Things are starting to look up in 2022. We have mostly gotten through winter, even though there are probably about two “false springs” left in central Ohio. The clocks jumped an hour forward over the weekend, so we get a little more light in the evening before sunset. NFL free agency opened up ahead of next month’s draft. Even baseball was able to stop being embarrassing for a couple minutes, ending their CBA dispute and allowing the gears to be put in motion for the season to start next month.
All that and we haven’t even gotten to the most important part! On Thursday, the NCAA Tournament starts. If you want to be technical, the tournament really starts on Tuesday, but since play-in games don’t count when it comes to bracket points, we’re not going to treat them like true tournament games. This year’s tournament will be a little more special than others, since after the 2020 NCAA Tournament getting scrapped due to COVID-19, last year’s tournament was held only in Indiana. We are back to normal for this year’s edition, with games being spread out around the country and fans back in attendance.
Right now is the time where you’ve been pouring over the bracket for the last couple days, preaching your hot upset picks to your skeptical friends. Then the first few days of the tournament happen, and by the weekend you have already put your bracket through the paper shredder because it did pretty much the opposite of everything you wanted it to do. This is what makes sports fun since anything can happen over the upcoming four-day stretch.
So who are our writers taking when it comes to not only winning this year’s NCAA Tournament, but also being “Cinderella” this year? Today we have the answer from two of them. Brett Ludwiczak and Meredith Hein have studied up on this year’s field, and have hopefully found some strong picks to pass along.
Today’s questions: What team are you picking to win the NCAA Tournament? Whose is your “Cinderella”
We’d love to hear your choices. Either respond to us on Twitter at @Landgrant33 or leave your choice in the comments.
Brett’s picks: Champion: Gonzaga // Cinderella: Colgate
After losing in the title game last year, this feels like the year that Gonzaga finally gets their championship. A few of the names might be different, but one player you’ll definitely remember from last year’s run for the Zags is Drew Timme, who gained notoriety for his mustache. You’ll likely be hearing plenty about what is growing on Timme’s face this year, since the WCC Player of the Year just signed an NIL deal with Dollar Shave Club.
Gonzaga is once again the #MarchMadness favorite only this time Drew Timme is getting paid to be the man…as a “chin-fluencer” @DollarShaveClub— Dave Briggs (@davebriggstv) March 11, 2022
Who’s his mustache chinspiration & will the Zags cut down the nets? @YahooFinance https://t.co/zQTYz8Zw2n pic.twitter.com/F6NUrECuZR
Gonzaga has plenty to lean on besides Timme, as top recruit Chet Holmgren is second on the team in scoring, and leads the Zags with 9.6 rebounds per game. While Gonzaga doesn’t have Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs, or Joel Ayayi like they did last year, Andrew Nembhard and Anton Watson are back from last year’s runner-up squad.
Why I like the Zags this year is because their path to the Final Four looks pretty easy. Gonzaga should be able to easily handle either Boise State or Memphis on Saturday. Whoever comes out of the UConn/New Mexico State & Arkansas/Vermont games doesn’t worry me too much about sending the Zags home in the Sweet Sixteen. While things will get a little interesting against possibly Texas Tech or Duke in the Elite Eight, both teams will likely fall short of denying the Zags another Final Four trip. What better way for Gonzaga to get some revenge on Duke for an 84-81 loss earlier in the year than by ending Coach K’s coaching career!
Unlike some runs in the past for Gonzaga where you are wondering who they played during the season, the Zags played a tough schedule this year. Not only was the WCC a lot more competitive than normal with Saint Mary’s and San Francisco earning at-large bids, but Gonzaga played five teams that were ranked at the time in their non-conference schedule, with three of those contests being against top-five teams. The Zags will be ready when the light shines the brightest.
When it comes to this year’s “Cinderella” pick, I’ll go with Toothpaste University. Colgate struggled early on in the season, opening up 4-10. Despite the slow start, the Raiders did drop 100 points at Syracuse for a solid win over the Orange in November. Once Patriot League play hit, Colgate found their rhythm, winning 19 of their last 20.
The Raiders are 0-4 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. This year’s appearance from the Patriot League champs is the third straight for head coach Matt Langel. Colgate earned their spot in the big dance thanks to some sniper shooting from three-point range. For the season, the Raiders are averaging 40.8% as a team from distance. Five Raiders have hit at least 47 three-pointers this season, with Jack Ferguson leading the team with 90 triples.
Despite sharing the Big Ten regular season title this year, Wisconsin doesn’t exactly have a ton of confidence heading into the tournament. The Badgers head into this year’s tournament on a two-game losing streak. Star guard Johnny Davis picked up an ankle injury in the 74-73 loss to Nebraska, and it was obvious it bothered him in the loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament. Davis went just 3-of-19 from the field against the Spartans.
If Colgate is able to slay Wisconsin, they have a good shot of at least making the Sweet Sixteen. Their second round opponent would be either LSU or Iowa State, with both teams having their own issues. LSU just fired head coach Will Wade after the Tigers lost in the SEC Tournament because years of shady recruiting finally caught up to Wade. Iowa State has struggled to score recently, netting 36 points in their second-to-last game of the regular season, followed by just 41 points in a Big 12 Tournament loss to Texas Tech. Conditions are perfect for Colgate to do a little damage.
Meredith’s picks: Champion: Wisconsin // Cinderella: Indiana
Welp, I’m going in an entirely different direction, Brett. Only one of us will survive!
While Gonzaga is certainly a favorite to win it all, I desperately want to be a Big Ten homer. Sadly, I can’t reasonably pick Ohio State to go all the way this season. So, my pick to win it all has to be (drumroll…) Wisconsin!
Johnny Davis is one of the most exciting players in the Big Ten, and nothing would be better — except an Ohio State run, of course — than watching a Big Ten team win the Big Dance for the first time since Michigan State did it in 2000.
Wisconsin’s opening round matchup comes against the 14-seeded Colgate (again, Brett, only one of us can survive...). From there, the Badgers would face the winner of LSU vs. Iowa State. It’d be a tough road, since the Midwest regional happens to house Kansas and Auburn, as well as Big Ten tourney champ Iowa.
Related (again, as an admitted homer), my Cinderella pick is a weird one, because it’s a blue blood program that’s fallen on hard times in recent years. However, it still feels odd to call Indiana a Cinderella.
This year marks Indiana’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2016 — a sore fact for a program with five NCAA titles to its name. Further, it was no guarantee the Hoosiers would even make the field this year, as they were one of the last teams in, anchored by better-than-expected performances in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Hoosiers are playing Wyoming in the First Four and have a prohibitive path to make a run in the tournament — the extra game definitely doesn’t help. The Hoosiers would face St. Mary’s in the first round, then the winner of UCLA vs. Akron in the second. It doesn’t help that Baylor, Purdue and Kentucky are all in their region, but what’s a Cinderella story without a little drama?