March Madness 2022: (Too) Early Predictions

The managing sports editors introduce a community-wide ESPN Bracket Challenge and present their contenders, pretenders, dark horses, and sleepers. The group name to join is Amherst Student 2022!

March Madness is right around the corner, so it’s time to start filling out your brackets! Here is the managing sports editors’ (very well-thought-out) advice for who you should and shouldn’t pick in this year’s tournament.

Contenders: These teams are the ones that we think are most likely to contend for a national title. These teams have impressive resumes, and are rightfully seen as being capable of winning a championship. They should go far in this year’s tournament.

Arizona University Wildcats: It’s not a name I have heard very often in the last few years, but the Wildcats are just that good this season. Currently ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll and the NCAA NET Rankings, Arizona has racked up a 28-3 record, including six Quad One wins. They have the talent, with sophomore guard Bennedict Mathurin averaging 17.2 points per game and three other players averaging double figures. They are a well-rounded offensive and defensive team, and have all the pieces to put together a masterful March run. — Liza Katz ’24

Baylor University Bears: Baylor will win their second-straight national championship. In a year in which exciting big men dominate the awards talk, I still think that experienced guard play is the only thing that matters in the tournament. The Bears have that with Adam Flagler stepping up and Arizona transfer James Akinjo looking like one of the best point guards in the nation. They have a 26-5 record and the second-hardest strength of schedule in the KenPom top 10. The repeat is coming. — Leo Kamin ’25

University of Kentucky Wildcats: Kentucky will either crash and burn, or they’ll win the tournament. Their offense is uniquely explosive, and once the pressure ramps up and the stage is set, I think they could pick things up even further. They have a reputation for outperforming their rankings, and if they’re ranked high, there’s only so far up they can go.  — Nick Edwards-Levin ’25

Auburn University Tigers: Auburn is definitely no longer a football school: a 19-game winning streak on the hardwood propelled them to nationally-ranked No.1 earlier this year and gave Tigers fans the self-anointed title of a basketball school. Though they’ve lacked consistency, this type of streaky play is exactly what is needed to make a deep run come tourney time. Led by one of the best frontcourts in college basketball in Walker Kessler and Jabari Smith and supplementary play from their athletic guards, Auburn is primed to cement themselves as a basketball school this tournament. — Alex Noga ’23

Pretenders: These teams have the look of a contender, but be wary of picking them to go far in March. Whether it’s due to red flags, poor strength of conference, or bad losses, make sure you take these teams’ good seasons with a grain of salt when picking your bracket.

Providence College Friars: The Friars are a damn good team, and are finally getting the respect they deserve based on their 23-4 record. They’re currently ranked No. 11, one of the best-coached and most experienced teams in the nation, and great in close games, with an 11-2 record in games decided by five points or less. But that kind of sheer luck is just not sustainable. They’ve also lost all their games to other contenders, including two to Villanova. Their ridiculous luck will run out, and they’ll most likely flame out early. — Liza Katz ’24

Gonzaga University Bulldogs: I don’t believe in No. 1 Gonzaga. They’ve lost three out of five of what I consider to be their “real” games: beating Texas and UCLA, but falling to Duke, Alabama, and St. Mary’s. Mostly, I’ve never hated an athlete more than I hate Drew Timme. He looks and plays like an indie Christian Laettner. I can’t really deny that they have as good a chance as anybody to win. But I would rather be wrong than root for Gonzaga and be right. — Leo Kamin ’25

Purdue University Boilermakers: There’s a sharp polarization between the Boilermakers’ offensive prowess and their defensive woes. They have the top adjusted-offense in all of college basketball according to KenPom, yet their adjusted-defense is ranked No. 116 nationally. With the inevitable nail-biting tournament games looming on the horizon, the Boilermakers are too weak on the defensive side of the ball to go toe-to-toe with the more potent offenses in the country. Look for Purdue to bow out early and return home to tend to their boiler-making responsibilities. — Alex Noga ’23

Tennessee Volunteers: Their team name is the Volunteers — they’re not the real deal. In their close win against Arkansas, they came far too close for comfort to allowing a last-minute comeback. In March, when the emotions run higher than ever, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the subjects of a second-half heartbreak. — Nick Edwards-Levin ’25

Dark Horses: These teams are not currently at the forefront of any National Championship talk, but don’t be surprised if they go far, or even win the title, in this year’s tournament.

University of Illinois Fighting Illini: It’s true — Illinois has played some lackluster basketball this season. And, it’s true, their track record in the NCAA tournament isn’t doing them any favors. And, finally, their stats aren’t particularly encouraging. But this very well could be the perfect opportunity for Kofi Cockburn to show his dominance on the biggest stage. He’s averaged 21.0 points per game, shooting 60 percent from the field. Give him a few good games, and you’ve got a contender. — Nick Edwards-Levin ’25

UCLA Bruins: It seems weird that a team that made the Final Four last season is now a dark horse, but the Bruins really seem to have fallen out of the national title conversation. They have the resume: they are currently ranked 13th in the nation and 12th in NET with a 22-6 record, have recorded top-10 wins over Villianova and Arizona, have a star in guard Johnny Juzang — who is averaging 17 points per game and almost 40 percent from three — and barely lost out on the PAC-12 league title to Arizona. UCLA is a very good team with a knack for playing well in March, and they’re ‘Bruin’ up a recipe for a deep run. — Liza Katz ’24

Villanova University Wildcats: No. 11 Villanova is my dark horse. I have more faith in Jay Wright’s program, which retains its best players for more than one season and churns out NBA role players, than many of the blue bloods ranked ahead of it. Senior Collin Gillespie has been starting for three years and, as a finalist for the Cousy and Wooden awards, he has become probably the best point guard in the nation. If they roll through the Big East tournament this week, they could beat anyone come tournament time. — Leo Kamin ’25

Texas Technological University Red Raiders: Some may be wary of putting their faith in a team with a first-year head coach, but Mark Adams has been here before, as he was an assistant coach during Tech’s runner-up finish in 2019. Though they don’t have a go-to guy on the offensive side of the floor, the Red Raiders play stifling defense, boasting the best adjusted-defense in the country. With regular season wins against Texas (twice), Kansas, and Baylor (twice), don’t be surprised to see Tech in the final once again. — Alex Noga ’23

Cinderellas: You know them, you love them! These are the teams that we believe have the ability to pull off an upset or two, and put together a Cinderella run come tournament time.

Michigan Wolverines: I know you’re laughing. A blue-blood, a Cinderella? The Wolverines are projected to be an 11-seed, and one of the last four teams to get a bye into the tournament. They’re thoroughly on the bubble. But Michigan is a top-40 team in the NET, and plays in the BIG 10, the top conference in the country this year. They have notched some impressive wins, including over top-25 teams Ohio State and Iowa, and top-10 Purdue. Hunter Dickinson is a bonafide star, averaging almost a double-double per game. And to top it all off, one of the most frequent upset spots in the bracket is the 6-11 matchup. — Liza Katz ’24

South Dakota State University Jackrabbits: Projected 11-seed South Dakota State has the highest 3-point percentage in the nation by a whopping 5 percentage points. They are 18-0 in conference play. They are from South Dakota. Their mascot is the Jackrabbit. They are the perfect Cinderella. A lot of people will probably have them winning in the first round, but if (big if) SDSU continues to shoot 45 percent from three through March, they can win the whole tournament. — Leo Kamin ’25

Rutgers University Scarlet Knights: Playing in the highly competitive BIG 10, the Scarlet Knights have marquee wins against Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa this season, more than enough evidence that Rutgers can win big games. Though they remain a bubble team likely to be playing in the First Four, these knights in scarlet armor look poised to make some noise in the BIG 10 tournament and carry that momentum into the madness. — Alex Noga ’23

Montana State Bobcats: You heard it here first, folks. Xavier Bishop will lead his team (if they do end up winning the Big Sky) to a historic NCAA tournament run. Between Bishop and Jubrile Belo, who don’t necessarily put up the greatest numbers but still display flashes of dominance, they are prime contenders to outperform their seed to a startling degree. — Nick Edwards-Levin ’25

That’s all folks! Feel free to use our picks (or don’t) when you fill out your brackets for the tournament next week. And to make your lives a little more fun, and give you a place to put this A-plus advice into practice, The Student is going to be hosting an Amherst-wide bracket challenge, with the winner receiving a special prize to be named later (an Antonio’s gift card is on the table!). The group name on the ESPN Bracket Challenge site is Amherst Student 2022. If you think you can beat the four of us, give it a shot. We’ll see you all on the leaderboard.