga to win it all. Last year I faded Gonzaga and took Baylor to win it all in my main bracket, and it paid off beautifully. In 2021 bracket pools, 39% of users picked Gonzaga as the champions, but it's a bit lower at 32% this year — so we are getting them at a much more reasonable price.

There is a genuine chance Gonzaga will be 10+ point favorites in the first three rounds of the tournament. Any chaos in the bottom half of the Bulldogs’ bracket will make it possible for them to be 10+ point favorites for the first four rounds of the tournament. They are head and shoulders above the rest of the field — I like riding their coattails to that sweet, sweet 64 points if they win it all.

I usually don't take the favorite to win it all, but I'm going with the chalk because it's impossible to win your pool without the correct champion (and I believe it will be Gonzaga this year). It's the entirety of the bracket and the leverage I gain over the rest of the field that will set my bracket apart.

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March Madness Bracket Builder

Here's a quick key to my March Madness Bracket Builder:

  • Chance to win (Win%): My projected chance of that team winning a matchup.
  • Chance to advance (Adv%): My projected odds of that team advancing past that matchup (factoring in previous games).
  • Brackets Taken In (Users%): The percentage of users on ESPN and Yahoo! who are taking that team to advance to the next round as of writing.

The Round of 64 matchups in the builder are set, but as you work through different possible outcomes in later rounds, you can compare how the Leverage changes.

You can download the builder as a spreadsheet by clicking here.

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Nick Sterling
May 17, 2024 UTC