There were no dominant teams this year and this NCAA Tournament showed that
February 27th should’ve been a strong indication that there was going to be chaos in this year’s tournament and it showed. With all top 6 teams going down on the same day for the first time in the AP Poll Era, there were many upsets in the early rounds as only one No. 1 seed made it past the Sweet 16. Of course, that team went on to win, keeping the trend of a No. 1 seed coming as the champion, the fifth straight time this has happened.
But still, this was a chaotic tournament that saw two double-digit seeds making it to the Elite Eight, the fourth time ever this has happened. Coincidentally, the second year in a row with 12-seeded Oregon State and 11-seeded UCLA making it to that round (and beyond in UCLA’s case) in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Out of those six ranked teams that lost on February 27th, only one made it past the Sweet 16 (Kansas) and three of those teams lost to a double-digit seed. A chaos of some kind was predictable.
Some great coaches are starting to show some concerning NCAA Tournament track records
Only one team can win, leaving almost every other program disappointed, but a lot of the calls for coaches’ heads after this tournament have been ridiculous. Take a coach like Mark Few, who while he hasn’t won a national championship, has taken a small Jesuit school in Spokane, Washington to six straight Sweet 16s. While Dan Monson was able to get the 10-seeded Bulldogs on a Cinderella run in 1999 to the Elite Eight, Few has made this program a perennial title contender and No. 1 seed.
Calling for his head is ridiculous and the Bulldogs should end up cutting down the nets sometime in the near future. However, coaches like Rick Barnes, Danny Hurley, Chris Holtmann, and Brad Underwood are going to have to start making deeper tournament runs if they want to quell discussions about their future. Perhaps that is a bit unfair since Holtmann and Underwood were given harsh brackets and lost to better teams. But these four coaches have done admirable jobs elevating their programs to a point where their fanbase have expectations of them making the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament consistently.
Still, all of these teams have consistently looked unprepared or have found ways to lose winnable games during March Madness over the past few years. Especially Tennessee, who was seen by many as a national title contender this year and highly underseeded. The doubters are starting to emerge for these four elite coaches. I’m not writing any of them off, especially Underwood, and if these trends continue, it’ll be easy for any of them to get jobs elsewhere should they be let go in the near future.
UNC still will have eternal bragging rights over Duke
Hubert Davis can get fired shortly after and still be a coaching legend at North Carolina. Even with their loss to Kansas, this is one of the most historic seasons in North Carolina basketball history. I was going to say, should the Tarheels had found a way to win Monday night’s game, that this is the greatest title victory for this historic program. Even above the 1982 title that finally got legendary coach Dean Smith over the hump, thanks to freshman sensation Mike Jordan. Wonder what’s happened to that kid ever since?
Anyways, in a year with very limited expectations, with legendary coach Roy Williams stepping down the year before, the Tarheels spent most of the year justifiably under the radar. They were not ranked for most of the year and were on the bubble with surprising blowout losses to Wake Forest and Miami. However, the trajectory of UNC’s season completely changed after their loss at home to perennial ACC bottom-dwellers Pittsburgh.
The Tarheels would go on to win six straight games including their historic win against the most hated rival in their legendary coach’s last game at the arena he made one of the greatest home-court advantages in sports. In their previous matchup at Chapel Hill, exactly a month before, the Blue Devils had defeated the Tarheels by 20 points. Duke’s confidence that they were going to find a way to win this game on March 5 was evident in that the ceremony to honor Mike Krzyzewski was set to take place after the game.
But the Hubert Davis-led UNC Tarheels pulled away at the end in a shocking upset. That would have been enough for a lot of North Carolina fans to hang their hat on forever. However, that was just the beginning as the Tarheels went on to end the career of their most hated rival in the Final Four, making Coach K’s record against their program while he was at Duke 50-50, and defeating what looked like to many as the favorite going into New Orleans. The loss to Kansas certainly stings, but what the 2021-2022 North Carolina Tarheels accomplished will be remembered forever.
Paolo Banchero should be the number 1 overall pick
I don’t get it. I know these kids are teenagers and we’ve seen physical transformations over the years of players like Giannis Antetokounmpo into the monster he is today. But how is Paolo Banchero not the consensus number 1 prospect in this year’s draft? Numerous mock drafts have Banchero going behind the likes of Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren. The league has continually seen offenses run through do-it-all large guards/forwards which versatile skillsets. Whether it is the likes of Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetekoumpo, Lebron James, or Kevin Durant.
Smith and Holmgren should be very good pros and show more consistency on the defensive side of the ball in comparison to Banchero, whose lack of quickness was on a display at certain points in the Final Four. Still, the Italian-American has already shown a skillset and physical prowess that will easily adapt to the NBA and result in immediate success. Gonzaga did not run their offense through Holmgren, Timme was their best offensive option, and Smith was rarely relied upon to set up other teammates.
In addition, Banchero’s shooting form alone suggests that his three-point percentage (33%) woes will be erased on the next level. A good indication already is that the Italian-American shot 10/19 (52.6%) from distance during his team’s tournament run. Banchero already has the size and skill to be the closest to a sure thing in this draft. To the point where a 20 and 10 game can be seen as an off game for the second-team All-American because he didn’t attack his mismatch with Brady Manek enough.
Maybe some other players drafted later on will have better careers, but Banchero should be the number 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. Especially after his tournament performance and the limitations Smith and Holmgren showed in their elimination games. At 6’10, 250 pounds, the forward is everything an NBA team should want to build their franchise around and this tournament was just a small indication of how far he could potentially carry an NBA franchise through the playoffs in the near future.
Houston is a basketball powerhouse and will be a national title contender for the foreseeable future
The rest of the nation has a very large problem in one of the new basketball powerhouses on the block. New in the sense that the Cougars haven’t achieved this level of consistent success since the Phi Slama Jama. Small tangent, but Houston and Gonzaga both represent one of the best parts about college basketball, especially in comparison to college football. Two programs from mid-major conferences can become perennial national title contenders where they’re annually expected to make the Final Four or better. A trend that’s inconceivable in college football.
The world almost stood still when Cincinnati was let into the College Football Playoff. Whereas in college basketball, every team controls its own destiny and has a chance to win a national title. For the other sport, more than half the teams are eliminated from national title contention before the season begins. Anyways, behind a swarming defense and possessed offensive rebounding, Houston has made it to the Sweet 16 or better in the past three NCAA Tournaments. The last time they did not make it to at least this stage was due to Jordan Poole’s miraculous buzzer-beater for the 2018 runner-up Michigan.
Safe to say this is a program that constantly performs above expectations in the Kelvin Sampson era and will consistently be ranked in the top 15. This year was no different despite injuries to Tramon Mark and presumptive AAC player of the year Marcus Sasser. The Cougars still won the underrated American Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament and made it to the Elite Eight while dominating the most consistent team all year long, the Arizona Wildcats.
The fact that Houston only lost by six to a great Villanova team while shooting 29% from the field, going 1-20 from three, and shooting 64.3% from the free-throw line says all that needs to be known about the culture that’s been built under Sampson and company. Houston is here to stay and no matter how inconsistent they can be offensively, they will always go down kicking and screaming. Set to return Sasser, Mark, and Jamal Snead alongside a stacked recruiting class, Houston is projected by ESPN to be the number 2 team in the Way-Too-Early Top 25. Houston has always overachieved with Kelvin Sampson and even though they’ve never had these kinds of preseason expectations yet, next year should be no different.
Saint Peter’s earned their parade
The parade might have taken place in Jersey City on April Fool’s Day but the Peacocks’ historic run was not a joke. The Peacocks ran the gauntlet, taking down two teams that were in the top 10 for close to the entire year (in Purdue’s case, the entire year) and a mid-major that no one wanted to see in their bracket, Murray State. The small private Jesuit school in Jersey City, New Jersey, with their tallest starter at 6’8, defeated one team with the national player of the year powerhouse Oscar Tshiebwe and another team with a 7’3 monster in Zach Edey.
This run was anything but easy, but the Peacocks ended up pulling away in both those close games down the stretch thanks to terrific guard play from the likes of Doug Edert and Daryl Banks III, and stalwart defense from three-time MAAC Defensive Player of the Year KC Ndefo, who tallied two 6-block outings during the Peacocks’ Elite Eight run. As someone who picked Kentucky to win the title (I know, I know, but I did get the other three Final Four teams right) it was an honor to have Shaheen Holloway’s crew bust my bracket and make history.
Next year should bring more dominant teams at the top compared to this year
Sure Kansas, a 1 seed, ended up winning the title, but this was not one of Bill Self’s more dominant teams, at least during the regular season. Despite Gonzaga’s overall No. 1 ranking heading into the tournament, the only team that showed consistency throughout the season on both ends of the floor was Arizona. Still, the Wildcats paled in comparison to the dominance shown by two of the best teams of this century, Gonzaga and Baylor, during the 2020-2021 season.
While the 2022-2023 season may not bring any teams of the Gonzaga and Baylor quality, there should be more consistency at the top and a variety of great teams vying for a national championship next year. Houston should be a juggernaut, UNC depending on who they return, shouldn’t be anywhere close to an 8 seed, and UCLA should be able to take the next step under Mick Cronin and become a dominant blue blood again. I did not even begin to discuss teams like Arkansas, Duke, and even Creighton who gave Kansas its most competitive tournament game this year.
All that needs to be known is that Duke is projected as the 6th best team in the country going into next year, despite bringing in the number 1, 4, and 5 recruits in the country, their best recruiting class since RJ Barret, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish, amongst others, were brought in. Losing Coach K is a significant loss, but don’t expect the Blue Devils to take a step back next year. Arizona is another team that was largely composed of sophomores and despite certainly losing Benedict Mathurin, could be poised for another run at a No. 1 seed if they return most of their core. Expect more certainty over who the best teams are next year, but the madness will still almost certainly continue!