The last perfect bracket submitted as part of the CBS Sports Men’s Bracket Challenge this season did not even make it through the first round. In fact, there were still several first round games left on Friday when the last bracket standing bit the dust after Villanova’s win against Delaware.
March Madness is humbling for sports fans, and the unpredictability is part of what makes office pools and online competitions among fans so fun. It doesn’t matter if you’ve watched college basketball all season and have the efficiency margins of each team memorized, by Friday of the tournament’s first weekend, your bracket might stink compared to the one your first-grader filled out based on the colors of the teams involved.
Even our expert roster of writers and analysts at CBS Sports took some tough losses during the opening weekend of the Big Dance. Only Chip Patterson, who spends more of his time covering college football than college basketball, still has each of his Final Four teams alive as Thursday’s Sweet 16 action approaches.
But with the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament getting closer, it’s time to take a deep breath and reset. A chance at redemption has arrived, and our experts are giving it another shot with fresh predictions for what’s ahead.
Gonzaga has been my pick to win the 2022 NCAA Tournament since before the season even began. There’s no reason for me to change now. The Zags are the only team remaining in the field that ranks in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. They have the nation’s best offense and a great-enough defense to win four more games in this event — and I genuinely believe they’ll do it. In every contest going forward, Gonzaga will arguably have the best point guard (Andrew Nembhard), power forward (Drew Timme) and center (Chet Holmgren) on the court. That’s the type of advantage that should lead to Mark Few’s program forever shutting up its skeptics and winning the first national title in school history.
My bracket … is sort of a disaster. OK, it’s a shambles. Tire fire. Catastrophe of the near-highest order. But! I’ve still got three Final Four teams in this puppy. And my pre-tournament championship matchup prediction remains healthy. That would be Gonzaga vs. Kansas. The Jayhawks looked as good as just about any team in the first two rounds, while Gonzaga got a scare from Georgia State (before pulling away) and a huge push from Memphis. What a great second-round tilt that was. I won’t abandon those picks, of course. Purdue was also a Final Four pick for me, and given the way the East has broken, I’m liking that all the more (though I eagerly welcome the Peacocks as chaos agents; let’s see what Friday provides). Since my Illinois pick flamed out, I will choose Houston to end Arizona’s season, then ride with Villanova and its ever-steady slew of guards and wings to navigate through San Antonio and come out as a champion. Remember, Texas has been friendly to Villanova: it won the 2016 title in Houston, then won the 2018 one in San Antonio.
Gonzaga was my pick going into the tournament and Gonzaga remains my pick as we head into the second week of the tournament. Yes, this team has looked at times fallible, and yes, I am a smidge concerned about sluggish starts against Georgia State and Memphis. But the Zags can flip a switch when they need to, even against teams on their same talent level. I think it’s encouraging that we’ve not yet seen their best basketball. And with a star in Drew Timme hitting his stride and freshman Chet Holmgren operating arguably as the best defender remaining in the Big Dance, this team’s talent can — and I think will — carry them to a championship after finishing as national runner-up in two of the last four tournaments.
If a foul had been called on Arizona during TCU’s final possession of regulation in Sunday’s second round game, the Wildcats likely wouldn’t have made it this far. But they’re here, and the matchups are in their favor moving forward. Arizona’s torrid pace sets it apart from Houston and Villanova, and Arizona should be able to dictate the tempo to its liking. A Final Four matchup between Arizona and Kansas would be an epic showdown between Bennedict Mathurin and Ochai Agbaji, but the Wildcats are better in the front court. A potential national title game between first-year Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd and the program he spent the past two decades with is just a perfect storyline. The teams play similar styles, which makes sense considering Lloyd’s background. In the end, Mathurin would likely be the best non-big on the floor and a potential difference maker in an Arizona-Gonzaga national title showdown.
Kansas has been gifted a favorable path with the No. 2 seed, No. 3 seed, No. 5 seed and No. 6 seed all eliminated from the Midwest Region, but any potential matchups in New Orleans will require the Jayhawks’ A-game. So I’m betting not only on a continuation of Remy Martin’s emergence as Kansas’ x-factor but for David McCormack to be up to the challenge of controlling Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren around the rim — or Arizona’s bigs, should the Wildcats make it out of the South. I love Kansas’ experience and the versatility of offensive options, making the Jayhawks tough to prepare for and tough to beat in a high-stakes tournament environment.
My bracket has suffered a significant amount of damage, which is typically the case when four double-digit seeds make the Sweet 16. However, I still have three of my Final Four alive and kicking, so we’ll see how that goes. Michigan and North Carolina, two teams that were well regarded in the preseason rankings due to their talent, are finally playing to the level of that talent and may not be done anytime soon. The committee did not do the overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga any favors, but they are still my favorite to go all the way. Now that my Boilermakers have shaved the Beard off of its list of curses, perhaps they can finally end their Final Four drought of 42 years. The door is pretty wide open for Kansas if they can get by Providence. I’m sticking with my original pick of Villanova in the South, although it will not be an easy path through, beginning with the Wolverines.