2022 NCAA Tournament Final Four Preview | The Morning Dunk
We have reached the Final Four in the 2022 NCAA Tournament, and luckily there are plenty of prospects to watch and study.
We’ve almost reached the end of this season’s Morning Dunk column!
Fear not, as my weekly update series will most definitely return next year to set the scene for the college landscape. But as it is current events focused, it will soon be time to pivot to covering players on a more individual basis along with the rest of my colleagues here at No Ceilings.
There are, however, three MAJOR games left in the season that will be fought between “blue blood” programs in college basketball. Even though the Cinderella story ended for Saint Peter’s, I can’t imagine fans of the sport and scouts alike will be disappointed with what transpires next weekend.
As I’ve done before every round, it’s time to set the scene for the Final Four!
2 Duke vs. 8 North Carolina
Talk about one for the ages.
This rivalry has brought together many basketball icons for rigorous contests, some of which have even left its players bloodied and battered by the final buzzer.
While both of these teams are filled with freshmen and sophomores who haven’t spent years hating each other like back in the day, there’s still some bad blood here because of what happened earlier in the year.
Forget the first meeting of these two squads. Coach K’s last regular-season game in Cameron Indoor Stadium saw not just a win by the Tar Heels but an absolute beatdown and bludgeoning.
The majority of the game wasn’t even close, which is something that should be on the back of every player’s mind, first and foremost Paolo Banchero.
Now Banchero has never looked better offensively than in this tournament. He’s averaging 18.5 PPG on 51.0/53.3/77.8 shooting splits—truly remarkable, especially given how he didn’t finish with an above-average mark from deep on the year.
The keyword here for Banchero has been confidence. No longer is he cautiously studying the floor with a hesitancy to let it fly from range. Banchero is stepping into his shots and immediately firing off the catch if he has space. He’s forced defenders to close out on him from behind the arc, and when they do, he’s got the handle, footwork, and power to create separation and finish off the bounce.
All of those things led to his biggest improvements, which were on display before the NCAA Tournament: his willingness and ability to make everyone else around him better.
Banchero’s passing has been excellent off initial penetration, working off screens, and even playing off Duke’s signature double drag for Mark Williams to catch the easy lob. Those two, in particular, have been in excellent sync, and Banchero has developed chemistry even further with AJ Griffin, Wendell Moore, and Trevor Keels.
One aspect that few have put together regarding Banchero’s improvements as a “point forward” is how much pressure those improvements have taken off the shoulders of Jeremy Roach. Roach no longer has to be the primary setup guy on the floor for the Blue Devils. Both he and Moore can focus on looking for their own shot, which has opened up both of their offensive games and, in turn, taken Duke to another level.
That firepower will be tough for North Carolina to match, but the Tar Heels are arguably better suited to win in March than their rival.
Caleb Love and RJ Davis form one of the most dangerous backcourts in the country, as both are capable of long-range barrages mixed in with fancy finishes around the basket. Love, in particular, busted out a few moves off the bounce that he hasn’t shown consistently through his young career but are still there if he’s forced off the perimeter.
Inside, Armando Bacot has been utterly dominant as a glass cleaner on both ends of the floor. One of the ACC’s premier big men, Bacot was the biggest reason why the game against the Peacocks wasn’t close from start to finish. While not quite a draftable prospect, Bacot could still find a roster spot in the league because of his effort and physicality on the boards. Despite his candidacy as a next-level player, he’ll make his presence felt and could win the battle inside against Williams as he did in their last meeting.
I fully expect this game to be close and run down to the wire. Duke may have more NBA players, but the three Carolina guys mentioned, along with Leaky Black and Brady Manek, form one of the most experienced and talented lineups that the Tar Heels have seen in years. Spacing, size, athleticism, and defensive intelligence ooze from this UNC group, so the Blue Devils better come ready to battle on Saturday.
1 Kansas vs. 2 Villanova
Even though Moore isn’t a star to the likes of Ochai Agbaji or Christian Braun, he’s still been one of the team’s best scorers over the last few years and has offered much-needed spacing for guys like Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, and Brandon Slater to thrive off the bounce.
Still, Gillespie was always going to be the key to a potential upset, and he still is. The senior guard made his presence felt against Houston late in the game and has been much better at shooting from distance this year. Intelligent point guards who are tough, mature leaders capable of scoring and distributing from all three levels are one of two main ingredients for March Madness success, along with size up front.
Samuels and Slater provide versatile size and length, can defend multiple positions, and can make passing lanes tight as can be within zone defensive schemes. Furthermore, Eric Dixon has really stepped up on the interior for Villanova through this tournament. He’ll have to be on his “A-Game” against David McCormack, as the veteran center has had his way with the entire country all season long. Not only is he a bruising rebounder and terrific shot-blocker, but he’s even started stepping out to the foul line and knocking down jumpers to offer the spacing for cutters like Agbaji to terrorize opposing defenses.
My biggest takeaway from what Kansas has done in March is Braun’s playmaking. Bill Self has put the ball in his hands in transition and in half-court sets, and he has reaped the rewards. Braun’s steadiness with the ball in his hands has helped alleviate pressure off of Dajuan Harris and Remy Martin’s shoulders and has allowed Martin, in particular, to play free off the bench to do what he does best: score.
Martin has been sensational as a mid-range shot maker in the tournament, and he has started to better connect from distance as well. The dimension he adds to this Jayhawks offense has been invaluable to the team’s successes in the tournament.
But we know who this all comes back to in the end. Agbaji has to play like a National Player of the Year candidate just as he did against Miami, a game in which he shot 8-for-12 from the field and knocked down multiple triples en route to his best game of the tournament. While not the best wing creator out of isolation, he can still spot up or score in a variety of ways, and his off-ball versatility is a perfect complement to guys like Braun and Harris who are much better at sharing the rock than going into takeover mode.
Kansas is deep, balanced, and experienced. If either of these two games were to end in a potential blowout, this would be my pick. But you can never count out Jay Wright. This one should also end as a classic and satisfy any basketball junkies looking for a good time.