Take a moment and wave goodbye to the teams that thought they had enough to win the 2022 NCAA Tournament – and, when Championship Monday rolls around and they all see what does win it, will be totally convinced they were right.
The most scrambled college basketball season since 2014, and thus the most scrambled NCAA Tournament, produced a Sweet 16 without Baylor, Kentucky, Auburn, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Illinois. Does the elimination of that many high-level teams mean the Sweet 16 will be a dud?
Are you kidding? Did you see the sort of second-round classics we enjoyed? Gonzaga over Memphis, Duke over Michigan State, Arizona over TCU in overtime. These were exactly what everyone hopes for from the NCAA Tournament, what everyone honestly expects by now.
The four regionals should be magnificent. And this is how the teams still alive rate, 1-16, in their ability to win the championship, a ranking that takes into account talent, performance and draw:
No. 1 Arizona
As Arizona sparred with feisty TCU through the middle of the second half, there were more than a few possessions that passed without All-American Bennedict Mathurin seeming to be involved at all. Then, when he was needed most, he was astounding.
Having a player like him who can do the things only he can is how you win NCAA championships. The Wildcats found TCU a challenge to defend, which is a bit disconcerting, but they took out the most gifted remaining point guard out of the tournament, so their own struggles at the point, with Kerr Kriisa not elite to begin with and maybe lacking some burst because of a recent injury, might be less impactful.
No team has it all this season, but the Wildcats are closest.
No. 2 Gonzaga
I think the key for future NCAA Tournament opponents of the Zags is clear: Don’t make Drew Timme angry. His second-half performance against Memphis will become legendary if leads to something greater, like still another Final Four or, at last, an NCAA championship.
BENDER: Soft? Drew Timme, Gonzaga anything but vs. Memphis
If Gonzaga wants to win the next four, however, they will need to resume getting regular excellence from freshman Chet Holmgren, and not just the occasional, stupefying shot-block. He has to again make deep shots and create offense for his teammates.
The contributions from various reserves in the second-round win over Memphis were huge, but the Zags need their stars to be stars.
No. 3 Duke
They’re still the most talented team in the tournament, and they’ve shown they can succeed Florida FSU vs. Miami Rivalry Jerseys Southern Moccasins shirt under the pressure that’s in the awareness that the next loss will end coach Mike Krzyzewski’s career. But there still are stretches when the offense stagnates. With the number of weapons the Blue Devils feature, they could be more consistently productive.
What may be the last significant lineup decision of Coach K’s career – Dayton Flyers Jerseys moving Jeremy Roach back into the lineup at point guard – paid off with 15 huge points in the second-round victor College Lacrosse Shirts y over Michigan State.
DECOURCY: Duke survives Michigan State thanks to Roach
No. 4 Kansas
Is it disconcerting that All-American Ochai Agbaji and standout forward Jalen Wilson combined to go 10-of-28 against a Creighton team missing the centerpoint of its defense? Um, hell yeah. But how many teams can pull a Remy Martin off their bench to manufacture 20 points and get them through?
And remember, every game is its own new adventure in the NCAAs. So KU will get a chance to get those guys going again, and they had to feel spectacular about the 3-pointer Christian Braun landed with 4:46 to play. He’s had a tendency to trust others more than himself in some crucial situations, but that time he read the room: Those guys weren’t playing well. He was playing fine. He’s a great talent. The more he understands that, the better KU will be.
No. 5 Purdue
When the Boilers were done holding Texas to 39.7 percent shooting and 71 points in their second-round game Sunday, College Cold Weather Jerseys their rating in defensive efficiency at KenPom.com had risen all the way to … 86. Considering it was in the 100s not long ago, that’s progress, but there still seems to be a significant obstacle between the Boilers and the national championship.
They have one very good reason it could happen (high-flying, sweet-shooting All-American wing Jaden Ivey) and the ticket to a nightmare matchup for most everyone still competing in the tournament (the center tandem of 7-4 Zach Edey and 6-10 Trevion Williams).
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No. 6 North Carolina
It’s hard to be certain exactly what the Tar Heels are as a basketball team, but we know what they can be. They can be the team that tore apart Duke in the final 10 minutes of their early March game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. They can be the team that manhandled No. 1 seed Baylor in the first 30 minutes of their second round game in Fort Worth.
That’s not good news for anyone in the East Region. The Heels obviously can be dissuaded from reaching that level, or Virginia Tech might not even have found its way into this tournament, and Carolina would not have been a No. 9 seed. But any team that guards this team has to keep R.J. Davis out of the lane without simultaneously clearing him to shoot comfortably from distance, and it can’t leave Brady Manek alone and allow him to gain game-changing confidence.
DECOURCY: Baylor's rema Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds shirt rkable rally not enough vs. UNC
No. 7 UCLA
Optimism about the Bruins’ advancement from here will be constrained by questions about Jaime Jaquez’ availability after he left the second-round win against Saint Mary’s. And if he can go, it may be constrained by how effective he can be. The Bruins will be the much smaller team against North Carolina. They effectively do not use a power forward, but three wings, a center and a point guard. So they’ll need to be effective on the boards, to contain penetration and to control the pace of the game.
And that’s just the first step.
No. 8 Villanova
This is the thing about this program, now. If you are going to take out the Wildcats, and someone almost inevitably will, it will need to be that team’s own considerable work. Villanova is not helping you. They will not make an abundance of defensive errors. They will not turn over the ball. They will not miss free throws. They will not take bad shots.
There are six Wildcats averaging 8.9 points or more, and they do not care which of them takes any particular shot, so long as it is a high-quality attempt developed by their precise offensive action. That’s why three of them hit better than 40 percent from long range and five of them shoot better than 44 percent from the floor. It’s not a perfect team – not enough size, not so much dynamism – but it’s a team that approaches playing perfectly.
No. 9 Texas Tech
Can you imagine what fun it will be for Coach K and staff having to watch the Raiders dismantle opponent after opponent with the nation’s best defense? Then why is Tech not higher in the rankings? Because championships in college basketball are won on offense first, defense second, and the fact the Raiders only could score 59 points on Notre Dame’s leaky D is more evidence they just don’t have enough juice to take it all the way to the house.
No. 10 Houston
The Cougars are the toughest team left in this tournament. They’ve endured injuries to two of their top five scorers, neither of whom has played in nearly three months, and still punished Illinois with a relentless gameplan and with guard Jamal Shead’s clever attacks on the lane.
It doesn’t matter who it is, it is going to be somebody. Against the Illini, guard Taze Moore scored 21, and without the benefit of a 3-point shot. He hadn’t had a 20-point game all season. In the NCAA opener against UAB, it was guard Kyler Edwards who scored 25, nearly twice his average.
No. 11 Miami
The Hurricanes sent home two very good basketball teams from Greenville, USC by the narrowest of margins and Auburn in a festival of absolute dominance at both ends. The Canes can score in so many ways, are extremely dynamic across the perimeter and have a 6-10 center in Sam Waardenburg who is going to handle whatever army of bigs you send his way.
DECOURCY: SEC endures brutal opening weekend
No. 12 Michigan
This team is having the oddest season in recent college basketball history. It’s not that they started slowly and then wound up in the Sweet 16. That happens a lot. It’s that the Wolverines started slowly, began to achieve but never really accelerated, wound up with th Kentucky vs. Louisville Rivalry Jerseys eir coach susp Cent. Michigan Chippewas shirt ended for five games, had a massive opportunity to make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid with four consecutive home games, only won two, rescued their candidacy with a road win at rival Ohio State on the final day of the regular season, then asserted themselves powerfully upon Juwan Howard’s return to the bench in the first half of their opening Big Ten Tournament game, then blew a 17-point second-half lead in the final dozen minutes. And now they’re here?
Their performance in eliminating Tennessee was extraordinary. They got ahead with great execution. They fought back with more. With Hunter Dickinson playing this well at center, they’re still dangerous.
BENDER: Michigan leaves Howard suspension in rearview mirror
No. 13 Providence
The Friars knew they were doubted entering this tournament, and they played like a team with something to prove. That certainly will not go away now that the challenges are about to be truly significant.
They’ve not faced a team an Abagi-level talent. But they have seen fellow Big East member Creighton challenge the Jayhawks without their regular starting point guard and their high-end center and push the game to the final minutes. For the Friars to advance, they’ll need every man in their eight-man rotation to perform at the peak of his game.
No. 14 Arkansas
The Razorbacks showed how close to the edge they live because of their limited number of offensive contributors. It’s JD Notae, Jaylin Williams, Stanley Umude – and preferably all three at once – or shut out the other guys.
It hurts the Razorbacks’ ranking that their next game is against one of the best in the field, Gonzaga. They can beat anybody, but the stress of trying to push that offense to its limits four more times is going to get them. If not now, then eventually.
No. 15 Iowa State
Sometimes the draw opens up for you, which was pretty much impossible when the Cyclones were playing in the Big 12. Everyone was a problem then. But an LSU squad without its coach? A Wisconsin team that only has its point guard for 14 minutes – and doesn’t really have much of a bench to cover for Brown Bears Jerseys his injury? But you have to take advantage of such circumstances, and Iowa State got 22 points from Gabe Kalscheur to advance to the program’s first Sweet 16 since 2016.
Who knows what can happen there?
16. Saint Peter’s
We’ve seen it asserted that Saint Peter’s arrival in the Sweet 16 is the biggest of all March upsets, that somehow it is grander than Florida Gulf Coast’s Dunk City in 2013 or Oral Roberts triumphing over Ohio State and Florida a year ago or even a bigger deal than No. 16 seed UMBC defeating No. 1 overall Virginia in 2018.
To that, I simply say: Paw-Peacock.
It’s a humongous deal, don’t get me wrong. The Saint Peter’s campus is about to enjoy a week unlike any in its history. But the Peacocks were No. 118 in KenPom with a 19-11 record on Selection Sunday. Oral Roberts was 152 last season and was the fourth-place team in the Summit League. And FGCU and UMBC broke barriers, Dunk City as the first 15 ever to reach the Sweet 16, UMBC as the first 16 seed to win a game after 33 years of automatic exits for teams in that position on the bracket.
If the Peacocks want to be the first Michigan vs. Ohio State Rivalry Gear of their kind, they need to find their way to the Elite Eight.