The 2022 NCAA tournament bracket is set. As is always the case in the immediate aftermath of the selection show, there are areas where it appears the selection committee did its job to perfection, and others where it appears the group fell short.
Let’s look at the five biggest takeaways from this year’s March Madness draw:
1. The East seems like the toughest region
There’s not a clear-cut, can’t argue otherwise winner to the annual “which region is the toughest” question, so kudos to the Committee on that front.
If pressed, I’ll go with the East, which is the last region we were shown.
Sure, the East has, on paper, the weakest No. 1 seed in Baylor, but that’s also a Bears team that is just a year removed from one of the more dominant runs to a national title that we’ve ever seen. You’ve also got the, without question, strongest No. 2 seed in Kentucky, a third-seeded Purdue team that for most of the season appeared destined to be on one of the top two lines, and a 4-seed in UCLA that started the season ranked in the top five and went to the Final Four a year ago.
Below the top four lines there’s also a Texas team with way more talent than your typical No. 6 seed. There’s North Carolina on the 8-line, a team that two Saturdays showed the world what they’re capable of when they’re playing their best. There’s red-hot Virginia Tech as an 11-seed, a team that began the season with high expectations and has just found its stride in the last few weeks. There’s Saint Mary’s, a team which beat No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga by double-digits in the regular season finale for both teams. And then there’s Murray State on the 7-line, the team with the best overall record in all of college basketball at 30-2.
If Baylor is going to become the sport’s first repeat national champion since Florida in 2006/2007, it’s going to be supremely tested before it even makes it to New Orleans.
2. Duke didn’t deserve a 2-seed
Entering Sunday, pretty much nobody had Duke as a No. 2 seed, and that would have likely been the case even if the Blue Devils hadn’t gotten run off the court by Virginia Tech in Saturday night’s ACC tournament championship game. Yet, there they were, popping up as the very first No. 2 seed the public got to see as the West Region was revealed during the selection show’s opening segment.
A handful of teams seemed to have legitimate cases for taking the Blue Devils’ spot on the 2-line, but none more so than recently crowned SEC tournament champion Tennessee.
NET – 13
KenPom – 12
SOS – 67
Q1 Wins – 6
Q2-4 Losses – 4
NET – 8
KenPom – 7
SOS – 4
Q1 Wins – 11
Q2-4 Losses – 0
This is a travesty by the selection committee.#SelectionSunday
— kcekjm (@kcekjm) March 13, 2022
The Volunteers, instead, are the No. 3 in the South Region.
Once again, the Committee tells us without explicitly telling us that conference tournament championship games on Sunday do not matter, unless they put a team into the field that wouldn’t have otherwise made it.
Cue up every single conspiracy you’ve got about the powers that be wanting to see Duke dance as long as possible in Mike Krzyzewski’s final season.
3. Kansas has the easiest path of the 1-seeds
Kansas has flown a bit below the radar this season in terms of the teams we talk about as the most likely to cut down the nets. Everyone knows the Jayhawks are one of the best teams in the country, but no one has been referring to them as the elite of the elite.
Still, KU has been rewarded with a Midwest Region that does not appear to be nearly as difficult as its three counterparts. Kansas’ top three competitors in the region — Auburn, Wisconsin and Providence — are all teams that have shown major warts in the last couple of weeks and which aren’t exactly adored by the predictive metrics.
If there is a team that becomes a trendy upset pick for Kansas in the region, it’s probably going to be Iowa. The Hawkeyes are fresh off their first Big Ten tournament championship since 2006, and seem to be more well-rounded than the 2020-21 squad that earned a No. 2 seed but was hammered by Oregon in the tournament’s second round.
4. The First Four is … kinda loaded
While the general sports world typically refers to the NCAA tournament’s open Thursday as “the first day of the tournament,” there are actually two opening round games on the evenings of both Tuesday and Wednesday.
Here’s the first reason why you shouldn’t overlook these games: A team coming out of Dayton has won at least one game in the tournament’s “main draw” in every year but one since the First Four became a thing in 2011. The only time it hasn’t happened was in 2019. Overall, the First Four has produced a total of 19 victories in the “main draw” of the tournament, five Sweet 16 squads, and two Final Four teams, the most recent being UCLA last season.
Here’s the second reason: There are some very fun teams and intriguing storylines heading to Dayton.
Most bracketologists, both amateur and fully licensed, had Indiana safely in the field of 68 after their Big Ten tournament wins over Michigan and Illinois. Instead, the Hoosiers were the next-to-last team in the field and will play an opening round game against Wyoming, one of the biggest surprise stories in college basketball this season.
In the other at-large First Four game, a Rutgers team that had six Quadrant 1 victories (the same number as Duke for those keeping score at home) and a propensity for late-game heroics will take on a Notre Dame that finished in second-place in the ACC. It would be a surprise for that game to be anything other than supremely competitive.
And what about the 16-seeds headed to Dayton? Oh, you’ve just got the nation’s leading scorer in Peter Kiss from Bryant taking on a Wright State team that seems to have a solid case to be a 15-seed or better. And then you’ve got Texas Southern vs. Texas A&M Corpus Christi, two programs that just straight up do not like one another. I’ve got absolute no idea if that’s true, but they’re both from Texas, so let’s roll with it.
5. Everyone is going to like South Dakota State over Providence
Every year there’s a double-digit upset pick is so widely predicted that it almost feels too good to be true. In most years, that pick is a 12 taking down a 5, but this year look for a 13/4 upset to be everywhere you turn for the next few days.
Providence (25-5) has lived a bit of a charmed life this season. The predictive metrics hate the Friars because they never lose a close contest and seem almost incapable of playing any other kind of game. Getting smacked by Creighton (85-58) in the Big East tournament semifinals didn’t help matters either.
On the other side there’s South Dakota State, a team almost everyone assumed would be a 12-seed. The Jackrabbits (Jackrabbits!) are the best three-point shooting team in America, they have the longest winning streak in Division-I at 21 games, and they haven’t lost a game since all the way back on Dec. 15.
Just because everyone else has it, doesn’t mean you should stay away from it. At least one 13 seed has won a game in the tournament in 10 of the last 13 years.