The Sweet 16 matchups are set and they feature a No. 15 seed for just the third time ever and a No. 10 seed facing a No. 11 seed for only the fourth time. Just like we all predicted, right?
Ahead of the first regional semifinals on Thursday, here are 16 predictions for the Sweet 16.
1. The Cinderella run from No. 15 seed Saint Peter's will come to an end
The Peacocks single-handedly eliminated the state of Kentucky from the 2022 NCAA Tournament, as it took down No. 2 seed Kentucky and No. 7 seed Murray State in about a 50-hour stretch last weekend, and next they'll face No. 3 seed Purdue, which has the No. 2 offense in the country, according to kenpom.com.
We've never seen a No. 15 seed advance to the Elite Eight, although Oral Roberts came oh so close last season — remember that Max Abmas 3-pointer? — and it probably will happen someday. But March 25, 2022, won't be that day.
2. Kansas is projected to beat Providence by seven, according to kenpom.com. It'll be closer than that
Despite No. 9 seed Creighton being down two starters — point guard Ryan Nembhard and center Ryan Kalkbrenner — for its second-round game against No. 1 seed Kansas, it was a back-and-forth game in the first half, Kansas led by just one at the break and it was a one-point game in the final two minutes.
Providence, wizards of one-possession wins, has a knack for playing close games and typically winning them. (Of course, the Friars' second-round win over No. 12 seed Richmond came by 28 points as the Spiders had an atrocious 1-for-22 3-point shooting performance.)
Kansas' starting big man David McCormack managed just seven points on eight shots, along with six rebounds, against a Creighton team that was without its starting center, so there's reason to believe Providence's fifth-year senior Nate Watson could have the upper hand in the low post. Another Providence fifth-year senior, the 6-foot-7 Justin Minaya, is a standout defender who could help neutralize Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun, while the Friars have enough veterans and steady guard play to potentially go basket for basket late in the game.
Providence has played in 12 games this season decided by two possessions or fewer (six points or less), and this will be another.
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3. One double-digit seed will make the Elite Eight
Only because at least one double-digit seed has to make the Elite Eight, due to No. 10 seed Miami facing No. 11 seed Iowa State. I've already predicted the exit of No. 15 seed Saint Peter's and No. 11 seed Michigan will face No. 2 seed Villanova, the latter of which has the fourth-best chances of advancing to the Elite Eight, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Villanova is currently on pace to be the best free-throw shooting team ever and its offense has been rolling in the NCAA tournament, averaging 1.31 points per possession against Delaware and 1.20 against Ohio State. For reference, the national average is just under 1.03, per kenpom.com.
4. UCLA will beat North Carolina if Jaime Jaquez plays, but if he doesn't...
...then the Tar Heels will be the 2022 version of the 2021 Bruins — a blue blood taking the atypical role of an NCAA tournament dark horse. While it was Jaquez's teammate Johnny Juzang who received most of the individual praise and accolades in the offseason — deservedly, I might add, after he was the leading scorer in last year's tournament — Jaquez has arguably been more integral to UCLA's success of late. In the Bruins' last seven games, he received game MVP honors from kenpom.com five times.
But Jaquez suffered an ankle injury in UCLA's win over Saint Mary's and the Bruins will hope that an extended rest can help the 6-foot-7 junior return to form, or at least recover enough to play.
Mick Cronin says, “We have til Friday,” when speaking about Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s ankle injury. “If he can walk, he’ll probably play”. Alluding to Jaquez’ toughness.— Tarek Fattal (@Tarek_Fattal) March 20, 2022
While North Carolina nearly tied the worst collapse in NCAA tournament history — 25 points, if the Tar Heels had fallen to the Bears — they also built a 25-point lead over the No. 1 seed, showing a dangerous ceiling for the No. 8 seed. It's been well-covered how thin North Carolina's rotation is — it has only played five players for long stretches at times and that's only because that's how many you need to put on the court at once — while UCLA can go nine deep. But if the Bruins are without potentially their most important player, then the Tar Heels, with their dangerous 3-point shooting and dominant interior play from Armando Bacot, can beat UCLA.
5. Gonzaga and Arkansas will play the highest-scoring game of the Sweet 16
These two teams ranked in the top three of the 16 remaining teams and in the top 30 nationally in tempo, according to kenpom.com, and the Zags rank first nationally in offensive efficiency.
6. Miami and Iowa State will play the lowest-scoring game of the Sweet 16
The Cyclones, which now have as many wins in the NCAA tournament this season as they had total wins last season, scored 59 and 52 points in their first two NCAA tournament games, respectively. The combination of a top-five defense, a fairly slow pace and offense that's prone to fits and starts will lead to those kinds of results.
7. Two more No. 1 or No. 2 seeds will be sent home
Three of the eight lost in the first weekend, which is more than the annual average of 2.06 through the first 36 NCAA tournaments since the field expanded to 64 teams. Even the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds that advanced to the Sweet 16 were seriously pushed in the second round:
- No. 1 seed Gonzaga trailed No. 9 seed Memphis 43-31 with 19:29 remaining in the second half, the game was tied at 66 with 5:50 left and Gonzaga only led by two with seven seconds remaining.
- No. 1 seed Arizona went to overtime against No. 9 seed TCU after trailing 75-72 with 37 seconds left. TCU led 77-76 with 3:25 left in OT.
- No. 1 seed Kansas saw what was once a nine-point lead over No. 9 seed Creighton shrink to just one, 73-72, with 1:47 to play.
- No. 2 seed Duke trailed 70-65 against No. 7 seed Michigan State with 5:10 remaining in the game.
- No. 2 seed Villanova's 15-point, second-half lead shrunk to two points, 60-58, with 5:41 to play against No. 7 seed Ohio State.
All of that is to say that this year's upper crust of the sport might be particularly vulnerable and four of those five teams will face an opponent with a better seed than their previous opponent. FiveThirty Eight says Duke (47-percent chance of advancing) and Arizona (48 percent) are the most vulnerable of the group, with upcoming games against Texas Tech and Houston, respectively.
8. Gonzaga's Drew Timme will score at least 25 points, again
Timme's 57 points in the last two games are the second-best, consecutive-game point total of his career — behind only a 30 and 32-point game stretch in conference play this year — and he could add another impressive point total in the Sweet 16. I've already predicted the game between Gonzaga and Arkansas to be the highest-scoring Sweet 16 matchup, so there's probably going to be lots of points scored, period, but Gonzaga's talented front line could pose problems for Arkansas, which does boast the No. 14 defense in terms of efficiency.
Arkansas forward Jaylin Williams, who's 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, is an athletic, big-bodied force in the paint, but the Razorbacks typically start players who are 6-foot-6 at the "three" and the "four." So how will Arkansas choose to defend Gonzaga, which also has mobile, 7-foot freshman Chet Holmgren?
Without Holmgren in the picture, Timme versus Williams could be an intriguing matchup in the post, but what if Arkansas tries to play physical against the freshman with Williams, leaving another defender on Timme for stretches?
The Hogs don't have a ton of size in their rotation outside of Williams, so Timme, Holmgren or both, could potentially capitalize on that height advantage inside.
9. The Sweet 16 will set up *at least* two regular-season rematches in the Elite Eight
There are actually quite a few options for potential rematches and at least one possibility in all four regions:
- No. 1 seed Gonzaga vs. No. 2 seed Duke | Duke def. Gonzaga 84-81 on Nov. 26
- No. 1 seed Gonzaga vs. No. 3 seed Texas Tech | Gonzaga def. Texas Tech 69-55 on Dec. 18
- No. 1 seed Arizona vs. No. 11 seed Michigan | Arizona def. Michigan 80-62 on Nov. 21
- No. 3 seed Purdue vs. No. 8 seed North Carolina | Purdue def. North Carolina 93-84 on Nov. 20
- No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 11 seed Iowa State | Kansas def. Iowa State 62-61 on Jan. 11; 70-61 on Feb. 1
The teams that eventually earned the better seed in March went 5-1 in those six meetings, with Duke's win over Gonzaga being the only exception, and my research shows that in NCAA tournament games that are rematches from a single regular-season meeting are won by the winner of the first matchup nearly 68 percent of the time, which is potentially a good sign for Duke against Gonzaga, Gonzaga against Texas Tech, Arizona against Michigan and Purdue against North Carolina, should those matchups materialize.
While Kansas swept Iowa State in the regular season, just look at the 2019 NCAA Tournament for why it's no guarantee the Jayhawks would win a theoretical third meeting. Kentucky swept Auburn in the regular season in 2019, but the Tigers beat the Wildcats in the NCAA tournament during their Final Four run.
If Gonzaga beats Arkansas, we're guaranteed at least one Elite Eight rematch, since the Zags have played both Duke and Texas Tech. I think we'll get one more, too.
10. Guards will score at least 80 percent of the points in the Miami versus Iowa State matchup
For just the fourth time ever, there's a No. 10 seed and No. 11 seed playing in the Sweet 16 — such a rarity because it not only requires them to beat a No. 7 and No. 6 seed in the first round, respectively, which isn't abnormal but certainly less than a 50-percent proposition, but it also requires the No. 2 seed and the No. 3 seed in the region to not make the second weekend.
From a personnel standpoint, both teams' strengths are their guards: Kameron McGusty (17.5 points per game), Isaiah Wong (15.5) and Charlie Moore (12.8) for Miami, and Izaiah Brockington (17.1), Tyrese Hunter (10.9) and Gabe Kalscheur (9.5) for Iowa State. The first and third-leading scorers for each team are transfers, by the way, showing the benefits for the team and the individual, when a remade roster gels. McGusty and Moore are sixth-year seniors and Moore is now playing for his fourth school, so based on the personnel of the two teams, get ready to hear a lot about the value of guard play, experience, and experienced guards before, during and after this Sweet 16 matchup.
11. The result of the Villanova versus Michigan matchup will be much closer to their last NCAA tournament meeting compared to their last regular-season meeting
On Nov. 14, 2018, Michigan beat Villanova by 27 points, seven months after the Wildcats beat the Wolverines by 17 in the national championship game. That's a 44-point swing in point differential with a fair number, but certainly not all, of the same players involved, although Villanova had to replace three starters plus the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, Donte DiVincenzo.
I predict this game will finish in the top-25th percentile of that 44-point scoring differential, meaning Villanova will win by eight to 17 points. The Wildcats are currently the best free throw shooting team in the sport so they have the ability to take a relatively close game and turn it into a lopsided affair at the stripe.
Michigan has survived and advanced so far with DeVante' Jones missing the first round and leaving the second round with an injury, but Villanova is certainly not a team you want to play without your full roster of guards at full strength. Villanova is projected to win by five, according to kenpom.com, so it might only take one additional Villanova basket for this prediction to hit.
12. There will be a record-setting eighth overtime game in the NCAA tournament
Seven of the first 52 games in the 2022 NCAA Tournament went to overtime, tying the all-time record, meaning just one of the remaining 15 games would need to be tied at the end of regulation to set a new record. Based on this year's Sweet 16 matchups, it's not hard to envision that happening.
Here are the smallest projected margins of victory in the Sweet 16, according to kenpom.com:
- No. 5 seed Houston 74, No. 1 seed Arizona 73
- No. 3 seed Texas Tech 69, No. 2 seed Duke 68
- No. 11 seed Iowa State 68, No. 10 seed Miami 67
- No. 4 seed UCLA 74, No. 8 seed North Carolina 70
It just takes one.
13. There will be a 'ninth' in the Elite Eight
Since 1985, only eight No. 8 seeds and eight No. 10 seeds have made the Elite Eight. We'll get at least one of those occurrences to happen for a ninth time this year, whether it's No. 8 seed North Carolina or No. 10 seed Miami advancing. Of course, even rarer history could be made, if No. 15 seed Saint Peter's becomes the first of its seed line to go to the Elite Eight.
Interestingly, No. 5 seeds only have nine wins in the Sweet 16 — since they typically face a No. 1 seed once they're there — and that's the same number of wins No. 11 seeds have in the regional semifinals. No. 5 seeds are 9-40, while No. 11 seeds are 9-15, so we'll see how No. 5 seed Houston and No. 11 seed Iowa State fare this year.
14. At least four schools with some shade of red or crimson as one of their primary colors will advance
I'll show my work here. There are seven schools that fit this definition — Gonzaga, Arkansas, Texas Tech, Arizona, Houston, Kansas and Iowa State — and four of them are paired up in the Sweet 16, guaranteeing two make it on to the Elite Eight. So this prediction comes down to at least two of Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State winning.
15. The schools that advance to the Elite Eight will combine to have won at least 17 men's basketball national championships
The teams in the Sweet 16 have combined for 31.