The Oklahoma Sooners may have missed out on the 2022 NCAA Tournament, but that’s not going to stop us from breaking down the big dance in excruciatingly minute detail. We’re previewing every region before the games tip off in earnest on Thursday.
First up is the West Region, where overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga will set off on a quest to bring home the Bulldogs’ first national championship.
2022 NCAA Tournament - West Region Preview
The favorite: Gonzaga
Just like a year ago, the Zags come into March Madness as the prohibitive favorites to cut down the nets in New Orleans when all is said and done. Also like last season, Mark Few’s team has held the top spot in most rankings systems – be they opinion- or analytics-based – for the vast majority of the season.
The difference in 2022 is that this edition of Gonzaga doesn’t carry the same aura of invincibility as the 2021 squad. Part of that may be due to the manner in which Baylor dismantled the Bulldogs in the final game last year. Additionally, the Zags have suffered a handful of losses this year, including a resounding defeat at Saint Mary’s to close the regular season.
The fact that they’re not shooting for a spotless record may work in Gonzaga’s favor this year if it eases some pressure off the West Coast Conference champ. On the other hand, this squad lacks the stellar backcourt of a year ago, led by NBA lottery pick Jalen Suggs at point guard.
No other team in the country can match the one-two punch of forwards Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren, and their brilliance could get the Zags over the hump. This team is still a step down from what they had the last time they were dancing in March.
Best matchup: No. 9 Memphis vs. No. 8 Boise State
The oddsmakers view this as a virtual toss-up, installing the Tigers as 1.5-point favorites. Kenpom.com projects the Broncos as 68-67 winners.
Ultimately, this game looks like a typical clash of styles. Boise State plays a slowdown game keyed by its rugged defense, which ranks 17th nationally in adjusted efficiency. The Broncos also have four players in their usual rotation who stand 6-7 or taller, so they clean the glass.
Penny Hardaway’s Memphis team likes to push the pace and get transition baskets. The Tigers rebound the ball on the offensive end as well as any team in the country, but they may find they’ve met their match in BSU’s burly front line.
This game tips off in the early window in Portland on Thursday, so travel and logistics probably give the Broncos a slight edge.
Upset alert: No. 13 Vermont over No. 4 Arkansas
Another case of contrasting styles, with the Razorbacks running and gunning and the Catamounts stalling and crawling.
Vermont may take its time, but we’re talking about an efficient offense with one of the highest effective field goal percentages in the country at 57.3%. Defensively, they give up fewer rebounds to opponents than any other team in the country, so it seems unlikely that the Hogs will bully them for second-chance points in the paint.
Watch for the Catamounts to slow the pace down and work Arkansas’ defense for good looks. Also watch the stands for what is sure to be the most entertaining culture clash between fans in the first round.
Enough already: Coach K’s last dance
The television executives will certainly hope to milk Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final appearance in the NCAA tournament for all its worth. Unfortunately for them, the Blue Devils are – trying to put this politely – poorly coached. They don’t lack for talent or skill, but they can be had on the offensive boards. Coach K also doesn’t seem to be able to get much effort out of his players on defense. They instead rely on their athleticism to make up for a lack of diligence.
The conspiracy theories will run wild if Duke makes a deep run. This team is leaking enough oil to think that is unlikely, though. K can’t like the prospect of seeing Michigan State’s Tom Izzo or Bob McKillop of Davidson on the other bench in the second round.
While the Blue Devils will get tested by Davidson in round two, they will march on to San Francisco. The Red Raiders will most likely bludgeon them there.
With the Hogs getting knocked out in the first round, UConn will skate through the first two games before meeting the Gonzaga buzzsaw.
Elite 8: Gonzaga over Tech
The best offense in the country over the best defense, as the Red Raiders’ lack of outside shooting finally catches up to them.