The Madness is coming to a close as the Final Four is set to tip off on Saturday, April 2 and conclude with the national championship on Monday, April 4. This year’s tournament brought a lot of memorable moments and plenty of fantastic games.
The average seed in the men’s Sweet Sixteen for the 2022 tournament was 5.3 which was higher than normal for a tournament. This means there were more upsets than the average tournament and more upsets from higher seeded teams. The bizarreness did not end at the Sweet 16 as this was only the fourth year ever where two double-digit seeds made the Elite Eight. The three other times were in 1990, 2002, and last year’s tournament in 2021.
The St. Peter’s Peacocks were definitely this tournament’s Cinderella team as they became the third ever 15-seed to make the Sweet Sixteen. The Peacocks then kept their story going as they became the first 15-seed to make the Elite Eight before their tough loss. Now, there is only one remaining one seed which is only the second time there has not been at least two one-seeds in the Final Four in the past five tournaments.
However, let’s put aside all this upset talk because this year’s Final Four is built with straight blue bloods: 1-seed Kansas, 2-seed Duke, 2-seed Villanova, and 8-seed North Carolina. They are four of the most historic collegiate basketball programs. These basketball behemoths have a combined 17 national titles between them, which accounts for 21 percent of national championships ever. These four teams will hopefully continue to entertain and raise the bar for what has been an exciting March Madness tournament. If any of the previous games have been an indication then we should be ready for a classic all time game in one of these last three games of the tournament.
Road to the Final Four
Before we discuss these teams’ chances of bringing home a national championship, we must first see how they made it to the last weekend of the tournament. I will start off by detailing each team’s path to the Final Four.
Kansas opened the tournament cruising to an easy 83-56 win over 16-seed Texas Southern University. They played good defense and had five players with double digits points on the offensive side. The Jayhawks then faced a strong 9-seed Creighton team in the second round. The offense continued to impress as they had four players with double digit points and senior Remy Martin even had 20 points. Kansas won 79-72.
In the Sweet Sixteen Kansas struggled against 4-seed Providence but they were able to find a way to win with a score of 66-61. The Jayhawks did not find their rhythm offensively, which is in part due to the staunch Providence defense, but they were able to create a multitude of stops and make baskets when it mattered most. Kansas faced a hot 10-seed Miami team in the Elite Eight. The Jayhawks started out slow as they were down six at halftime until they started to click in the second half. They went on to absolutely dismantle Miami in the second half which led to a 76-50 rout for a real statement win.
The Blue Devils started the tournament with an easy win over 15-seed Cal State Fullerton. Duke shot a fantastic 51.7 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from the three point line in a 17 point win as they came out victorious 78-61. Duke then got their revenge in the second round as they played 7-seed Michigan State. Michigan State upset Duke in the Elite Eight of the 2019 tournament but this game was completely different. The Blue Devils used another stellar offensive performance to defeat the Spartans 85-76.
Duke then played a tough 3-seed Texas Tech in the Sweet Sixteen. Duke was impressive as they had five players with double digit points against a Texas Tech defense that is one of the best in college basketball. The Blue Devils were able to finally play good defense of their own late in the game but nevertheless their top tier offense carried them to a 78-73 win. Duke then faced the 4-seed Arkansas in the Elite Eight. The Blue Devils defense showed up throughout the game and their juggernaut offense once again proved to be too much for their opposition. Duke ended an impressive Arkansas run with a 78-69 win.
Villanova played their first game against 15-seed Delaware. Villanova kept their momentum going following their Big East title to stack up a 20 point win in the first round. They won 80-60. The Wildcats then faced a strong 7-seed Ohio State in the second round. Villanova had a solid defensive game and they had four players with double digit points. The Wildcats were too much for the two Ohio State stars and Villanova took home a 71-61 win.
The Wildcats had a matchup against 11-seed Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen. Villanova continued their great play on both ends of the court as they held their third team in a row to under 62 points and they had a 20 point scorer for their third time in the tournament. They defeated Michigan 63-55. The Wildcats then had to face off against a 5-seed Houston in the Elite Eight. This game was a defensive clinic where Villanova turned in their best defensive performance of the tournament. The Wildcats struggled heavily on offense but their incredible defense held Houston to under 50 points. Villanova advanced with a 50-44 win.
North Carolina 8-seed
The Tar Heels were met with a tough 9-seed Marquette to begin the tournament. However, North Carolina completely dominated Marquette with two players dropping 20-plus point games. They rolled to an easy 95-63 win. North Carolina was met with an even greater challenge in the second round as they faced 1-seed Baylor. The Tar Heels came out on fire and overwhelmed Baylor with scoring from two players that went on to finish with 30 points and 26 points. They had a 25 point lead in the second half before they had one of the worst collapses ever as Baylor tied the game up to push overtime. North Carolina stayed strong and outplayed Baylor in overtime to win 93-86.
The Tar Heels then played 4-seed UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen. This was another competitive game but North Carolina was able to create enough important stops when needed. They had a more balanced attack as four players had double digit points and they rode another 30 point performance to defeat UCLA 73-66. This led to a matchup against an inspired 15-seed Saint Peters in the Elite Eight. The Tar Heels turned in an overall solid performance. Their offense stayed hot and they shut down the Peacocks with skilled defense. North Carolina ended the Saint Peters Cinderella run with a 69-49 blowout win.
Possible National Champion
There are positives and negatives of the four remaining teams. Next is some insight on where each team can be exposed and why each team is a real threat to be champions. Hopefully, everyone will gain more knowledge on these four teams and everyone will be able to cheer for whatever team claims the title of national champions.
I hate to bring up the Covid-19 pandemic because that is all the world has known for the past few years. However, in the 2019-2020 season, the Kansas Jayhawks were the number one team in the nation heading into the tournament which was unfortunately canceled that year. That Kansas team never got a chance to cement their legacy in college basketball history but they have a chance at redemption this year.
This Kansas team has four starters such as senior guard Ochai Agbaji, junior guard Christian Braun, senior forward David McCormack and sophomore forward Jalen Wilson who were all on that team. Kansas can very well become champions this year as they have been a top team all year and they are the only remaining 1-seed in the tournament. Throughout the tournament, the Jayhawks have kept up their great defense as they held their four combined tournament opponents to an average of 59 points per game and did not allow an opponent to break 75 points.
The Jayhawks have not been slowed down by the opposition as their defensive stats in the tournament resemble their regular season stats of around 4.3 blocks per game and 6.3 steals. An area where they are truly excelling is their control of the boards. Kansas is averaging 43.75 rebounds per game which is five more rebounds than their regular season average. This can be a key for them to advance as effective rebounding can create second chance points as well as cap off good defensive possessions.
Kansas is averaging 76 points per game. The Jayhawk offense has been looking solid through four games as they have had four different players score in double digit points in at least two games. The biggest surprise of the tournament for Kansas has been sixth man senior guard Remy Martin. He has been the leading scorer for the Jayhawks in the tournament and had a 20 point and 23 point performance.
I watched Martin ball out for Arizona State last year and I saw undeniable talent and a keen ability to put the ball in the basket. Although he has struggled this year, he is playing his best basketball at the right time and will be an important factor for the Jayhawks success like I mentioned in my earlier March Madness article.
Kansas does not have the best defense out of the remaining teams nor do they have the best offense. However, I think they are the best all around team left in the tournament. I think Agbaji, who was a Wooden award finalist, is arguably the second best player in the tournament behind Banchero and he needs to have that marquee top player game in one of the last two games. Having a star in Agbaji and surrounding him with skilled players like Braun, McCormack, Wilson, and Martin will continue to make Jayhawks a tough outing for any competition. Finally, add legendary head coach Bill Self and the immense energy the Jayhawks bring to the court every night like I said in my original prediction. I still believe that their deep roster and their grit is a recipe for a Kansas national championship.
The farewell tour continues as the remarkable Coach Mike Krzyzewski has helped lead this Duke team to the Final Four. This Duke team is definitely the most talented team left in the NCAA tournament. They have four possible first round picks for next year’s draft: freshman forward Paola Banchero, freshman forward AJ Griffin, junior forward Wendell Moore Jr, and sophomore center Mark Williams. Also, Banchero and Griffin are projected lottery picks and Banchero may even go number one overall.
This is a huge reason for their success as they have four starters that try and take over a game. These four continually wreak havoc on any opposing defense and then when the phenomenal tournament play of sophomore guard Jeremy Roach is added, the Blue Devils become nearly unstoppable.
Duke is averaging 79.75 points per game. They had two games where four players had double digit points and two games with five players in double digits. This offense, which is filled with NBA talent, has shown no signs of slowing down. However, a downside to this extremely talented roster and high powered offense is the Blue Devils are top heavy and they can lack defense. This means that Duke does not really have huge impact players on their bench and their depth is not ideal. If this Duke team gets tired or put in foul trouble, then they can begin to weaken offensively.
This brings me to my next issue: the Blue Devils defense is not great. They have given up a high 69.75 points per game this tournament which has put them in trouble of being upset. This could be an issue considering the high powered offense of some of the remaining teams. However, Duke at times has flashed and shown they are more than capable of stringing together multiple beautiful defensive possessions. In fact, great defense helped them close out both Texas Tech and Arkansas late in those games. If the Blue Devils can put together two strong defensive games and continue their dominance on the offensive end, then they will be dangerous this last weekend.
A Kansas and Duke matchup was my second most picked national championship behind Gonzaga and Arizona in all my brackets. I have favored Kansas all year but I would love to see coach K cap off his 40-year head coaching career at Duke with him winning his sixth national championship in his final season with the Blue Devils.
The Wildcats have the best defense out of the four remaining teams or at least they have had the sharpest defense throughout the tournament. They have not allowed a team to score over 61 points and they even held a tough Houston team to under 50 points.
Villanova’s suffocating and staunch defense only allowed a minute average of 55 points per game in the tournament. The Wildcats cause real problems for opposing offenses and they can force teams to crack under pressure. Villanova is led by senior guard Collin Gillespie and senior forward Jermaine Samuels. Samuels has scored double digit points in all four games and he led the Wildcats in scoring in two of them. Gillespie has had double digit points in three games. Sophomore Eric Dixon, junior guard Justin Moore and senior forward Brandon Slater round out the starting five for Villanova. Dixon and Moore do most of the secondary scoring behind Samuels and Gillespie. Moore had a 20 point performance in the tournament and Dixon had two games with double digit points.
However, even with all the big offensive performances in the tournament so far, Villanova simply does not have an offense that is on the same level as the other teams. They are only averaging 66 points in the tournament which is by far the lowest of the remaining teams. They are a defensive team. There is nothing wrong with that but if they can not shut down these high powered offenses, then they will need to be able to score more consistently. This is an issue I see Villanova having in the next round. The Wildcats also play with a short rotation which consists of around seven or eight players. This means their defense or their already weaker offense will suffer if any players get in foul trouble. The Wildcats, while not the most explosive on offense, do lead all Division l in free throw percentage. They shoot 83.04 percent from the charity stripe as a team which only makes it that much harder to beat them in close late game situations. They are also in the top 15 in Division l in turnovers as they only turn the ball over 9.9 times a game.
This is a very solid and well coached Villanova team. Head coach Jay Wright has won NCAA titles in 2016 and 2018 with similar Wildcat teams. A great defensive Wildcat team that can shoot free throws and limit turnovers will always be a top team in the tournament. I always overlook Villanova and they have a great chance to prove me wrong again with another national championship.
North Carolina 8-seed
North Carolina was probably the biggest surprise of the tournament, except for maybe Saint Peters. North Carolina was a completely different team this year after head coach Roy Williams retired last year. First time head coach Hubert Davis, who is a UNC alum and former assistant coach to Roy Williams, took over this year. The Tar Heels had a slow start to the season but they eventually found their footing finishing the season 8-2. They rode their hot streak straight into the tournament and have been one of the highest scoring teams through the first four games.
The Tar Heels are averaging an absurd 82.5 points per game. North Carolina has a great starting five that consists of junior forward Armando Bacot, sophomore guard Caleb Love, senior forward Brady Manek, sophomore guard R.J. Davis and senior guard Leaky Black. Although, once again, like every team but Kansas, they lack reserves. They keep a short seven to eight man rotation. The Tar Heels have a starter that can go off every night. It seems in this tournament alone, Love has dropped 30 points, Davis has dropped 30 points, Manek has dropped 28 points and Bacot had a 20 point game. Also, this is not just one player having a big game, and that’s the offense as the Tar Heels had two players achieve double digit points in all four games and two players with double digit points in three games.
North Carolina might not have the huge names or the first round talent like Duke, but this tournament has shown their offense is as good, if not better, when firing on all cylinders. North Carolina does not play the best defense when compared to Villanova or Kansas, but they have been fine in the tournament only giving up an average of 66 points per game.
Ultimately, I think the Tar Heels weakness is consistency because, like they showed against Baylor when they almost blew a 25 point lead, this team can fall apart. Their offense will always be good with that many capable scorers on the floor. However, if they struggle defensively as they did early in the year when they were giving up 90 points a game to teams like Purdue, Tennessee and Kentucky, then their fantastic run will end. If North Carolina wins the national championship, it will tie the highest seed to ever win a championship with Villanova in 1985 as the 8-seed. It will be the first time ever a first time head coach has won the title in their first year.
Although I lean Duke in the matchup, my Uncle Gabe always told me to cheer for Carolina blue. This will be an incredible event as North Carolina has played Duke 257 times in their Tobacco Road rivalry. However, they have never played each other in the Final Four before, making this game even crazier. This is probably one of the most important matchups in the history of their rivalry as it is coach K’s last dance at Duke and the first year of coach Hubert Davis’ being the leader of North Carolina all taking place on the enormous stage that is the Final Four.
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in The Nevada Sagebrush are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of The Sagebrush or its staff. Anthony Miranda is a student at the University of Nevada and studies journalism. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @kelsmiddleunr.