NCAA Tournament 2022: who will win it all? Bracket analysis and selections

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The questions going into every NCAA men’s basketball tournament speak to us about a moment in time.

Last year, these issues centered on coronavirus restrictions and player protests over gender equity and the right of players to earn money for fame.

Gonzaga attempted to become the first team since Indiana in 1976 to go through an undefeated season – until they lost to a worthy champion, Baylor, in the title game. There were plenty of upsets, with 12th-seeded Oregon State nearly making it to the Final Four, and indelible moments, like the point guard lifting nearly half the field. Gonzaga Jalen Suggs who broke UCLA’s heart in the semifinals.

As the tournament begins on Tuesday with the first of four qualifying matches, last season, and even the start of this one, seems so far away. Coronavirus protocols have been relaxed, as have concerns over players or teams missing games due to testing positive.

And the questions again speak to us of a moment in time.

Who are the favorites to reach New Orleans, the site of this year’s Final Four? Who are the sleepers? Who will beat Duke?

The questions now, for the first time in more than two years, are more about basketball.

Upset Special: No. 11 seeded Rutgers over No. 6 Alabama. The Crimson Tide aren’t nearly the same defense this season and neither are their 3-point shots. If Rutgers beats Notre Dame in a play-in game and then contains Alabama’s speedy Jahvon Quinerly, he can move on.

Keep an eye on: Teddy Allen, at his fifth school in five seasons, gives New Mexico State a chance to defeat Connecticut.

Best Pro Lead: Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren is not only the best player on the best team, but the 7-foot-1 rookie is likely to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

Best Story: Hyunjung Lee, a South Korean forward for Davidson, gets NBA looks and draws comparisons to Stephen Curry for his 3-point shot. But if the Wildcats make a deep tournament run, like Curry did in 2008 when they were also the 10th seed, you’ll find Lee’s rock star status among the Koreans.

Familiar face, new place: Kevin Obanor, who helped carry Oral Roberts on a stunning run to the Round of 16, has fitted right in at Texas Tech.

Full Support Choice: Gonzaga on Georgia State, Boise State on Memphis, Connecticut on New Mexico State, Arkansas on Vermont, Rutgers/Notre Dame on Alabama, Texas Tech on Montana State, Davidson on Michigan State, Duke on Cal State Fullerton. Second round: Gonzaga on Boise State, Connecticut on Arkansas, Texas Tech on Rutgers, Davidson on Duke. Regional Semi-Finals: Gonzaga vs. Connecticut; Texas Tech on Davidson. Regional Final: Texas Tech vs. Gonzaga.

Upset Special: No. 10 seeded Loyola-Chicago over No. 7 Ohio State. The Buckeyes have lost four of their last five – just one to an NCAA Tournament team. The Ramblers hunt good shots on offense, have a battle-proven leader in Lucas Williamson and it’s hard to go against everyone’s favorite geriatric nun, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.

Keep an eye on: Alabama-Birmingham guard Jordan Walker, nicknamed Jelly, had 26, 40 and 27 points in three wins in the Conference USA tournament. He will face a tough test against a tough Houston defense.

Best Pro Lead: Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin, a sophomore with a silky shot and elite athleticism, has a game built for the NBA

Best Story: Colorado State guard David Roddy was a 270-pound all-state high school quarterback who was drafted by Iowa — to play on the defensive line. He was the Minnesota State champion in discus. Now, sticking to a sport, he’s hitting in 45% of his 3-pointers and 65% of his 2s. He’s passing and rebounding too. Mountain West’s Player of the Year is a nightmare game for everyone, starting with Michigan.

Familiar face, new place: Silvio De Sousa found nothing but trouble in Kansas. He was suspended by the NCAA for one season after the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption revealed his guardian had received improper payments from an Adidas representative. He was also suspended two other times – once for a fight against Kansas State and another time for a bar fight. De Sousa is now in Chattanooga, where he had 17 points and 14 rebounds in the Southern Conference title game.

Full Support Choice: Arizona on Wright State/Bryant, Texas Christian on Seton Hall, Alabama-Birmingham on Houston, Illinois on Chattanooga, Colorado State on Michigan, Tennessee on Longwood, Loyola-Chicago on Ohio State, Villanova on Delaware. Second Round: Arizona vs. Texas Christian, Illinois vs. Alabama-Birmingham, Tennessee vs. Colorado State, Villanova vs. Loyola-Chicago. Regional Semi-Finals: Arizona vs. Illinois, Villanova vs. Tennessee. Regional Final: Villanova on Arizona.

Upset Special: This bracket is full of upset candidates (see below), but the one screaming is the No. 11 Iowa State seed over No. 6 Louisiana State, who suddenly finds himself without coach Will Wade and his assistant Bill Armstrong, who were fired on Saturday.

Keep an eye on: Creighton 7-1 center Ryan Kalkbrenner was the backup for Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren in the USA Under-19 squad and is starting to play like him. As a sophomore, he averaged 17 points, 9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks over the last 11 games. He makes a difference on defense and frees up the Bluejays shooters by being a threat on the inside.

Best Pro Lead: Auburn 6-10 freshman leading scorer Jabari Smith.

Best Story: Grant Golden, a sixth-year senior passing through Richmond, earned an extra year of eligibility after collapsing on the pitch as a rookie with what was diagnosed as an irregular heartbeat. He underwent a heart ablation procedure and returned the following season.

Familiar face, new place: Walker Kessler, Auburn’s 7-1 center, was stuck on the North Carolina bench last year. But he — along with fellow transfers KD Johnson (from Georgia), Wendell Green Jr. (from Eastern Kentucky) and Zep Jasper (from College of Charleston) — could return Auburn to the Final Four for the second time in four seasons.

Full Support Choice: Kansas on Texas Southern/Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Creighton on San Diego State, Richmond on Iowa, South Dakota State on Providence, Iowa State on Louisiana State, Wisconsin on Colgate, USC on Miami, Auburn on Jackson State. Second Round: Creighton vs. Kansas, Richmond vs. South Dakota State, Wisconsin vs. Iowa State, USC vs. Auburn. Regional Semi-Finals: Creighton vs. Richmond, Wisconsin vs. USC Regional Final: Wisconsin vs. Creighton.

Upset Special: The No. 11 Virginia Tech seed over the No. 6 Texas. Texas will slow play, but that suits the Hokies just fine, giving Storm Murphy time to probe the defense.

Keep an eye on: When Kellan Grady, the Kentucky sniper who previously played for Davidson, made seven 3-pointers in a rout in Alabama last month, he was shooting 45% from beyond the arc for the season. He’s just 5 of 22 on 3-pointers since, including 0 of 5 in an SEC Tournament semifinal loss to Tennessee. The Wildcats’ Final Four hopes hinge on Grady’s return to form.

Best Pro Lead: Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, the son of Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Niele Ivey.

Best Story: Akron forward Enrique Freeman showed up on campus four years ago on a scholarship with no intention of playing basketball. He showed up for an open tryout the following year, and coach John Groce thought he would be a good scout team player. Then he gained 25 pounds and became the Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year this season. He had 23 points and 8 rebounds in a win over Kent State and was named MAC Tournament Most Valuable Player.

Familiar face, new place: Brady Manek, who played four years in Oklahoma – just like his brother and parents – thrived in North Carolina, stretching the ground for Armando Bacot as the Tar Heels played much better over time.

Full Support Choice: Baylor on Norfolk State, North Carolina on Marquette, St. Mary’s on Wyoming/Indiana, UCLA on Akron, Virginia Tech on Texas, Purdue on Yale, Murray State on San Francisco, Kentucky on St. Peter’s. Second Round: Baylor vs. North Carolina, UCLA vs. St. Mary’s, Purdue vs. Virginia Tech, Kentucky vs. Murray State. Regional Semi-Finals: UCLA vs. Baylor, Kentucky vs. Purdue. Regional Final: UCLA vs. Kentucky.

Final Four: UCLA over Texas Tech, Villanova over Wisconsin.

National Championship: Villanova 68, UCLA 62.

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