Selection Sunday is behind us, and the field of 68 is finally set for the 2022 NCAA tournament. As with every year, there were some teams that were overrated by the committee, and some that were underrated. When filling out our brackets, it’s important to identify those teams. It’s march, and unprecedented things seem to happen every march. No one saw 16-seeded UMBC knocking off the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers in 2018, and no one saw the 12-seeded Oregon State Beavers making it all the way to the Elite Eight in 2021. In order to qualify for this list, the team must be a double-digit seed, as 8-9 games are toss-ups by nature.
WEST: #4 Arkansas vs #13 Vermont
The Vermont Catamounts rolled through the America East Conference Tournament with back-to-back-to-back wins with margins of victory of 29, 32, and 39 points. They went 17-1 in regular-season conference play, with their only loss coming by one point. Their non-conference losses came to #21 Maryland and the Providence Friars.
Vermont has one of the most efficient offenses in the country, centered around senior forward Ryan Davis. Davis averages 17.2 PPG and 5.7 RPG while shooting 59% from the field and 42.3% from 3. Senior guard Ben Shungu also does some heavy lifting on offense, averaging 16.2 PPG while shooting 52.5% from the field and 41.4% from 3. Vermont has the make-up of a sleeper team; they shoot 24 threes a game, making them at a 36.4% clip.
Arkansas made the Elite Eight last year before falling to the eventual champion Baylor Bears. They’re led by senior guard JD Notae and sophomore forward Jaylin Williams – both SEC first-team selections. Notae averages 18.4 PPG, shooting 40.8% from the field and 30.6% from three. Williams averages 10.5 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 1.4 SPG, and 1.2 BPG on 47.1% shooting. The Razorbacks play a high-paced style of basketball and their athleticism may be too much for Vermont, but they don’t shoot the ball well which may lead to their downfall.
EAST: #5 Saint Mary’s vs #12 Indiana
The Indiana Hoosiers would need to knock off Wyoming to reach the round of 64, but they pose a massive upset threat if they do. Wyoming may be the tougher challenge, as their inside-out duo of Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado averaged a combined 38.0 PPG. Wyoming was ranked 22nd in February, but stumbled late in the season, dropping three of four. Either of these teams could knock off Saint Mary’s but the Hoosiers have played their best basketball in the past couple of weeks.
The Hoosiers are undeniably underseeded, as they just knocked off Michigan and Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament before falling to Iowa on a banked-in 30-foot game winner from Jordan Bohannan. Trayce Jackson-Davis is one of the Big Ten’s premier players, averaging 18.1 PPG (58.9% FG%) and 8.2 RPG on the season. Jackson-Davis scored 20+ points in each of Indiana’s Big Ten tournament games, including 31 in their semifinal loss to Iowa.
Saint Mary’s is led by a trio of seniors, guards Tommy Kuhse and Logan Johnson and forward Matthias Tass. The Gaels won their regular-season finale over the Gonzaga Bulldogs to secure their 2nd place finish in the West Coast Conference and push their AP Poll ranking to 17th. They took down Santa Clara in the WCC Semifinal before falling to Gonzaga in the WCC championship game. The Gaels have four 10+ PPG scorers, but lack the starpower to rival Indiana’s Jackson-Davis. If the game is close, however, Saint Mary’s experience may prevail.
EAST: #7 Murray State vs #10 San Francisco
While #11 Virginia Tech is also an upset pick in the Eastern region, 52% of participants in ESPN’s bracket challenge have picked them to knock off #6 Texas. One team that’s falling under the radar is the San Francisco Dons, who rank 21st in adjusted KenPom efficiency, ahead of teams such as the 3rd seeded Wisconsin Badgers and 6th seeded Alabama Crimson Tide. The Dons finished 3rd in the West Coast Conference, but hold non-conference victories over Davidson, UAB, UNLV, and Fresno State.
The Dons are led by senior guard Jamaree Bouyea, who averages 16.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG, and 4.0 APG. Bouyea’s scoring and efficiency have taken a step back since last season, but he’s still one of the best players in the WCC, taking home an All-WCC first team appearance for the second straight year. He was joined on the WCC all-conference teams by forward Yauhen Massalki (1st team) and Khalil Shabazz (2nd team). Massalki, who transferred from San Diego to San Francisco before the season, averages 13.5 PPG while shooting 59.6% from the field. Shabazz is an inconsistent, inefficient scorer, but has averaged 19.9 PPG (45.4% FG%, 45.6% 3P%, 90.9% FT%) over his last eight games.
Murray State rolled through the Ohio Valley Conference, going 18-0 in conference play and winning the regular-season title and conference tournament. They’ve been ranked in the AP Poll since early March, and they’re only two losses came to Auburn and ETSU. They had a very light schedule, and seem to be a sleeper for many people. Their duo of junior stars were both starters on the 2018-19 team led by Ja Morant, and that tournament experience may be enough to overcome the defensive intensity of the Dons.
MIDWEST: #4 Providence vs #13 South Dakota State
These were two of my favorite teams coming into the tournament, but only one of them will be able to move on to the Round of 32. Despite the difference in seeding, these two teams are very evenly matched. The current betting line has the Friars as just two-point favorites. The South Dakota State Jackrabbits won the Summit League conference tournament over North Dakota State after going undefeated in conference play. The Summit League spawned one of last year’s cinderella stories, as Max Abmas and Oral Roberts made the Sweet 16 as a 15-seed.
The Jackrabbits have one of the most efficient offenses in Division-I basketball. They rank 12th in strength-of-schedule-adjusted KenPom offensive efficiency, and were 2nd in the NCAA with 86.7 PPG. They ranked 1st in the country in FGs made and 1st in 3P%. The Jackrabbits are led by two highly efficient 16 PPG scorers, Douglas Wilson and Baylor Scheierman. Wilson, a 6-7 senior forward, averages 16.5 PPG while shooting 57.4% from the field. Scheierman, a 6-6 sophomore guard, averages 16.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 4.6 APG while knocking down 47.3% of his threes.
The Providence Friars won the Big East regular-season title, but bowed out in the semifinals with a 27-point loss to Creighton. They’ve been called fraudulent all year, as many of their wins have come in close games. They’ve ranked as high as 8th in the AP Poll, but two losses to Villanova and one to Creighton lowered their stock entering the tournament. They’ve been one of the best teams in the country at winning close games, but they let their opponents stick around too often. South Dakota State has the high-powered offense to knock off the Friars in crunch time.
SOUTH: #4 Illinois vs #13 Chattanooga
In the South region, many people are picking 10-seed Loyola Chicago and 11-seed Michigan to knock off their first round opponents. While these are technically upsets, neither team are underdogs according to Vegas lines. Instead, I’d like to highlight the Chattanooga Mocs, who pose a massive threat to Illinois’ chances at making a deep run. While I’m not actually picking Chattanooga to win this game, they match up very well with the Illini, who are coming off of a loss to Indiana in their first Big Ten tournament game.
Sophomore guard Malachi Smith, a native of Illinois, averages 20.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game for the Mocs. Between him and David Jean-Baptiste, Chattanooga can rival the outside shooting of the Illini. The Mocs played Murray State well and beat VCU this year, and play a physical style of basketball. They beat Furman in the SoCon championship on a buzzer-beater from Jean-Baptiste.
Illinois is an experienced team with two veteran guards and one of the best players in all of college basketball. Chattanooga defends the three well, which could be the kryptonite for Illinois. Whether or not Jacob Grandison is back and healthy might be the difference in the game. The size of Kofi Cockburn might be too much for Chattanooga, but the key for the Illini will be the three-point shooting of Alfonso Plummer and Trent Frazier.
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