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2022 NCAA Tournament Bracket Reset: Hottest Team, Biggest Surprise & Final Four Prediction for Each Region

2022 NCAA Tournament Bracket Reset: Hottest Team, Biggest Surprise & Final Four Prediction for Each Region article feature image
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Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images. Pictured: Jalen Wilson (Kansas)

After an awesome first weekend of basketball that consisted of No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s winning two games, and No. 1 Baylor and No. 2 Auburn being beaten, we are down to 16 teams in the NCAA Tournament.

We took a deep dive into each region before the tournament tipped off, so now it’s time for a “bracket reset.” Our staff will provide the team playing the best, the biggest surprise and a Final Four pick for each region.

Whether you’re making a new bracket, looking for betting angles or eyeing tournament special props, this will be a useful piece as we move forward with college basketball’s biggest event.

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West Region

Team Playing The Best: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Anthony Dabbundo: Gonzaga may be the No. 1 seed in the West region, but of the four teams remaining, the Bulldogs have the toughest path and the most impressive win of the bunch (over Memphis).

Texas Tech, Duke and Arkansas were all pushed by lesser teams, but the Bulldogs beat a Memphis squad that had superior athleticism and was a top-10 unit since February, according to BartTorvik’s metrics.

Memphis gave Gonzaga a ton of problems with Jalen Duren protecting the rim and Chet Holmgren in foul trouble. The Bulldogs needed Andrew Nembhard to play one of his best games of the year and Drew Timme to play a ridiculously good five minutes in the second half to escape with a victory.

Memphis led by 10 at halftime and had multiple opportunities to win the game, yet Gonzaga found enough offense through Timme and Nembhard. The Zags also slowed the Tigers down and made them execute in the half-court in the second half.

Gonzaga hadn’t really been punched in the mouth since December, and it proved on Saturday why it’s the national title favorite.

On paper, beating a No. 9 seed isn’t that impressive, but Memphis has as much talent, length and athleticism as any team in the country. Arkansas isn’t even on that level, even if the spread is shorter for this upcoming game on Thursday.


Biggest Surprise: How Much Trouble ND’s Defense Gave TTU

Anthony Dabbundo: This region has mostly lacked surprises, with the top four seeds all making it to the Sweet 16. There was the New Mexico State upset of Connecticut thanks to Teddy Allen, but the chalk has otherwise mostly held in the West region.

One surprise from Sunday, though, was how effective Notre Dame’s matchup zone look was against the Red Raiders.

Mike Brey isn’t known for coaching great defense, but the Irish caused some real problems for Texas Tech. The Irish used the 2-3 zone look to pack it in, making Texas Tech very uncomfortable.

Texas Tech survived the late scare from the Fighting Irish and pulled away due to defensive stops and free throws, but Notre Dame may have given Mike Krzyzewski a blueprint for success vs. the Red Raiders.

Duke’s individual defense has really struggled this season — especially lately — but maybe the Blue Devils can go to that zone look to force the Red Raiders to change their offensive approach.

The Red Raiders are one-point favorites and their defense is the best in the country, but Duke might be able to get enough stops to get past Texas Tech.

And that zone could be the way for the Blue Devils.


New Final Four Prediction: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Anthony Dabbundo: I picked Gonzaga at the start of the tournament to win the region, and I think it’s still going to advance to New Orleans. I was impressed by the second-half comeback against Memphis, and the Bulldogs do have the easiest path to the Final Four in this region.

Arkansas has the speed and athleticism to run with the Bulldogs, but it lacks the size and shooting to compete offensively for 40 minutes.

The Razorbacks can cause some problems with ball pressure, and can try to get Holmgren into foul trouble to make it a game. However, Gonzaga will prove too much for the Hogs and Eric Musselman.

The Bulldogs will then get the winner of Texas Tech and Duke. Texas Tech’s no-middle defense is the best defense in the country, but Gonzaga has more than enough shooting to exploit it.

And the Bulldogs run so much that Texas Tech’s transition defense — it’s only real occasional defensive weakness — can be exposed. Gonzaga also beat the Red Raiders in the regular season.

If the rematch with Duke occurs, the Blue Devils have some edges, but this isn’t November anymore. Holmgren has taken a huge step forward at both ends of the floor since then.

While Gonzaga has improved, I’m not sure Duke has, and if anything, the defense has fallen off for the Blue Devils.

It won’t be easy, but the Bulldogs will return to the Final Four.


South Region

Team Playing The Best: Villanova Wildcats

Tanner McGrath: You could put Houston here, but given the Cougars are my choice to go to the Final Four, let’s look at Villanova.

The Wildcats have done exactly what everyone thought they would do. They take care of the ball, shoot the lights out and play coherent defense. Jay Wright’s teams don’t dazzle anyone; they just play smart, coherent basketball.

As a result, the Wildcats cruised by Delaware and (mostly) cruised by Ohio State, covering both spreads and winning by double digits both times.

Collin Gillespie has been lights out, putting up a combined 34 points and eight assists in the two tournament games.

The Wildcats have played the best because through two games, they’ve been the most consistent. Look out, Michigan.


Biggest Surprise: Michigan Wolverines

Tanner McGrath: If you had Michigan in your Sweet 16, I need proof.

I thought David Roddy’s Rams would crush the Wolverines. I also didn’t think they had a chance against a reinvigorated Tennessee team led by Kennedy Chandler — even considering Rick Barnes’ pathetic tournament record.

But Michigan ramped up its defense, holding back-to-back opponents under 1.00 PPP for the first time since non-conference play.

Plus, Hunter Dickinson has been unstoppable, dropping a combined 48 points on 16-for-23 (69.5%) shooting in the two tournament games. That included three 3s in the game against the Vols.

It also took two second-half comebacks for Michigan to get here. After a pathetic collapse against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, did anyone expect the Wolverines to turn a complete 180?

It’ll be tough to take down Villanova, and Michigan has seen some great shooting luck through the last two games (Tennessee shot just 2-for-18 from 3).

But even so, Michigan has advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fifth straight season. This is still one of the bigger surprises of the tournament.


New Final Four Prediction: Houston Cougars

Tanner McGrath: Houston looks criminally underseeded.

Even without Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark, Kelvin Sampson has adjusted and dominated. After Houston’s embarrassment of Illinois, the Cougars are now second in KenPom.

The future looks bright. The Cougars get Arizona, which looked vulnerable in an overtime victory over TCU, in the Sweet 16. It’s nice to have Kerr Kriisa back, but he shot just 1-for-10 from 3 in that game. That won’t cut it against Sampson’s Cougars.

Houston is also one of the very few teams that has the size and athleticism to keep up with Arizona. And if the Cougars get past that game, they’ll have a major size advantage over Villanova or Michigan. They also have the ability to shoot with either team.

I’ll take Sampson to again make the Final Four against all odds.


East Region

Team Playing The Best: North Carolina Tar Heels

Anthony Dabbundo: It’s true that North Carolina nearly had one of the biggest collapses in the history of the NCAA Tournament against Baylor in the second round. But that was more a matter of the Tar Heels losing Brady Manek to ejection and Caleb Love to fouls, and not being able to handle Baylor’s ball pressure.

For the first 70 minutes of its NCAA Tournament, no team in the whole field was more dominant than Carolina. A 32-point demolition of Marquette — a game the Heels led by 28 at half — was followed by a beatdown of Baylor for 30 minutes.

Manek and R.J. Davis are playing their best basketball of the season, and the Tar Heels can always rely on Armando Bacot for production in the middle.

The Tar Heels can be maddeningly inconsistent, but four of their last five games have been near comprehensive wins. They won at Duke convincingly, crushed Virginia in the ACC Tournament, had a letdown vs. Virginia Tech and steamrolled Marquette and Baylor (for 30 minutes).

There’s two major questions for Carolina now. Can Davis continue to play this well offensively, and will the lacking depth be tested or exposed? The Heels are basically playing five or six guys, and that can be a problem against UCLA’s physicality and Purdue’s length.

Before the season, most saw Carolina as a top-20 team. It took the Heels a while to get there, but they’ve played to that level in the last two weeks. They’re engaged on the defensive end and are absolutely able to make it to New Orleans.


Biggest Surprise: Saint Peter’s Peacocks

Anthony Dabbundo: As impressive as Florida Gulf Coast and Oral Roberts were, Saint Peter’s taking out a college basketball blue blood and top-three national title favorite in Kentucky and reaching the Sweet 16 as a 15-seed is even more surprising than those past Cinderellas.

Saint Peter’s has an enrollment of less than 3,000 students and plays in a tiny gymnasium in the heart of Jersey City, New Jersey.

Shaheen Holloway has built an identity and culture around defense, yet it was the Peacocks’ offense going toe-to-toe with Kentucky for 40 minutes (plus overtime).

This team has struggled to score all year and lost to St. Francis (BKN), Stony Brook and Canisius. That makes it even more impressive that it reached the Sweet 16.

Doug Edert has become a tournament darling for his shot making, on-court personality and his mustache.

They led wire-to-wire against Murray State, and the Peacocks’ ability to make teams play in the half-court can give them a chance by limiting possessions.

Purdue is a terrible matchup, as the Peacocks don’t have enough size to match the Boilers inside, or the athleticism to guard Jaden Ivey. However, we said the same thing prior to the Kentucky game.

I’m not counting out Holloway, and all of the pressure will be on the Boilermakers on Friday in Philadelphia. The sample size is small, but the last two 15 seeds to make the Sweet 16 — FGCU and Oral Roberts — both lost but covered the spread.


New Final Four Prediction: Purdue Boilermakers

Anthony Dabbundo: Because I think UNC vs. UCLA is a true toss-up game, I’m taking the cop out pick and going with Purdue to make the Final Four.

The Boilermakers shouldn’t have any real problems getting past Saint Peter’s, even if Peter’s is able to cover the spread and make a game of it. Purdue’s defense has improved its ball-screen coverage in the tournament thus far, and it will have a size advantage on either UCLA or UNC if it meets either in the Elite Eight.

Purdue needs to get more from Sasha Stefanovic on the perimeter, but the Boilermakers’ ability to get to the free throw line at a very high rate makes them a tough out this weekend.

And when it comes down to the final possessions, Purdue has a guard who can create his own shot off the dribble and score on his own in Ivey. I’m not sure either UCLA or UNC have the individual defenders to cause him problems like Courtney Ramey and Texas did on Sunday.

The Boilermakers’ path makes them the most likely to advance, but their Elite Eight matchup will be very difficult either way. Also, the defense is still apt to get exposed at any moment.

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Midwest Region

Team Playing The Best: Providence Friars

Anthony Dabbundo: Everyone in the analytics community has discounted the Friars all season long because of their close game “luck.” But there’s been nothing flukey about Providence’s two NCAA Tournament wins.

The Friars did enough to keep the potent South Dakota State offense out of transition, and Jared Bynum made three clutch free throws to ice the game. The Jackrabbits’ offense missed some open looks, but also couldn’t match the Friars’ physicality on defense and on the glass.

Richmond was a pretty favorable matchup for Providence, too. The Spiders missed everything from the perimeter and the foul line, but that game was never competitive at all.

With Kansas looking shaky at times against Creighton, and Miami (FL) needing a last-second call to go its way to beat USC, no one has impressed more than the Friars in the opening two rounds.

They’ve managed to get by despite not getting much inside from Nate Watson. That’s partially because the Friars are one of the most balanced teams left in the field. They don’t have NBA-level talent, but they won the Big East and have a decent matchup to give Kansas a game on Friday in Chicago.

This old group of veterans and seasoned college players have used the “luck” narrative as a talking point for themselves all season. With one upset on Friday, they would be the favorite to make the Final Four. Even KenPom has the Friars up to 33rd in his ratings — the highest they’ve been all year.


Biggest Surprise: Iowa State Cyclones

Anthony Dabbundo: The Cyclones now have as many NCAA Tournament wins in the last week as they had overall wins in the entire 2020-21 season.

The program was in shambles after a 2-22 finish to the season last year. T.J. Otzelberger took over this year, established an identity of physical defending and athleticism and brought in some talented transfers.

The result has been two consecutive wins against LSU and Wisconsin in the first weekend of the Big Dance. The Cyclones have been a bit fortunate — LSU had just fired Will Wade and Wisconsin lost point guard Chucky Hepburn to an injury in the first half.

Iowa State plays physical half-court defense, applies a ton of ball pressure and relies on turnovers to take opponents out of their rhythm. Given LSU’s half-court struggles all season and Wisconsin’s slow-paced offense falling apart after Hepburn was injured, the Cyclones really had a dream path to the Sweet 16.

Given that Miami (FL) has three experienced and excellent ball handlers who can attack downhill, the Hurricanes could prove to be a much more difficult test for ISU in the Sweet 16 on Friday. But Iowa State is tough, won’t go down without a fight and does have some advantages on the glass.

Win or lose, just getting to the Sweet 16 has been quite the surprise for Otzelberger in year one in Ames, especially after they were unanimously picked last in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll.


New Final Four Prediction: Kansas Jayhawks

Anthony Dabbundo: Before the NCAA Tournament began on Thursday, I wrote that Kansas had the easiest path of the four No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four. That’s largely played out, as the Jayhawks faced a 16 seed and then an injured Creighton in the second round.

Following the upsets of Auburn and Wisconsin, Kansas now has huge talent advantages on the remaining teams in the Midwest. Regardless of the opponents, the Jayhawks will be favored by at least seven points in both their Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games.

Kansas has also played considerably better in the last five games since Remy Martin has been healthy. It won the Big 12 Tournament comfortably, and the transition offense has the ability to absolutely fry Providence on Friday.

The Friars do have some areas they match up decently well with KU, but the Jayhawks are more talented across the board and Martin raises their ceiling.

The Jayhawks have the easiest path to the Final Four of any team remaining.

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