2022 NCAA Tournament First Round Preview | The Morning Dunk
March Madness is upon us, so what better way to kick off a Monday morning than to preview all of the action?
Welcome to the madness, everyone!
The 2022 NCAA Tournament bracket is upon us, AKA time for me to lose money in a bracket pool!
As we all brace to watch the games from our TVs (or for some of us, our computer monitors at work), let’s embrace the excitement and relish in the joy that stems from one of the best times of the year.
But as much as I’d love to sit here and write a massive guide telling you how to pick your bracket, that’s not why you’re reading No Ceilings!
You are a subscribing member to one of the best NBA Draft content hubs available online. So that means we have to talk prospects!
In case you missed our Selection Sunday livestream, feel free to watch it below as ALL OF US here at No Ceilings hopped on for rapid-fire segments covering the top draft storylines that could emerge from all of the tourney goodness.
With that being said, I’ll keep in the spirit of The Morning Dunk and go through each region of the bracket weekly to highlight the matchups you should watch in terms of what could matter most come June.
Let’s kick off the first of an exciting series of Monday columns with the West region, home to the top seed Gonzaga Bulldogs!
1 Gonzaga vs. 16 Georgia State
Any chance you have to see Chet Holmgren at this point, you should take it. He’s arguably the top player available in the 2022 draft class and is likely to show plenty of his two-way versatility against a mid-major in the first round. Other Gonzaga players to note who could boost their stocks in the tournament include Julian Strawther, Nolan Hickman, Hunter Sallis, Drew Timme, and Andrew Nembhard.
2 Duke vs. 15 CSU Fullerton
Same sales pitch as with Holmgren—get your eyes on Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin now, as well as the rest of this talented Duke squad. The Blue Devils are oozing with pro talent worth watching, and they should look to storm back with a vengeance after a disappointing loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament final. Other prospects of note include Mark Williams, Trevor Keels, and Wendell Moore.
4 Arkansas vs. 13 Vermont
One of the hottest names in draft circles over the last few weeks has been Jaylin Williams and for good reason. Depending on who you talk to, the forward’s stock ranges anywhere from late first to mid-second round. But with a deep enough run in the “Region of Death,” Williams could win over more and more fans in a hurry. Every tournament has plenty of unsung heroes rise above the rest, and it’s safe to say Williams could get enough buzz to declare and stay in the 2022 Draft if he puts everything together. JD Notae is also a guard worth keeping in mind in the UDFA pool should he declare.
6 Alabama vs. 11 Rutgers/Notre Dame
Alabama will have its hands full with either matchup here. Rutgers, while not the greatest team away from the “Trapezoid of Terror” still plays well defensively and has a veteran bucket getter worthy of draft consideration in Ron Harper Jr. Meanwhile, Blake Wesley could use a great outing or two in the tournament to raise his stock back to what it once was. The 6’5” freshman guard garnered some significant near-lottery buzz a few months ago, but inconsistent shooting performances have placed him near the back end of the first on some major outlet boards. A matchup of Wesley against JD Davison could be a great litmus test for both, and Keon Ellis is another Crimson Tide prospect who could creep back into early second-round conversations.
1 Arizona vs. 16 Wright State/Bryant
Regardless of who Arizona’s opponent is, expect a show from the Pac-12 champions. This Wildcats team has spared no one along the way in terms of handing out loss after loss. I would go so far as to say at least SIX prospects on the current roster likely have AT LEAST a cup of coffee in the league. Projected lottery pick Bennedict Mathurin might not be the only first-rounder out of the bunch either, as Christian Koloko has stood out all year long AND Dalen Terry has stepped up to the plate as the team’s fill-in lead guard for Kerr Kriisa. Terry was viewed by many (myself included) as a 2023 guy but if he continues to play well on the biggest stage he could wind up declaring this year and being a surprise pick in the first. Other prospects include Azuolas Tubelis and Pelle Larsson.
6 Colorado State vs. 11 Michigan
I’ve really come around on David Roddy as a draftable prospect. Despite his physical concerns in terms of weight and his liabilities as a defender, he checks so many boxes offensively. Sometimes, the prospects who are most “outside the box” end up being more valuable NBA players than they were initially assumed to be. He’ll have a great chance to show what he can do offensively against a Michigan squad that has a number of players they can throw at him. Caleb Houstan, Moussa Diabate, and Hunter Dickinson could all improve their draft stock with a win or two in the tournament.
7 Ohio State vs. 10 Loyola Chicago
Things are heating up for the Ohio State pair of prospects here at No Ceilings. Our conversations have centered around not only Malaki Branham rapidly rising into potential top 20 territory, but also EJ Liddell, who has captained this squad all year long as a two-way, do-it-all forward on both ends of the floor. It’s appropriate to book some time to watch both of them in the tournament, and if they live up to their promise as outside threats and help win a game or two, they could both solidify fairly high selections come June.
1 Kansas vs. 16 Texas Southern/Texas A&M-CC
The Kansas Jayhawks are as legitimate of a threat as any to make it to the Final Four thanks to their two projected first-round talents in Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun. Agbaji has made a statement all year long as one of the best players in the country, and will surely bring plenty of good to the NBA after helping Kansas win a few more games along the way. His scoring versatility, athleticism, and defense should help in that mission. Don’t sleep on Braun, however. The 6’6” wing has had plenty of moments of his own this year as an unselfish glue guy who can score from the perimeter, handle and pass in transition, and guard multiple positions. Both, along with the other veterans on the team, form quite the formidable bunch.
2 Auburn vs. 15 Jacksonville State
Auburn has too much firepower to NOT watch their first game in the tournament. Jabari Smith Jr. is a sales pitch all of his own, as a candidate to go first overall in the draft and likely no lower than third. A 6’10” forward who can shoot over anyone on the floor and provide plenty of help defense and weak-side rim protection has PLENTY of supporters amongst scouts and executives. He, along with Walker Kessler, has put a lid on the rim for opposing units all year long and should do the same in this matchup here. One prospect who could put himself back on the map with a breakout stretch: Allen Flanigan.
5 Iowa vs. 12 Richmond
Even though the Richmond Spiders stole some bids and marched to an A-10 championship, I’m not taking the upset here against the Iowa Hawkeyes and projected lottery pick Keegan Murray. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Murray has been scorching college basketball all year long as one of the game’s most efficient scoring threats. From facing up to converting in the post, to nailing open triples, to defending on or off the ball. There’s very little that Murray isn’t capable of doing, and oh by the way he has a twin brother Kris who is also destined to play in the NBA one day. Do yourself a favor and watch these two before they’re gone to the league.
6 LSU vs. 11 Iowa State
This could absolutely be a trap game for the LSU Tigers, as Iowa State is capable of grinding out wins behind solid team defense and stellar guard play from Tyrese Hunter and Izaiah Brockington. Alternatively, LSU could live up to its promise as a Sweet 16 threat and unleash defensive hell in the form of Tari Eason and Alex Fudge. There’s plenty of experienced firepower in the backcourt as well as forward Darius Days, but Eason has been one of the best players in the country this year and can change the course of a game quickly with his defensive playmaking and transition finishing. If he’s nailing perimeter shots, this could be a tough team to beat if the rest of his teammates limit turnovers and aid in the defensive efforts.
1 Baylor vs. 16 Norfolk State
The potential lottery combination of Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan is reason enough to tune in to Baylor’s first game of the tournament. Both are billed as combo forwards who can dribble, pass and shoot on their best days while also defending multiple positions. Sochan in particular has been one of the best utility forwards in the country, and one would expect him to continue to show more of the flashes he has over the last few weeks. The Bears have the guards, bigs, and gunners (looking at you Matthew Mayer) to make a deep run in the tournament, but pay attention to those two young forwards.
8 North Carolina vs. 9 Marquette
We didn’t address arguably the best first-round matchup of the whole tournament in UNC against the Golden Eagles of Marquette, but this is why I write a follow-up column, everyone—I have you covered. The Tar Heels have quietly played great basketball over the last month, and Caleb Love is itching to re-insert himself into more prominent draft discussions. Meanwhile, Justin Lewis has garnered plenty of praise as a first-round forward to pay attention to. At his best, Lewis can hold his own defensively while acting as one of the best pick-and-pop dance partners in the draft. He has an intriguing set of skills, and he could continue to climb up boards if Marquette starts March Madness off with a bang.
3 Purdue vs. 14 Yale
Did you really think I was going to write a “must-watch” piece and not say words on Jaden Ivey? A picture of Ivey is right next to the word “exciting” in the dictionary. The 6’4” guard is a blur in the open court, and continued showings of crafty finishes at the rim along with step-back shot-making from deep have propped him into the top of the draft conversations. Some scouts think he’s as good as third in this class, and there’s even a portion of the community who don’t think it’s crazy to consider him at the very top. Trevion Williams is also a fun prospect worth keeping an eye on, and Zach Edey has supporters in front offices.
7 Murray State vs. 10 San Francisco
Tevin Brown. If you haven’t watched a second of Brown, please do yourself a favor and do so before you even watch him in this matchup. A legitimate combo guard who can get his shot from almost anywhere, Brown is one of the best mid-major sleeper prospects in the country and could very well propel his team on a serious run in the East. However, he’ll have to get past a tough San Francisco squad captained by Jamaree Bouyea, who should also be taken a little more seriously as a potential NBA-caliber guard. Expect this game to not have major implications for the 2022 Draft, but still offer plenty of excitement and fireworks in the first round.