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.
Here’s a look at the Midwest Region, which should be a coronation for Kansas.
2022 NCAA Tournament - Midwest Region Preview
The favorite: Kansas
The Jayhawks routinely enter the NCAA Tournament with high expectations, and they routinely wilt under them. Bill Self’s teams just seem to thrive away from the spotlight in March. When they should make a deep run, they tend to find themselves clawing to get past a Northern Iowa or a Stanford.
Once again, KU has secured a No. 1 seed and favorable geography, with the Midwest Region going through Chicago next week. The team has surrounded superstar forward Ochai Agbaji with ample complementary pieces. The draw even broke well the Jayhawks.
If you’re picking Kansas to go far, consider yourself warned.
Best matchup: No. 13 South Dakota State vs. No. 4 Providence
On one side of this matchup, you have possibly the luckiest team in the country. Providence won way more than its fair share of close games this season en route to a surprising Big East crown in the regular season. How much longer can the Friars’ luck hold up?
On the other side, you have a team that plays some of the most efficient offense in the nation. The Jackrabbits rank 12th overall in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com. They’ve ridden that scoring punch to 21 consecutive wins.
If this game doesn’t end on a buzzer beater, consider it a serious letdown.
The Cyclones aren’t a particularly good team, so that has nothing to do with why LSU seems to be in trouble here. Instead, the issue is that LSU’s coach got sacked on the eve of the tournament. That usually doesn’t bring out the best in teams.
The two teams play bruising defense, so expect a low-scoring slugfest. In the end, the distractions may prove too much for the Bayou Bengals to overcome in the opening round.
Mystery wrapped inside an enigma: Auburn
While Snitchin’ Bruce Pearl may leave a lot to be desired, his team can clearly play. The Tigers boast one of the best individual talents on this level in Jabari Smith. He is joined by mammoth center Walker Kessler patrolling the paint and fill-it-up guard Wendell Green on the perimeter. That’s enough firepower alone to think Auburn can contend for a national championship.
The last month tells a different story. The Tigers looked especially rough in a loss last week to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament. A furious comeback in the second half overshadowed Auburn’s sloppy first half that necessitated said comeback.
Auburn could cruise to the Final Four or catch an early plane ride home. Neither should surprise anyone.
Sweet 16: No. 8 San Diego State over No. 5 Iowa; No. 2 Auburn over No. 3 Wisconsin
Following a classic Bill Self game in the second round, the upstart Aztecs will advance to the second weekend. San Diego State’s grinding defense and pace will fluster the Hawkeyes, who love to play fast and pull from deep.
The second game features a lackluster pairing of teams that made it this far because, well, somebody had to. Wisconsin’s erosion in the final month of the season points to a potential blowout here by the Tigers, but see above.
Elite 8: San Diego State over Auburn
The rugged play in the Mountain West Conference prepares teams well for the tournament setting, and San Diego State may be the apotheosis of the league’s slogging style. The Aztecs’ methodical tempo suits this matchup with Auburn well. Their patience will be rewarded, and the nation will get to see Matt Bradley, San Diego State’s unsung star, in action.