March Madness is officially here. After the 68-team 2022 NCAA men's basketball tournament was unveiled on Selection Sunday, I went through every first-round matchup, analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of each team, and picked the winner of each game.
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Here's every first-round matchup in the 2022 NCAA tournament, picked. Advanced stats are courtesy of kenpom.com.
No. 1 seed Gonzaga vs. No. 16 seed Georgia State
Gonzaga, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row, has advanced to the Sweet 16 in each of the last six NCAA tournaments, including two national runner-up finishes and two Elite Eight exits, so the Zags haven't only been a safe pick in the first round, they've been a safe pick to make it through the first weekend.
No. 8 seed Boise State vs. No. 9 seed Memphis
This matchup will be a clash of styles in terms of tempo, as the Tigers, who play at the 34th-fastest tempo nationally, want to push the ball, while the Broncos (307th) would like to buck that trend. There's also going to be a strength-on-strength matchup on the boards, where Memphis ranks fifth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and Boise State ranks fifth in defensive rebounding percentage.
Offensive rebounding is of particular importance to Memphis because the Tigers commit a turnover on almost 23 percent of their offensive possessions, which ranks 352nd nationally, so offensive rebounds allow them to maximize the possessions in which they do attempt a shot.
Pick: Boise State
No. 5 seed UConn vs. No. 12 seed New Mexico State
UConn's 6-foot-9, 240-pound sophomore Adama Sanogo had just four points and four rebounds in 16 minutes in UConn's first-round loss to Maryland in the 2021 NCAA tournament. Thanks to a breakout second season in which he's averaging 14.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, he could reasonably put up four points and grab four rebounds in the four-minute-ish span between media timeouts against New Mexico State.
The big man is the central reason why UConn ranks first nationally in offensive rebounding rate (37.9 percent) and fifth in defensive 2-point percentage (42.8 percent). He's one of three UConn players that averages between 13 and 16 points per game, along with senior and leading assist man R.J. Cole (15.7 points per game) and 3-point sharpshooter Tyrese Martin (13.7).
No. 4 seed Arkansas vs. No. 13 seed Vermont
Vermont is ranked higher on kenpom.com than No. 10 seed Miami (FL), No. 11 seed Rutgers and No. 12 seeds New Mexico State and Richmond, and it's only 10 spots behind No. 4 seed Providence, so perhaps you should consider the Catamounts to be the most likely No. 13 seed to pull off a first-round upset. After all, there's an average of 0.86 13-over-4 upsets per NCAA tournament.
There's a lot to like with Vermont, which ranks first nationally in defensive rebounding percentage (81.3 percent), third in effective field goal percentage (57.3 percent), 16th in offensive turnover percentage (14.9 percent) and plays at the 288th-fastest pace in the country, meaning the game could have fewer possessions. But Arkansas has a roster deep with scoring threats, between volume scorer JD Notae (18.4 points per game), 6-foot-6 wings Au'Diese Toney (11.0) and Stanley Umude (11.8), and the 6-foot-10 Jaylin Williams (10.5), and the Hogs defend at a top-20 level.
No. 6 seed Alabama vs. No. 11 seed Rutgers/Notre Dame
Good luck trying to make sense of Alabama. In the regular season, the Crimson Tide defeated No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga, another No. 1 seed in Baylor, No. 3 seed Tennessee, No. 4 seed Arkansas and No. 5 seed Houston. That's a quarter of the top 16 teams on the overall seed list! But Alabama is just 19-13, it was .500 in the SEC's regular season and it's on a three-game losing streak. In the last 23 NCAA tournaments, teams that have entered March Madness on a three-game losing streak have averaged 0.87 wins in the tournament, so don't dismiss Alabama off-hand.
If Rutgers were to beat Notre Dame, the Scarlet Knights have something of a similar general profile as the Crimson Tide. Rutgers has beaten No. 3 seeds Purdue and Wisconsin, No. 4 seed Illinois and No. 5 seed Iowa, but its 18-13 record caused the team to be sent to Dayton for the First Four. (Notre Dame, by the way, beat Kentucky, which is something Alabama was unable to do in two tries.)
It's frankly hard to trust any of these three teams, but No. 11 seeds win 37.5 percent of the time in the first round, so this is a spot where it's worth taking a flier on a No. 11 seed, especially if it's a Rutgers team with NCAA tournament experience from last season and a big-time shot-maker in Ron Harper Jr.
Pick: The winner of Rutgers/Notre Dame
No. 3 seed Texas Tech vs. No. 14 seed Montana State
Montana State ended a 25-year NCAA tournament drought and qualified for March Madness for just the fourth time in program history but the Bobcats likely won't enjoy the experience of playing against the Red Raiders' top-ranked defense. Texas Tech's opponents this season have averaged just over 60 points per game, while committing a turnover on nearly 24 percent of their offensive possessions.
Pick: Texas Tech
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No. 7 seed Michigan State vs. No. 10 seed Davidson
Davidson's leading scorer, Foster Loyer (16.6 points per game), spent the last three seasons playing for Michigan State, which he'll now face in the first round of the 2022 NCAA tournament. The Bobcats have the 11th-most efficient offense in the country, continuing a run of nearly annual top-100 offenses in the last 15 years under coach Bob McKillop.
However, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo's teams have lost in the Round of 64 (or First Four) just six times during the program's 23-year streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. The Spartans didn't close the regular season particularly well, losing seven of their final 10 regular-season games, but they've also defeated newly minted No. 3 seeds Purdue and Wisconsin in the last two and a half weeks.
Pick: Michigan State
No. 2 seed Duke vs. No. 15 seed Cal State Fullerton
Duke hasn't lost in the Round of 64 since 2014, when the No. 3-seeded Blue Devils were picked off by No. 14 seed Mercer, and two years before that, they became just the fifth No. 2 seed (and now one of nine) to fall victim to a first-round upset. The Blue Devils are coming off of a 15-point loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament championship game and a 13-point loss in Coach K's final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium lingers in the rear-view mirror, so Krzyzewski has enough sources of motivation to get the best out of a Blue Devils team that ranks seventh nationally in offensive efficiency before a first-round game against a No. 15 seed.
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No. 1 seed Arizona vs. No. 16 seed Bryant/Wright State
Arizona starting point guard Kerr Kriisa suffered a serious injury in the Pac-12 tournament but the Wildcats still finished a sweep of the conference regular-season and tournament titles, including another win over UCLA. Arizona has the talent to coast to a first-round win regardless of its point guard's status.
No. 8 seed Seton Hall vs. No. 9 seed TCU
To reuse a previous stat about how 70 percent of the winners in the 8-versus-9 matchups over a 10-year span were the team that took better care of the ball during the season, TCU's ball-handling comes up as an immediate red flag. The Horned Frogs rank 336th nationally in offensive turnover percentage, as they commit a turnover on 21.6 percent of their possessions, compared to Seton Hall's 17.5 percent, which is more than a percentage point better than the national average.
Pick: Seton Hall
No. 5 seed Houston vs. No. 12 seed UAB
On Selection Sunday, Houston's ranking on kenpom.com is No. 4 and its seed line is No. 5. UAB is talented, with transfers who have experience in the AAC, ACC, Big East and SEC, but Houston, fresh off an 18-point win in the AAC tournament championship over a Memphis team that swept the Cougars in the regular season, is arguably significantly better than its seed would suggest, despite losing two rotation players to season-ending injuries months ago.
No. 4 seed Illinois vs. No. 13 seed Chattanooga
Illinois' most recent showing wasn't a good one — a 65-63 loss to the Big Ten tournament's No. 9 seed, Indiana — but the Illini were the No. 1 seed for a reason. Junior Kofi Cockburn is one of the most dominant players in the entire field.
No. 6 seed Colorado State vs. No. 11 seed Michigan
Michigan's last 10 games have been alternating wins and losses — a streak that, for what it's worth, would require Michigan to beat Colorado State for it to continue — so the Wolverines are perhaps a difficult team to have faith in when filling out your NCAA tournament bracket, but the Wolverines could have the personnel to either defend the Rams when they go small with 6-foot-6 David Roddy at the "five" with the athletic Moussa Diabate, or they could try to pound the ball inside to 7-foot-1 Hunter Dickinson on offense if they have a mismatch when they're on offense.
Michigan's defense is successful at limiting 3-point attempts and that could be critical against a Colorado State team that shoots 35.7 percent from deep.
No. 3 seed Tennessee vs. No. 14 seed Longwood
Tennessee, fresh off of an SEC tournament title, is riding a seven-game winning streak that includes victories over now-No. 2 seeds Auburn and Kentucky, and No. 4 seed Arkansas. The Vols are ranked No. 7 on kenpom.com, so they're arguably the caliber of a No. 2 seed. There are no easy draws when you're a No. 14 seed but this is perhaps an especially tough one for Longwood in its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance.
No. 7 seed Ohio State vs. No. 10 seed Loyola Chicago
Loyola Chicago has a new head coach, Drew Valentine, and Cameron Krutwig, who was a critical player in both the Ramblers' Final Four run in 2018 and its Sweet 16 appearance last year, has moved on, but it's worth noting Loyola Chicago is among the programs that have most exceeded its NCAA tournament expected win totals, based on its seeding, while Ohio State has lost in the opening weekend in its last five NCAA tournament appearances.
The Buckeyes enter the NCAA tournament on a slide in which they've lost four of their last five games and three of the five losses were against teams that finished in the bottom five of the Big Ten standings. Loyola Chicago's offense and defense have a better balance at No. 42 and No. 22 in terms of efficiency, respectively, while Ohio State's 131st-ranked defense clashes with its No. 13 offense. Ohio State forward EJ Liddell will be the best player on the floor, but that's also been the case more times than not this season.
Pick: Loyola Chicago
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No. 2 seed Villanova vs. No. 15 seed Delaware
Let's start with a few interesting roster tidbits, given the history of first-round games between No. 2 seeds and No. 15 seeds — the former has a 135-9 advantage since 1985 — means the result of this game is unlikely to be interesting, especially as two-time Big East Player of the Year Collin Gillespie, who was a freshman on Villanova's 2018 championship team, prepares to play in his first NCAA tournament game in three years.
Delaware's leading scorer is Jameer Nelson Jr., whose father led Saint Joseph's to a No. 1 seed and the Elite Eight in the 2004 NCAA tournament. Delaware's second-leading scorer is sixth-year senior Dylan Painter, who spent his first three seasons at Villanova, including a redshirt season in 2018, before he transferred early in the 2019 season.
So, like the matchup between Michigan State and Davidson, where former Michigan State guard Foster Loyer is one of the top scoring options, Villanova faces Painter and Delaware. Delaware's first game this season? Well, it was against Davidson, of course.
No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 16 seed Texas Southern/Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
Kansas could've been the No. 1 overall seed in the canceled 2020 NCAA tournament and two years later, the Jayhawks are on the No. 1 seed line after winning the Big 12 tournament. They won't disappoint.
No. 8 seed San Diego State vs. No. 9 seed Creighton
San Diego State (No. 157 in offensive efficiency and No. 2 in defensive efficiency) and Creighton (No. 124 and No. 18, respectively) are cut from the same cloth, by having very good defenses and relatively poor offensive efficiency for an at-large team. The Aztecs are ranked 31 spots higher on kenpom.com — No. 22 versus No. 53 — and their turnover rate is 1.2 percentage points better than the Bluejays, to stick with the theme of picking the team in the 8-versus-9 game that takes better care of the ball.
Pick: San Diego State
No. 5 seed Iowa vs. No. 12 seed Richmond
Coming off of a Big Ten tournament title, Iowa is playing its best basketball of the season, as it has now won 12 of its last 14 games, with six of the wins coming against NCAA tournament teams and one of the two losses coming on the road against the eventual Big Ten tournament No. 1 seed, Illinois, by two points. Keegan Murray, who had 32 points on 8-for-10 3-point shooting in the Big Ten semis against Indiana, has made a strong case to be a first-team All-American and he's the engine behind the Hawkeyes' No. 2-ranked offense.
No. 4 seed Providence vs. No. 13 seed South Dakota State
All season, predictive metrics have placed Providence lower than its AP poll ranking or where one might expect a team with the Friars' record to be ranked. They've been continuously clutch in close games but they've also been blown out on several occasions — 58-40 against Virginia, 88-56 at Marquette and most recently, 85-58 to Creighton. It doesn't help Providence's NCAA tournament hopes that it plays at a slow tempo, No. 273 nationally, which means the Friars' games might have fewer possessions than the average game, which means a lesser team could benefit from a greater variance in potential outcomes.
Meanwhile, South Dakota State leads the country in 3-point percentage (44.2 percent) and effective field goal percentage (59.7 percent), so a performance that could be labeled as the Jackrabbits "getting hot" might in fact just be their standard. They've won 21 in a row, while Providence has been expected to have won roughly 2.5 more NCAA tournament games since 2010 than it actually has, based upon its seeding.
Pick: South Dakota State
No. 6 seed LSU vs. No. 11 seed Iowa State
LSU parted ways with head coach Will Wade on Saturday, setting up for a unique dynamic for the Tigers, who could be a national favorite among Bracket Challenge Game participants to get upset in the first round, but LSU is ranked No. 19 on kenpom.com, thanks to a top-five defense that forces a turnover on just over 25 percent of opponents' offensive possessions.
LSU is poor at taking care of the ball (20.5-percent turnover rate) and 3-point shooting (31.9 percent), so if you can stomach LSU's offensive woes, it faces an Iowa State team that is also less than stellar in those areas — 20.4 percent and 32.1 percent, respectively.
No. 3 seed Wisconsin vs. No. 14 seed Colgate
Wisconsin has the Big Ten Player of the Year and a potential first-team All-American in sophomore guard Johnny Davis, so what gives?
Well, in 19 of the 36 NCAA tournaments since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams, a No. 14 seed has upset a No. 3 seed. Is it common? No, not necessarily. Is it rare? No, not necessarily.
The Badgers, who have lost their last two games, including a home loss to Nebraska — yes, Davis suffered an injury early in the second half but the Huskers were dominant at times in the first half — are ranked just No. 34 on kenpom.com, suggesting that, like Providence, the Badgers have won a lot of close games, while suffering a few lopsided losses. This is not a good shooting Wisconsin team. It makes just 31.2 percent of its 3-pointers and even Davis is only an average player in terms of his efficiency, with a game that relies on free throws and him making tough 2-point shots.
By contrast, Colgate is second nationally in 3-point percentage at 40.1 percent and it shoots nearly 53 percent inside the arc. While Syracuse isn't an NCAA tournament team this season, Colgate did win by 15 points against the Orange, so the Raiders have already experienced, and had some level of success, of playing against the caliber of athletes they'll face in the first round.
Wisconsin is expected to win and it likely will, just like every No. 3 seed. But not every No. 3 seed wins in the first round.
No. 7 seed Southern California vs. No. 10 seed Miami (FL)
Miami hasn't beaten a team that made the NCAA tournament since its win over Virginia Tech on Jan. 26. The Hurricanes did beat Duke on the road in January, but the disparity between their offensive efficiency (No. 17) and their defensive efficiency (No. 157) is potentially concerning, especially when contrasted with Southern California's top-50 split of No. 47 and No. 49, respectively. The Trojans' defense can be especially stingy on the interior, where opponents shoot just 41.6 percent from 2-point range, which is the second-best mark nationally.
Since the calendar turned to February, Southern California has only lost to Arizona and UCLA, which finished first and second in the Pac-12.
Pick: Southern California
No. 2 seed Auburn vs. No. 15 seed Jacksonville State
Auburn is just 5-4 in its last nine games and 3-3 in its last six. While Jacksonville State's tempo (No. 276) and 3-point shooting (38.2 percent) could make this game interesting for a stretch in the first half if Auburn plays to its average 3-point percentage (32.1 percent), the Tigers have two dominant frontcourt players in Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler, for which there are no comparable players for Jacksonville State to have faced in the ASUN.
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No. 1 seed Baylor vs. No. 16 seed Norfolk State
It took Oklahoma shooting 52 percent from 3-point range with 11 made 3-pointers in a game in which Baylor made just three and shot just 13.6 percent from deep for the Sooners to knock out the Bears in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament, and even then, Oklahoma won by just five points.
The reigning national champions aren't fully healthy and they won't be again this season, due to the season-ending injury suffered by Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and the uncertain status of LJ Cryer, and despite Norfolk State's 16th-ranked defense in effective field goal percentage allowed (45.2 percent), the Bears who are healthy are too big, too athletic and too talented for there to be a first-round upset. Baylor starts three players who are at least 6-foot-8 and the Bears bring a fourth off the bench. Norfolk State has just one rotation player total who's 6-foot-8.
No. 8 seed North Carolina vs. No. 9 seed Marquette
As best seen in its historic, 13-point upset against Duke in Coach K's final home game, North Carolina's best brand of basketball is dangerous, and that's when the Tar Heels are running up and down the floor, with Brady Manek, RJ Davis and Caleb Love hitting 3-pointers, and Armando Bacot dominating the paint and on the glass.
Marquette likes to play at that tempo on offense — the Golden Eagles' average offensive possession is the fifth-shortest in the country, compared to the length of its average defensive possession ranking 321st — but it's not strong on the offensive or defensive glass, which could be a major problem against Bacot. North Carolina doesn't send opponents to the line often and Marquette doesn't get there often, on a percentage basis, and the Tar Heels have a lower offensive turnover percentage.
Pick: North Carolina
No. 5 seed Saint Mary's vs. No. 12 seed Indiana
In nine of the 10 NCAA tournaments since the field expanded to 68 teams, at least one team that played in the First Four won its matchup in the Round of 64, too. Two of those teams made the Final Four, including UCLA last season. I also picked the winner of Rutgers/Notre Dame to beat Alabama, so perhaps this pick is just covering my bases for whichever First Four team ultimately continues the trend this season, but there's legitimate reason to believe in No. 12 seed Indiana winning this game.
The Hoosiers are ranked No. 36 on kenpom.com, behind No. 3 seed Wisconsin and No. 8 seed Seton Hall, so their advanced metrics are arguably better than you'd expect of a No. 12 seed, plus they made an impressive run to the Big Ten tournament semifinals, where it took a deep, banked-in 3-pointer from Jordan Bohannon for Iowa to win at the end of regulation. Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis could earn All-America honors and point guard Xavier Johnson has made 14 of his last 28 3-point attempts, 43 of his last 48 free throw attempts and he's had a few vicious dunks recently.
No. 4 seed UCLA vs. No. 13 seed Akron
One year after its run from the First Four to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed, UCLA has gone from being the hunter to the hunted. Some predictive metrics for the Bruins, ranked No. 8 on kenpom.com on Selection Sunday, suggest they're even better than their resume. Three of their seven losses came to eventual No. 1 seeds Gonzaga and Arizona, and the other four were by five points or fewer, with three happening on the road two coming in overtime.
UCLA returned the core of players who engineered last season's Final Four run so there's little reason — statistical or gut feeling — to think Akron can upset UCLA, even if the Zips' glacier-like tempo (351st nationally) and high free-throw rate (they attempt four free throws for every 10 field goal attempts) helps their case in keeping this matchup competitive.
No. 6 seed Texas vs. No. 11 seed Virginia Tech
A top-five team in the preseason AP poll, Texas has been inconsistent all season against its better opponents. It didn't beat an at-large NCAA tournament team until Jan. 25 and three of its five wins against fellow tournament teams came against No. 9 seed TCU or No. 11 seed Iowa State. The Longhorns enter the NCAA tournament on a three-game losing streak — granted, two of those losses were against now-No. 1 seeds Baylor and Kansas, and I've already warned against writing off a team in the first round just because it's on a losing streak — while Virginia Tech made an impressive run to the ACC title, with four consecutive wins, highlighted by a 15-point victory over Duke.
A 5-10 stretch in the heart of thee Hokies' season took them off the national radar and made their advanced metrics confounding to some observers, but they have a top-20 offense, thanks in large part to their 39.3 3-point percentage.
Pick: Virginia Tech
No. 3 seed Purdue vs. No. 14 seed Yale
Last season, Purdue earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament and suffered a first-round upset at the hands of North Texas and the Boilermakers returned almost every rotation player from that team to create the nation's third-most efficient offense, per kenpom.com. Their defense is a concern, however, as it ranks 100th in terms of efficiency, but Yale's statistical profile doesn't suggest that the Bulldogs will be able to capitalize upon a leaky Boilermakers defense.
Yale makes roughly a third of its 3s, it doesn't emphasize the offensive glass (a 25.8-percent offensive rebounding rate) and it's merely adequate at 2-point and free throw shooting. Throw all of that in a pot, mix it up and you have the country's 203rd-most efficient offense.
No. 7 seed Murray State vs. No. 10 seed San Francisco
On kenpom.com, San Francisco and Murray State rank No. 21 and No. 27 nationally, respectively, so this could be one of the best first-round games, period. The Racers are on a 20-game winning streak, having lost just twice all season, with one of the two defeats coming on the road against an Auburn team that spent multiple weeks ranked No. 1 in the AP poll. The Dons, meanwhile, ended a 23-year NCAA tournament drought thanks to the veteran backcourt duo of Jamaree Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz, a top-20 defense and a statistical footprint in which 44 percent of San Francisco's shots are 3-pointers, compared to just 30 percent for its opponents.
It's a shame either one of these teams has to go home after the first round, no matter what.
Pick: San Francisco
No. 2 seed Kentucky vs. No. 15 seed Saint Peter's
After missing the 2021 NCAA tournament, Kentucky is back in the field and among the top Final Four contenders. One team has national player of the year candidate Oscar Tshiebwe, who could reasonably break an NCAA tournament record or two, and the other team doesn't.
So, now that you know who's going to win all 32 first-round matchups, sign up to play the official Bracket Challenge Game.