Last season’s NCAA Tournament finally played out in familiar fashion.
Upset early – hi, Oral Roberts! – before the powers that be finally take over.
By the time the championship game unfolded, undefeated Gonzaga and twice-beaten Baylor — two No. 1 seeds — were playing for the title. So the lesson is simple: sure, have fun picking those weekend one upsets, but at the end of the day, don’t be surprised if the champion is a team that has looked like a contender all season.
Who is it this year? Let’s take a look at some of the most popular analytics websites for answers.
Ken Pomeroy’s site places the following teams in the top 10: Gonzaga, Arizona, Kentucky, Houston, Baylor, Kansas, Tennessee, UCLA, Texas Tech and Auburn. A similar site run by Bart Torvik has the same teams in the top 10, except Duke replaces Auburn.
ShotQuality.com sees things a little differently, placing Purdue, Illinois and Villanova in the top 10, with Auburn, Duke, UCLA and Tennessee a little lower.
Here’s one way to do it with 2022 support:
(This post will self-destruct around 4 p.m. Sunday, if not sooner.)
First four: Notre Dame on Rutgers.
First round winners: Gonzaga, Memphis, Connecticut, Arkansas, Alabama, Texas Tech, Davidson, Duke.
Davidson’s stellar 3-point shot ruins all talk of another matchup between Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski in the second round.
Second-round winners: Gonzaga, Connecticut, Texas Tech, Duke.
An Alabama-Texas Tech matchup could go very badly for the Crimson Tide. Alabama relies heavily on 3-point shooting but isn’t shooting it as well as it did last season — and Texas Tech’s defense doesn’t allow for much else.
Regional semi-final winners: Gonzaga, Duke.
UConn’s ability to defend and rebound might make Gonzaga sweat a little, but ultimately it’s hard to see the Huskies playing well enough offensively for 40 minutes to cause an upset. With several days to prepare, Krzyzewski earns his final NCAA Tournament victory against a dangerous Texas Tech team.
Regional Champion: Gonzaga.
When the Zags fell to Duke in November, they turned the ball over 17 times and lost by just three. Clean that up — against a Duke defense that hasn’t looked great lately — and they’re Final Four tied.
First four: Indiana vs. Wyoming.
First-round winners: Baylor, North Carolina, Indiana, UCLA, Texas, Purdue, San Francisco, Kentucky.
Indiana is ranked 28th in the nation on ShotQuality.com. Not bad for a No. 12 seed, and if the Hoosiers get past Wyoming, they’ll next face Saint Mary’s (No. 76).
Second-round winners: Baylor, UCLA, Purdue, Kentucky.
Texas-Purdue would be a second-round game between two teams ranked one spot apart by Pomeroy. The Chris Beard Longhorns will want to make this game a chore, but stopping the Boilermakers is no easy task.
Regional semi-final winners: UCLA, Purdue.
Baylor-UCLA was almost the title game last year, and when that finally happens, the Bruins shut down the Bears’ bid for a new championship.
Regional Champion: Purdue.
Matt Painter’s side lost a classic Elite Eight game to Virginia in 2019. The Boilermakers are taking the next step this year with Jaden Ivey up front.
First four: Wright State over Bryant.
First round winners: Arizona, Seton Hall, Houston, Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio State, Villanova.
Do you remember all the heartbreak the Big Ten went through a year ago? Stuff like that can even out from season to season. Keep an eye on this region to see if the league can redeem itself.
Second-round winners: Arizona, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State.
Advanced stat sites love Houston, but the battle-proven Illini will be ready. Michigan underperformed after entering the season with high expectations, but sometimes a team like this gets it just in time. Still a lot of talent there if Hunter Dickinson takes the plunge.
Regional semi-final winners: Arizona, Michigan.
An Arizona-Illinois game would be a rematch of their Elite Eight encounter in 2005, when the Illini surprised the Wildcats with a late rally. Arizona won’t let this one get away.
Regional Champion: Arizona.
Coach Tommy Lloyd had a very first season in Arizona, and now he’s taking the Wildcats to the Final Four after they went unseeded at the start of the season.
Top four: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Texas Southern.
First round winners: Kansas, Creighton, Iowa, South Dakota State, Iowa State, Wisconsin, USC, Auburn.
Providence will be a popular choice as an upset victim. The Brothers are ranked only 49th by Pomeroy after winning three games in overtime and several other close games in Big East play. Iowa State-LSU could be a messy affair. Both of these teams force (and commit) a lot of turnovers.
Second-round winners: Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Auburn.
Iowa and Wisconsin are doing their part to restore Big Ten honor with second-round wins over double-digit seeds.
Regional semi-final winners: Kansas, Auburn.
Iowa is coming off an impressive run in the Big Ten tournament, but its defensive issues likely mean a Sweet 16 outing if the Hawkeyes go that far.
Regional Champion: Auburn.
Another Final Four for Bruce Pearl at Auburn after the Tigers got there in 2019.
THE FINAL FOUR
Semi-final winners: Gonzaga, Arizona.
While it’s not uncommon for at least one semi-final to hold an upset, these two No. 1 seeds qualify for what is in many ways a dream final. Lloyd, Gonzaga’s former assistant coach against the Zags. Mark Few in his second consecutive title match and third in six years.
Five years ago, North Carolina won this tournament after losing at the buzzer in the title game the previous season. In 2019, Virginia won the title – a year after being knocked out by a No. 16 seed.
Add another impressive comeback story to the list: Last year, the undefeated Zags fell flat in the championship game. This season, they finally broke through and won it all.
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister
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