2022 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight Preview | The Morning Dunk
It's almost time for the Final Four, but before then, we must preview the eight teams that are fortunate enough to have played their way this far.
Happy Elite Eight weekend, fellow scouts and fans alike!
Welcome back to another special Saturday edition of The Morning Dunk, where I’ve been previewing each round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament from a scouting perspective. Who are the prospects to key in on in the top games? Who’s hot enough to swing a game in their team’s favor? What are the storylines to still pay attention to at this point?
All of those questions were answered over the last week, but as we approach the end, there are only so many top prospects left. As a matter of fact, only one of the most talked-about top projected players remains in the tournament field at this point. There are plenty of sleeper/deep cut prospects to pay attention to still, but why don’t we all enjoy this ride for what it’s been and what it is?
Let’s take a look at what’s to come over the next few days, starting as always in the West Region.
2 Duke vs. 4 Arkansas
Despite some up-and-down play at the end of the regular season and in the ACC Championship, Duke has made its way to the Elite Eight with plenty of momentum. Paolo Banchero hasn’t looked better offensively, and Mark Williams has fully emerged as this team’s second-best player. Banchero, in particular, has really found his stride, not only in finding ways to make plays off the bounce and leverage his physicality around the rim but also in firing with confidence from three. So many of Banchero’s catch-and-shoot looks this year have been products of hesitancy, but that hasn’t been the case of late. Arkansas will have their hands full if Banchero keeps shooting like this, not to mention contributions from Williams, AJ Griffin, and Wendell Moore. Jaylin Williams had another breakout game in the Razorbacks’ win over Gonzaga, as his offensive repertoire is coming alive at the right time. The more jumpers he can nail off the catch and on spot-ups from three, the more effective he can be attacking and going to more of his spin moves and footwork to get to the basket. A creative passer, Williams is an exciting partner to pair with gunner JD Notae, who took 27 shots and asserted himself against the Bulldogs. This game has offense written all over it, but I would look for the Blue Devils to emerge victorious behind too much “star” power.
2 Villanova vs. 5 Houston
Once again, Villanova just keeps winning games late in March. The Wildcats played a tough game against Michigan and had too many of their veterans hitting shots at the end to seal the win. Collin Gillespie, albeit not the “sexiest” point guard prospect in the country, has really done himself some favors in this tournament. If you’re a scout who hasn’t lived under a rock, you’ve known that Gillespie’s toughness, size, and IQ will have a good chance at translating in some form or fashion in the NBA. But the shooting ability that Gillespie has provided for Villanova this season has boosted his stock in my eyes. Normally a guard who has lived off of backing down his man and playing on the block similar to Jalen Brunson before him, Gillespie has really taken it upon himself to find looks from beyond the arc and play a Ryan Arcidiacono-type role for this squad. The provided spacing has helped other interior scorers like Jermaine Samuels take advantage and put efficient points on the board. Villanova is methodical and precise, but so is Houston, led by coach Kelvin Sampson. Despite the loss of Marcus Sasser, the trio of Jamal Shead, Kyler Edwards, and Fabian White Jr. have carried this Cougars offense while communicating and playing as rugged of team defense as you’ll find in the country. Shead and Edwards, in particular, have taken their games to new heights from range, and they are also balanced decision-makers who are more than willing to keep the ball moving. Both teams play a similar brand of basketball at heart, so it will be exciting to see which unit’s stars shine brightest with a Final Four berth on the line.
1 Kansas vs. 10 Miami
Miami is undoubtedly one of the surprises to still have made it this far, although each region has been rife with upsets galore. But the Hurricanes have one major ingredient in their favor to keep winning in March: the guard play. Isaiah Wong and Kameron McGusty, while not lights-out shooters, are two of the best pure scoring guards in the country. Both can get downhill and finish at the basket with creative packages and moves, which bends defenses and allows them to find others on their team capable of keeping the ball moving or hitting open shots. The pressure those two put on the rim is an essential part of stacking wins this deep in the tournament, and they’ll continue to do more of the same in this next match. Kansas, in my humble opinion, has been one of the best teams from start to finish this year. While I somehow didn’t pick them in my own bracket to go to the Final Four (I picked Auburn, another squad I thought was one of the best all season long), it doesn’t surprise me the Jayhawks are knocking on the door again. Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun are the prospects, and Braun’s name continues to trend upward by the day. Agbaji has the highlight dunks off lobs and smooth self-created shots of late, but Braun has been a big setup man and play finisher for Kansas. His defense, passing ability, and transition handling and scoring have helped him stand out amongst scouts, and he’s arguably been Kansas’ most consistent guy in the tournament. Whichever tandem of scorers can put more points on the board is likely who wins this one. Both squads have plenty of ancillary pieces to chip in, but I’m most intrigued by the Jayhawk prospect push come draft night. And what better way to continue to boost stock than win big here and advance even deeper.
8 North Carolina vs. 15 Saint Peter’s
There was no better time for a nuclear performance than now for North Carolina’s Caleb Love. Scorching hot from three-point range, flashy footwork to get to the basket, reverse finishes. What more could one have wanted to see from Love in this one? Putting up 30 points is quite an impressive number in a second-weekend tournament game. With RJ Davis having gone off in the Tar Heels’ previous matchup against Baylor and now Love is finding his groove, UNC has the ingredients to make a legitimate run to the championship. March is about guard play and consistent interior defense. Armando Bacot provides everything up front, and versatile shooter Brady Manek always finds always to get open from deep. Nothing will come easy on Sunday, however, as Saint Peter’s is this year’s Cinderella Story. Coach Shaheen Holloway has his players ready for battle at all times, and the Peacocks have strung together wins through sheer will and toughness. While North Carolina is capable of matching up against a physical team, the fight required will say a lot about coach Hubert Davis’ preparation and delivery. He is one who embodies those same principles, so I’ll be excited to see this one tip-off in person in Philadelphia.