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Mike Lopresti | | March 13, 2022

24 juicy plotlines to keep an eye on in the 2022 men's NCAA tournament

Clark Kellogg, Seth Davis make their predictions

First, the men's NCAA tournament bracket. And now, the plotlines. Here are 24 that seem particularly juicy, if they happen. Let’s do it chronologically.

Indiana vs. Wyoming in the First Four.

This is Indiana’s 40th NCAA tournament. This is Wyoming’s third in 34 years. Between their tradition and the way they were playing in the Big Ten event over the weekend — beating Michigan and Illinois, losing to Iowa on a banked-in prayer — the Hoosiers were probably looking for a better seat at the table. But UCLA was a famous name sent to the First Four last March and look at how that turned out. Indiana games are routinely tense; the Hoosiers have played nine this season decided by three points or less or in overtime.

BRACKET: Check out the bracket for the 2022 men's NCAA tournament

Bryant vs. Wright State in the First Four.

Tough luck for Bryant, with nation’s leading scorer Peter Kiss and his 25.1-point average. The Bulldogs will play the first NCAA tournament game in their history only 12 miles from their opponent’s campus. It’ll be akin to a home game for Wright State, whose fans must love the irony. Dayton has refused to schedule the Raiders for decades, so they have been pretty much shut out of the University of Dayton Arena. But Wednesday night they’ll get a tournament game there, while the Flyers were the last team left out of the field.

Rutgers vs. Notre Dame in the First Four.

Some look at Rutgers and see the place Texas A&M should have had. The Scarlet Knights can use that as extra motivation, as if they should need any. By the way, the winner of this game has to be 2,000 miles away in San Diego to tipoff against Alabama in the first round only 41 hours later. 

No. 4 seed Arkansas vs. No. 13 Vermont in the first round.

The Razorbacks have been on a surge, winning 15 of their last 18. But the Catamounts can top that, going 22-1 in their last 23, with the only loss by one point in overtime at Hartford. Vermont has turned into the T-Rex of its  conference. The Catamounts won the America East season title by six games, and their margins of victory in the league tournament were 39, 32 and 39 points. What's that phrase? Oh, yeah. Upset Alert.

No. 7 seed Michigan State vs. No. 10 Davidson in the first round.

Davidson’s leading scorer — and the nation’s top free throw shooter at over 93 percent — is Foster Loyer. Last season he was a team captain. For Michigan State.

No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Loyola Chicago in the first round.

The Buckeyes have been sputtering for weeks. The Ramblers have thrived in March in recent years. This will be the upset du jour in a lot of brackets.

No. 4 Providence vs. No. 13 South Dakota State in the first round.

That Big East regular season championship didn’t get the Friars much love in their first round pairing. This is a very dangerous opponent. The Jackrabbits are first in the nation in 3-point shooting, second in field goal percentage and scoring, and have Division I’s longest winning streak at 21. Funny thing about Providence’s big year. The Friars were tight-game masters, winning 12 games by five or fewer points, or in overtime. But they also lost by 18, 32 and — in their last game against Creighton in the conference tournament — 27.

MORE BRACKETS: Fill out your bracket before the start of the 2022 tournament

No. 6 LSU vs. No. 11 Iowa State in the first round.

Here are two teams on similar flight paths. LSU started the season 12-0 but then went 9-9 in the SEC. Iowa State began 12-0 but then went 7-11 in the Big 12. One difference lately. LSU just fired its head coach and associate head coach. Say hello to assistant Kevin Nickelberry, who will work his first game as interim head coach in the NCAA tournament. Paging Steve Fisher, who had to do that at Michigan in 1989 and promptly won the national championship.

And then if things work out . . .

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 7 Michigan State in the second round.

One last meeting for Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo. Their series has not been pretty for Izzo. He’s 3-12. If this match happens, he might hear that number mentioned once or twice.

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 8 North Carolina in the second round.

The case could be made that Baylor has the toughest route of any of the No. 1 seeds. This caliber of second-round game is one reason why.

No. 5 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 4 UCLA in the second round.

To get here, the Gaels will have to win the first round game, probably against Indiana. That’ll be hard enough. But this would be chance to strike another blow against the presumed royalty of the West. First Gonzaga, next the Bruins? Any team that can beat Gonzaga by 10 needs watching.

No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech in the second round.

It suggests the low view many take of the current ACC that its tournament champion is an 11-seed. But the Hokies have won 13 of 15 and just plastered Duke. If they get by Texas — no easy task — they could make more trouble for a Purdue team that hasn’t seemed quite right for weeks.

No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Murray State in the second round.

Wouldn’t this be tasty. Murray State has the best record in the field at 30-2 and shares the same Commonwealth. But they’ve never met. The Wildcats have been playing like a team with big plans. To have them ruined by an in-state cousin would be too horrible for Big Blue Nation to contemplate.

No. 4 Illinois vs. No. 5 Houston in the second round.

Many wonder about Houston, which came into the past weekend 0-4 in Quad I games, but then beat Memphis. If the Cougars haven’t had the schedule to convince the skeptics, this game would be the chance.

No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 13 South Dakota State in the second round.

First team to 100 wins. This would match the second and fourth highest scoring teams in the land.

🔮: Predicting the entire 2022 men's NCAA tournament, line by line

No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 7 USC in the second round.

Dee-fense! Dee-fense! These two football heavyweights have combined for only three Final Fours ever. Auburn’s was just in 2019. USC’s were 68 and 82 years ago.

No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 3 Purdue in the Sweet 16.

The paint should rumble if Oscar Tshiebwe is trading blows with the twin towers of Trevion Williams and Zach Edey. Seems strange these programs haven’t met this century.

No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 3 Tennessee in the Sweet 16.

One of the most controversial committee decisions was not pushing the Vols to a higher seed line, given the fact they’ve won 12 of 13 — beating Auburn and Arkansas once and Kentucky twice — and trailed only 69 seconds in the entire SEC tournament, winning the thing for the first time in 43 years. They also own one of the three Arizona defeats. They also have held eight of their past nine opponents under 40 percent shooting. This would be the chance to prove they were wronged. And they could do it against a team that beat them by 18 points in November.

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 5 Iowa in the Sweet 16.

If the Hawkeyes are still rolling by then — combined with the four-day scoring parade they just executed through the Big Ten tournament — they will have started hearing team-of-destiny talk.

No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 3 Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.

Auburn’s defense trying to contain Johnny Davis. That’d be worth watching.

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 Duke in the Elite Eight.

Amazing but true: The Blue Devils haven’t played a ranked opponent since the Friday after Thanksgiving. That would have been . . . Gonzaga. Duke won 84-81. If it comes to this, the narrative of Krzyzewski trying to get to his last Final Four will be loud enough to drown out a volcano.

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 2 Kentucky in the Elite Eight.

If the Bears, who are missing pieces because of injuries, actually beat North Carolina, UCLA and Kentucky on their way to a repeat Final Four, it would be one of the greatest blueblood victory tours of all time.

EASY PICKINGS: Why you should probably pick two No. 1 seeds in your bracket

No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 3 Tennessee in the Elite Eight.

Haven't we seen this movie before? Right. Tennessee beat Arizona 77-73 in December. Do it again, and it would finally get the Vols to a Final Four.

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 7 USC in the Elite Eight.

The Trojans would be one of the surprises of the month, getting this far. But they did that last year, too. These two met in the second round last March, and maybe you’ve forgotten what happened. They haven’t in Lawrence.

USC 85, Kansas 51.

Revenge, legendary names, new blood, hot streaks, odd matchups, strange twists of fate, endless possibilities and a dash of controversy. 

Dancers to the floor.

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