2022 NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen Preview | The Morning Dunk
After a first weekend filled with surprises and upsets, we move ahead to the Sweet Sixteen where it's time for the top players and teams to prove their worth.
Another Monday means another Morning Dunk column—welcome back!
This NCAA Tournament has been nothing short of spectacular in terms of memorable performances and surprising upsets. What a weekend it was, and at the same time, what a weekend ahead.
Some major storylines are starting to take shape, with some exciting matchups on the horizon. Top pro prospects like Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero remain in the field, while others like Jabari Smith Jr. and Johnny Davis have had to bow out.
Multiple double-digit seeds have even found ways to advance, making this gauntlet all the more fun and unpredictable. Welcome to March Madness, after all!
Now, let’s take a look as we have been before each around at the most anticipated scouting matchups in each region, starting in the West portion of the bracket.
1 Gonzaga vs. 4 Arkansas
This region is the only one in the bracket with all four of its top seeds still in the fold. That’s only fitting for the area I dubbed the “Region of Death” after it was announced on Selection Sunday. Gonzaga hasn’t quite been as dominant as some top overall seeds have been in the past. Still, they’ve managed to put together two wins behind the loaded frontcourt of Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme, along with timely shot-making from Andrew Nembhard and Julian Strawther. The experience and firepower of Timme and Nembhard led them to a tough victory over Memphis. I will be interested to see how the stars of Arkansas fare against one of the better-connected team defenses in the country. JD Notae will have his hands full dealing with the likes of Nembhard and Rasir Bolton at the point of attack, not to mention Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis off the bench. And prospect darling Jaylin Williams won’t have an easy time on the offensive end if Holmgren takes him as his assignment. Holmgren has the quickness and footwork to match anything Williams tries to create from the perimeter, and the length and anticipation of Chet on the block will make finishing over him a huge ask as well. The Bulldogs should be able to win this one, but if the Hogs get hot, it could be a real barn burner near the end.
2 Duke vs. 3 Texas Tech
This game will be one heck of a battle, as Duke has started to find its offensive rhythm behind mid-range killer Paolo Banchero. The smoothness of Banchero’s game off the bounce combined with his soft touch on turnaround jumpers ended up being too much for Michigan State to contain in the second round. However, that won’t quite be the case against Texas Tech, as the Red Raiders have multiple looks they can throw at Banchero and AJ Griffin on any given possession. Kevin McCullar is one of the best defenders in the country, while Terrence Shannon Jr. and Adonis Arms can contain and pressure at the point of attack. The biggest weakness for Tech outside of consistent perimeter shooting is the lack of a big body down low that can consistently throw Mark Williams off his game. If Williams plays at the level we’ve grown accustomed to over the last few weeks, the lob-catching rim runner could be the difference-maker with his ability to generate looks around the basket with ease. The Red Raiders have everything to upset the Blue Devils in this one, but with the way Banchero has played so far in the tournament, it wouldn’t shock me to see Duke move on to yet another Elite Eight.
1 Arizona vs. 5 Houston
The Arizona Wildcats ended the weekend with an OT thriller against TCU, with Bennedict Mathurin giving all that he had to help his team come away with a win. Despite struggling from the floor in the first half, Mathurin made every play down the stretch that his team needed and came up clutch from deep. After these first two games, Mathurin’s name is rightfully plastered on social media, and he is making scouts question just how high his stock could continue to rise. Christian Koloko and Dalen Terry also had their moments in the game, and the trio makes up a legitimate group of 2022 draft prospects who will be difficult to beat for the remainder of the tournament. Meanwhile, Houston may not have any sure-fire draft guys like Arizona, but they have one of the best coaches in college basketball in Kelvin Sampson leading an experienced group of winners. Jamal Shead has had buzz throughout the year, and Fabian White Jr. has some fans here at No Ceilings as a stretch big who offers rebounding and defensive versatility up front. Both squads are deep with talent, which should make for another close contest in the South Region.
2 Villanova vs. 11 Michigan
In one of the more surprising upsets in the tournament so far, Michigan found a way to advance past Tennessee in the second round. Despite an excellent performance from Kennedy Chandler both in the scoring and assisting departments, his mid-range efficiency wasn’t enough to overcome the physical dominance down low by Hunter Dickinson. Dickinson’s soft touch around the basket and consistent banging down low wore down the Volunteer big men while Moussa Diabate found ways to remain effective on both ends of the floor to support up front. Caleb Houstan didn’t have a good game offensively, but if he re-discovers his three-point stroke, the Wolverines could make it interesting against a more heavily favorited Villanova squad led by experienced guard Collin Gillespie. Gillespie was nothing short of spectacular against Ohio State, carving them up inside the arc and even going to his patented post-and-pass game to throw off the Buckeye defense. Jermaine Samuels has also been a difference-maker in the tournament, and the united defensive front of the Wildcats has a chance to limit penetration and entry passes into Dickinson down low. But Villanova has nobody capable of stopping Dickinson from piling up points at the basket if he gets his touches.
1. Kansas vs. 4 Providence
Ochai Agbaji has found ways to make big shots off the bounce during this tournament run for Kansas, something I personally have had questions about over the last few years. While his play hasn’t been the sexiest, Christian Braun has been steady for the Jayhawks in both games. He’s shot efficiently from the field, competed defensively, and brought a different kind of energy and spirit that this team has needed. Remy Martin has also been one of the best players on the floor in both games, and his experience from the point guard position will be crucial in beating a Providence team that has long outperformed expectations set forth at the beginning of the year. Nate Watson is the primary name to watch as far as being a potential NBA prospect, but other seniors like Al Durham and Noah Horchler have done their part in the tournament, particularly last game against Richmond, to make their presence felt and help the Friars advance. This game is a battle between two of the most experienced teams left in the tournament and should prove to be one hell of a game.
10 Miami vs. 11 Iowa State
Talk about upset city in this matchup! Both Iowa State and Miami won major games in the second round, taking out Wisconsin and Auburn, respectively. The Cyclones’ win wasn’t as surprising to me, as the Badgers have relied so heavily upon Johnny Davis all year to the point where the wheels were going to fall off the wagon at some point. But the Hurricanes completely dismantling that Tigers defense shocked me as I watched. While not “shooters” in the backcourt, Isaiah Wong and Kameron McGusty are two of the best scoring guards left in the tournament and could very well have NBA futures in front of them. McGusty, in particular, has really impressed me with his hot streak from three; however, Wong has plenty of fans in scouting circles. It will take all of Izaiah Brockington and Tyrese Hunter to overcome Miami, but if anyone is capable of heroics, it’s those two. If I had to choose, I would ride the guard play and frontcourt versatility of the Hurricanes, but both teams deserve to be where they are right now.
4 UCLA vs. 8 North Carolina
A fight between two of the game’s true blue bloods, UCLA against North Carolina, has the makings of an absolute brawl. There are plenty of potential NBA players to watch in this one, starting on the Bruins side. Peyton Watson has had moments in both tournament games as a 6’8” perimeter-based wing who can help block shots on the weak side. His energy and defensive versatility off the bench have been a welcome addition in both contests for UCLA. Jaime Jaquez and Johnny Juzang have been in this position before, and they should continue to hit big shots when their team needs them the most. On the other side, the Tar Heels are coming off a thrilling OT victory against Baylor in which RJ Davis shot the cover off the ball from three. Caleb Love didn’t have nearly as many standout moments in that game, but he’s certainly capable of doing the same. Armando Bacot, meanwhile, has re-inserted himself into UDFA conversations as far as his pro prospects are concerned. His physicality and finishing ability on the interior have helped North Carolina get this far, and he will once again need to win inside on both ends of the floor against Cody Riley.
3 Purdue vs. 15 Saint Peter’s
While Saint Peter’s deserves all of the praise for winning as a 15th seed and making it this far, the scouting storylines are all on the Purdue side of things. Jaden Ivey has been sensational all year long, but he has been particularly exceptional over the last month—including these few tournament games. Ivey is known for his blinding speed in transition and slithery nature in terms of finishing around the basket, and his playmaking has taken a jump this year in a big way. He hasn’t just developed his passing and court vision; the jump shot, to me, is the biggest development of them all. Ivey is beginning to hit off-the-dribble threes with regularity, which I didn’t believe he fully had in his arsenal leading to me having him ranked lower than the consensus forwards/bigs at the top of the draft. If he remains this lethal on the offensive end of the floor, and if he gets help from Trevion Williams and Zach Edey up front, the Boilermakers should have no problem walking away with a win.