Keeping the Madness in March

Breaking down the remaining field heading into the Sweet 16

Whether you are an avid college basketball fan or just pick based on mascots, filling out a bracket has become a staple for many during March. The beauty of the challenge is that no matter how knowledgeable you are about college basketball, everyone is on an even playing field with March Madness.

By now, you have probably slipped up in at least one area of your bracket. I have myself, but now that the field has narrowed to 16 teams, I’ll take a look at things the rest of the way.

Baylor (26-6), the reigning NCAA Champions, stood in the East as the weakest of the four No. 1 seeds. In their games against nationally-ranked opponents this season, Baylor struggled defensively, which showed in their 93-86 loss to No. 8 UNC in the Round of 32.

So who could win the East? Look no further than the UCLA Bruins. Despite the Bruins standing as the No. 4 seed in what is arguably the toughest region, their roster is full of returning players who made it to the Final Four in last year’s tournament. Four players return who each average over 11 PPG, proving that the Bruins have a unique set of attackers who know how to score the basketball.

Defensively, the team has matured, only giving up an average of 64 PPG while also being ranked third in the NCAA for the least turnovers. This statistic is a testament to the experience of the Bruins, and experience is what wins big games in the tournament.

Looking to the West, No. 1 Gonzaga has been fantastic all year. Led by freshman star center Chet Holmgren, the Bulldogs won 19 of their last 20 regular-season games. The only loss was against Saint Mary’s, who weeks later, lost to the Bulldogs by 13 points.

While Gonzaga made it to last year’s national championship game against Baylor, Holmgren is considered to be the missing piece that could propel the Bulldogs to the promised land. His presence has been dominant both offensively and defensively, and he has been a perfect partner for standout junior Drew Timme.

Continuing out West, there is one team that has an incentive to win like no other: Duke. It truly looks like Coach Krzyzewski’s final year coaching, and the significance of the five-time national champion’s decision needs no further explanation. Duke lost two of their last four regular-season games (to UNC and VA Tech), but these losses may be what the Blue Devils needed as their wake-up call before tournament play.
While I think that Coach K will push his team to the Elite Eight, I ultimately believe that this is the end of the road for the Blue Devils, with Gonzaga moving to the Final Four.

Heading down to the South region, No. 1 Arizona is the most impressive team of the bunch. Arizona has coasted their way to this weekend’s Sweet 16, which will be played here at San Antonio’s AT&T Center. I incorrectly predicted that the Wildcats would be challenged by Tennessee. Keeping the madness in this year’s tournament, however, the Tennessee Volunteers were upset by the No. 11 Michigan Wolverines. Now, it seems like there is no way Arizona loses this region.

Finally, let’s move over to the Midwest. No. 5 Iowa was upset by No. 12 Richmond, and the path for No. 1 Kansas seems clearer after Auburn’s fall. With an even more experienced roster than UCLA, the Jayhawks’ team is full of veteran players.

In total, the group has 29 NCAA Tournament games under its belt, with 16 starts in that time. Eight different KU players have played in at least one NCAA Tournament game in the past, so March Madness is nothing new for this team. Because of this, they should easily win the region.

According to my predictions, we are now left with four teams – the Final Four – with No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 UCLA and No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 1 Kansas. At this stage of the tournament, the national championship game could include any of the four squads.

The question is: will experience be enough for the Bruins and the Jayhawks? While it is tough to predict, I believe that Gonzaga will battle to the very end with UCLA and make its second consecutive national championship appearance.

As for Arizona, Benedict Mathurin should elevate his Wildcats past the Jayhawks. The championship showdown will be between the two No. 1 seeds from the West and South.

Gonzaga and Arizona are the two most talented and complete teams in college basketball. Should these two teams meet in the national championship, expect the NBA-built Arizona to be crowned as the 2022 champions of March Madness.

With the likes of Benedict Mathurin, Christian Koloko, Azuolas Tubelis, Kerr Kriisa and Dalen Terry, the Wildcats are more talented than any team. While some may say that the Wildcats are shaky after an overtime win against TCU, a challenging win in the Round of 32 only makes them stronger. Mathurin came in clutch, finishing the game with an impressive 30-point performance.

In the post-game floor interview, Dalen Terry pointed at Mathurin and said, “He’s the best player in the country…We’re the best team in the country.” While this is a bold statement for an early-round win, it shows how confident the Arizona Wildcats are in themselves. Right now, Arizona is the hungriest team to live up to expectations, so I am decisive in picking the Wildcats as this year’s champions of March Madness.