Picking the bracket: Big Ten resurgence, but title goes West

Mar 13, 2022, 7:00 AM | Updated: 7:02 pm
Arizona players celebrate after defeating UCLA in an NCAA college basketball game in the championsh...

Arizona players celebrate after defeating UCLA in an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Pac-12 tournament Saturday, March 12, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Last season’s NCAA Tournament ultimately unfolded in familiar fashion.

Upsets early — hi, Oral Roberts! — before the powerhouses eventually took over.

By the time the championship game rolled around, undefeated Gonzaga and twice-beaten Baylor — two No. 1 seeds — were playing for the title. The lesson, then, is simple: By all means, have fun picking those first-weekend upsets, but in the end, don’t be surprised if the champion is a team that’s looked like a contender all season.

Who is that this year? Let’s take a look at some of the most popular analytical websites for some answers.

Ken Pomeroy’s site puts 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 it a bit differently, putting Purdue, Illinois and Villanova in the top 10, with Auburn, Duke, UCLA and Tennessee a bit lower.

Here’s one way to go with the 2022 bracket:

(This message will self destruct at approximately 4 p.m. Sunday, if not sooner.)

WEST REGION

First Four: Notre Dame over Rutgers.

First round winners: Gonzaga, Memphis, Connecticut, Arkansas, Alabama, Texas Tech, Davidson, Duke.

Davidson’s stellar 3-point shooting spoils all the talk of another matchup between Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski in round two.

Second round winners: Gonzaga, Connecticut, Texas Tech, Duke.

An Alabama-Texas Tech matchup could go really poorly for the Crimson Tide. Alabama relies quite a bit on the 3-point shot but doesn’t shoot it as well as last season — and the Texas Tech defense doesn’t allow much else.

Regional semifinal winners: Gonzaga, Duke.

UConn’s ability to defend and rebound could make Gonzaga sweat a bit, but ultimately it’s hard to see the Huskies playing well enough offensively for 40 minutes to pull the upset. With several days to prepare, Krzyzewski earns his final NCAA Tournament victory over a dangerous Texas Tech team.

Regional champion: Gonzaga.

When the Zags fell to Duke in November they turned the ball over 17 times and only lost by three. Clean that up — against a Duke defense that hasn’t looked great lately — and they’re Final Four bound.

EAST REGION

First Four: Indiana over Wyoming.

First round winners: Baylor, North Carolina, Indiana, UCLA, Texas, Purdue, San Francisco, Kentucky.

Indiana is ranked 28th in the country at ShotQuality.com. Not bad for a No. 12 seed, and if the Hoosiers get past Wyoming, they’d face Saint Mary’s (No. 76) next.

Second round winners: Baylor, UCLA, Purdue, Kentucky.

Texas-Purdue would be quite a second-round matchup between two teams ranked one spot apart by Pomeroy. Chris Beard’s Longhorns will want to make that game a grind, but shutting down the Boilermakers is no easy task.

Regional semifinal winners: UCLA, Purdue.

Baylor-UCLA was almost the title game last year, and when it finally happens, the Bruins halt the Bears’ bid for a repeat championship.

Regional champion: Purdue.

Matt Painter’s team lost a classic Elite Eight matchup against Virginia in 2019. The Boilermakers take the next step this year with Jaden Ivey leading the way.

SOUTH REGION

First Four: Wright State over Bryant.

First round winners: Arizona, Seton Hall, Houston, Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio State, Villanova.

Remember all the grief the Big Ten took 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.

The advanced stat sites love Houston, but the battle-tested Illini will be ready. Michigan has underachieved after coming into the season with high expectations, but sometimes a team like that figures it out just in time. Still plenty of talent there if Hunter Dickinson gets going.

Regional semifinal winners: Arizona, Michigan.

An Arizona-Illinois matchup would be a rematch of their Elite Eight meeting in 2005, when the Illini stunned the Wildcats with a late rally. Arizona won’t let this one slip away.

Regional champion: Arizona.

It’s been quite a debut season at Arizona for coach Tommy Lloyd, and now he takes the Wildcats to the Final Four after they were unranked at the start of the season.

MIDWEST REGION

First Four: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi over Texas Southern.

First round winners: Kansas, Creighton, Iowa, South Dakota State, Iowa State, Wisconsin, USC, Auburn.

Providence will be a popular pick as an upset victim. The Friars are ranked just 49th by Pomeroy after winning three overtime games and several other close ones in Big East play. Iowa State-LSU could be a helter-skelter affair. Both those teams force (and commit) a lot of turnovers.

Second round winners: Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Auburn.

Iowa and Wisconsin do their part to restore the Big Ten’s honor with second-round wins over double-digit seeds.

Regional semifinal winners: Kansas, Auburn.

Iowa is coming off an impressive run in the Big Ten Tournament, but its defensive issues likely mean a Sweet 16 exit if the Hawkeyes get that far.

Regional champion: Auburn.

Another Final Four for Bruce Pearl at Auburn after the Tigers made it there in 2019.

THE FINAL FOUR

Semifinal winners: Gonzaga, Arizona.

Although it’s not uncommon for at least one semifinal to serve up a surprise, these two No. 1 seeds advance to what is in many ways a dream final. Lloyd, the former Gonzaga assistant, coaching against the Zags. Mark Few in his second straight title game and third in six years.

Five years ago, North Carolina won this tournament after losing at the buzzer in the previous season’s title game. In 2019, Virginia took the title — a year after being eliminated 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 break through and win it all.

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Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister

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More AP college basketball: http://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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Picking the bracket: Big Ten resurgence, but title goes West