2022 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown By Region: Favorites, Sleepers & Final Four Predictions
Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images. Pictured: Isaiah Whaley (UConn)
It’s officially the best time of the year. The NCAA Tournament is about to be in full swing starting Tuesday with two First Four games.
The first weekend of the tourney is truly a bettor’s dream, but whether it’s making single-game bets, trying to nail futures, or attempting to win your bracket pool, there is always a need for some guidance, especially with the amount of teams and players that take the court in this particular sport.
Below, our experts will break down all four regions, giving you the team to beat, the best sleeper and a Final Four prediction.
Shane McNichol: As the top overall seed in the tournament, Gonzaga is the team to beat out West. The Zags have more tournament wins over the last five years than any other program in college basketball, having reached the last six Sweet 16’s.
That certainly suggests the Bulldogs could once again play to their seed and head to New Orleans, but March makes for a fickle lover. Few teams (no pun intended) keep up streaks like that for too long. A single elimination tournament is a minefield, even for the best teams in each region.
Gonzaga’s frontcourt will be as good – or better – than any team it faces in this tournament, yet the rest of the Zags’ roster remains unproven.
The Zags’ guards need to be able to put Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren into a position to succeed. Last season, Baylor put out a blueprint to beat the Zags: make Timme defend in space and bully the Gonzaga guards off of their spots on the other end.
The Zags will face credible threats from a Duke team that already beat them, a Texas Tech team that could slow them down into a grind-it-out game and a UConn team with a dog-like mentality.
Shane McNichol: The Wildcats are looking to make an impact in March for the first time since Steph Curry was on campus, and they have the tools to do so.
Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Luka Brajkovic is a 6-foot-10 center with a flurry of post moves.
Hyunjung Lee leads the team in scoring and is getting looks from NBA scouts for his ability to shoot over defenses.
Michigan State transfer Foster Loyer quarterbacks the offense and will get a chance to take down his former team in the opening round.
Finally, Bob McKillop is a coaching legend, with one of the sharpest minds and purest schemes in mid-major basketball. He’ll have the Wildcats in position to succeed.
The major hurdle for a deep Davidson run comes in the form of its North Carolina neighbor and potential second-round matchup, the Duke Blue Devils.
Davidson will look to the same game plan that led Virginia Tech to a win over Duke in the ACC title game: make the Blue Devils chase on the defensive end, with constant movement and action.
Duke’s defense has been stricken by bouts of poor communication and listlessness recently. Facing the crisp Davidson motion scheme would be the ultimate wakeup call.
Shane McNichol: I can’t escape the thought of this UConn team mirroring Baylor’s game plan against Gonzaga in last year’s national final. These Huskies are nowhere close to as good or as talented as that Baylor team, but they could make for a half-believable knock off.
UConn has a group of athletic, aggressive wing players who swarm defensively and play with a next level attitude. If the referees keep their whistles at bay, that kind of pressure defense could throw a wrench into Gonzaga’s high-octane attack.
In the paint, UConn slams the offensive glass to create additional possessions that could make up for disadvantages elsewhere. No team in the nation grabbed more of their own misses than the Huskies this year.
In a wide-open region, why couldn’t the Huskies ride their aggressiveness and timely shot-making to a few unlikely wins? At the +1600 or higher you can get a Connecticut future at right now, this team is worth a look.
Kyle Remillard: Arizona’s high-powered offense has been well documented this season. But just as a reminder, the Wildcats averaged over 85 points per game – third highest in the country.
Tommy Lloyd’s offense assists on 65% of its made field goals, the highest rate in the nation. The Wildcats are elite at scoring inside the paint and snag offensive rebounds on 35% of their misses.
Arizona finished the season with a 31-3 record, with 15 of those victories coming against Quad 1 and 2 opponents.
The Wildcats should be able to overwhelm their first two opponents before likely matching up with Houston. That will be a defensive battle, and the main concern is getting Kerr Kriisa back for that game.
Kriisa is an outside shooting threat who helps spread the floor for the Wildcats. He’s connected on 35% of his 221 3-point attempts this season, and is working his way back from an ankle injury sustained against Stanford last week.
— Kerr (@KerrKriisa) March 14, 2022
Arizona is clearly the team to beat in the South and could be set for a crash-course revenge spot vs. Tennessee.
Stuckey: We’ve seen it before and we could see it again with the Ramblers, who are just a nightmare once again to play in a tournament setting.
There’s no Cameron Krutwig in the middle, so the offense isn’t quite as good as it was last season.
However, the defense remains absolutely suffocating, especially since getting Marquise Kennedy back from injury prior to the start of the Missouri Valley Tournament.
All the Ramblers did in that tournament was hold their three top-100 KenPom opponents to 58, 43 and 50 points.
Loyola also plays extremely slow, ranking outside the top 300 in adjusted pace. That’s what you want for a potential sleeper once they get deep into the bracket against the more talented teams. Fewer possessions equals more variance.
On that same front, Loyola shoots and makes a lot of 3s. All of the ingredients are here for a surprise deep run from an extremely experienced and well-coached team that is simply a toothache to play.
Kyle Remillard: The South region of the bracket is loaded with programs that have a legitimate chance to make a run.
Villanova has a dominant one-two punch in Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore. And let’s not forget about the Wildcats’ most important weapon, Jay Wright.
Illinois has the most dominant big man in the country in Kofi Cockburn, coupled with a cast of 3-point snipers.
Tennessee and Houston own stifling defenses that can lockdown even the best of offenses.
But Arizona has a roster that is built for March. The Wildcats have a dominant inside presence with 6-foot-10 Azuolas Tubelis and 7-foot-1 Christian Koloko. The roster has two snipers from the outside in Bennedict Mathurin and Kriisa (when he returns).
More importantly, Arizona has the benefit of a dominant bench that can grow a lead even against opposing starting units.
The roster has no holes and the ability to expose any opponent’s weakness. The Wildcats won by an average margin of 17 points and are battle tested, with a 15-3 record against Quad 1 and 2 opponents.
They will lean on that experience in tough games to propel them to the Final Four.
Mike McNamara: The Baylor Bears are the defending national champs for a reason, and until someone takes them out, they are the team to beat in the East.
Injuries have plagued Baylor at times throughout the season, but with Adam Flagler and James Akinjo healthy in the backcourt, and Matthew Mayer and Flo Thamba on the inside, Baylor still has more than enough talent to make another deep run.
For those concerned after the opening-round loss in the Big 12 Tournament to Oklahoma, remember that Baylor was tripped up early in the same tournament a year ago. Scott Drew regrouped his team and went on to win a national title.
I don’t see the North Carolina/Marquette winner being able to compete with the Bears, making the path to the Sweet 16 very probable.
From there, it will take a heck of an effort by one of the teams in the lower half of the region to take the Bears out.
Mike McNamara: For my top sleeper in this region, I’m sticking in the Big 12 and going with the Texas Longhorns.
This is one of those situations where I could either see Texas bowing out in the first round, or going on a deep run if it can survive the opener.
The reason why is because Texas drew red-hot Virginia Tech in its opening matchup. This will be a fascinating battle between one of the most efficient offenses in the country in Virginia Tech and the stout defense of the Longhorns.
I think Texas’ size could give the Hokies some problems, which could be the difference in a game that currently sits as a pick’em.
Give me the Longhorns to pull out a tight one against Virginia Tech, paving the way for a matchup against Purdue in the Round of 32. I like Texas to win that game and advance to the Sweet 16 in Philly.
Mike McNamara: Baylor is the team to beat, but I believe Kentucky has the team to do it. Kentucky should be able to handle the Murray State/San Francisco winner in the Round of 32, which would send the Wildcats to Philly for the second weekend.
Purdue or Texas would be the likely opponent in the Sweet 16 game, and either would be a legitimate test for Coach Cal’s bunch. Ultimately, I think the Wildcats find a way to pull that one out and move onto the Regional Final.
If it’s Baylor in that matchup, Oscar Tshiebwe could be in for a monster night on the backboards, especially with the Bears losing Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua for the year.
Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington Jr. squaring off against Flagler and Akinjo would be an awesome matchup to watch in the backcourt. I think the Wildcats boast the slightly deeper roster, and look for Kellan Grady to be a difference maker in March with his outside shooting.
Give me Kentucky to punch its ticket to New Orleans.
Doug Ziefel: The Jayhawks are the No. 1 seed in this region for a good reason. First, they were the top team in the toughest conference in college basketball during the regular season, the Big 12. Then, they reminded everyone that they were still the top dogs by running through the conference tournament.
Kansas also looks to be getting healthier and is hitting its stride at the right time. The Jayhawks welcomed back prized transfer Remy Martin during the conference tournament, and he made his presence felt in the championship game.
Martin is a crucial addition to an elite Kansas offense that finished the season sixth in offensive efficiency, and now, he forms an elite trio with Big 12 Player of the Year, Ochai Agbaji, and David McCormack.
The road for the Jayhawks will not be easy, as many potent offensive teams await them. However, Kansas has proven it can go blow for blow with anyone.
Doug Ziefel: The Jackrabbits are not a team to be taken lightly, as they enter the tournament on the nation’s longest winning streak (21 games). They built that win streak by being an offensive juggernaut.
South Dakota State is 12th in the country in offensive efficiency and is the 15th-fastest team. But wait, its numbers get even better when you look deeper. The Jackrabbits are first in the nation in effective field goal and 3-point percentages.
Douglas Wilson, Baylor Scheierman and Zeke Mayo are a significant factor in those impressive numbers, as they all shoot over 40% from behind the arc and average nearly double-digit points per game.
This offense may even receive a boost for the tourney, as Noah Freidel, who was third on the roster in points per game, could return. He has been working his way back from an absence after leaving the team to better his mental health.
The only caveat with the Jackrabbits is that they are lackluster on the defensive end. However, their first-round matchup against Providence is a complete contrast of styles, and they could very well bounce the Friars if Providence can’t keep up.
Doug Ziefel: The Hawkeyes are peaking at the right time. They won eight of 10 to finish the regular season and then added four more victories as their run extended throughout the Big Ten Tournament.
It also helps that their star and Big Ten Tournament MVP Keegan Murray is on fire. He averaged 25.8 points and nine rebounds through four tourney games, but he really shined against Indiana, dropping 32 points and hitting a record eight 3s.
Murray is the type of player that can put his team on his back and carry it all the way through.
When you look at Iowa’s path, it is certainly not easy. The Hawkeyes likely have a Sweet 16 matchup with Kansas, which would be a tremendous game. The Hawkeyes’ pace would give the Jayhawks all they can handle.
After that, if chalk holds, Iowa will face Auburn. The Tigers have plenty of talent, but they showed how streaky their offense could be down the stretch. If they go cold, the Hawkeyes could put together a run and bury them fast.
Iowa is not only the best five-seed, but one of the best overall teams in the tournament.