The 2022 NCAA Tournament has been whittled down to the Final Four after 68 squads set out with aspirations of earning national-champion status.
The Saint Peter’s Peacocks captivated the hearts of fans everywhere during their historic run to the Elite Eight, the first-ever 15 seed to make it that far; betting-favorite Gonzaga was eliminated by the Arkansas Razorback one round prior, opening the door to a wild ending to the tournament.
In the end, March Madness is left with four of the most reputable programs in America: North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, and Villanova. There are no “sleeper” teams, just underdogs that are destined to pull through this weekend.
North Carolina WILL beat Duke in the Final Four
#8 North Carolina entered the tournament saying that its seed was not representative of its pedigree, and they have backed it up thus far. Aside from blowing a 25-point lead against #1 Baylor in 10 minutes, they have been everything they were advertised to be: explosive, athletic, and a matchup nightmare.
UNC’s biggest problem this season was inconsistency from its guards, but Caleb Love has personally taken over the challenge of ending this. The sophomore guard went nuclear from beyond the arc against UCLA and single-handedly won them the game with six threes, including back-to-back triples late in the game to give them the lead. He is averaging 18 points per game and has made six threes twice during tournament play.
Armando Bacot has also continued to lock down the glass and interior of the defense in his relentless, unrefereeable style. His upcoming matchup against Mark Williams will be one of the few times he will face a player with his size and strength, and in two games against Duke, he is only averaging six rebounds to go with 17.5 points.
UNC beat Duke 94-81 when they last met in Mike Krzyzewski’s last regular-season game; four Tar Heels scored at least 20 points as the Tar Heels made over three times as many free throws as the Blue Devils.
Seven of Duke’s last eight games have either ended in losses or single-digit wins— they have been pushed to the brink by teams with less ability than UNC and do not seem interested in playing their basketball until the late moments. If the Tar Heels can jump out to a similar start as the one against Saint Peter’s, which saw them take a 19-point halftime lead, they will face little resistance from Coach K’s squad.
The most important component in this impending matchup is Duke’s leading player, Paolo Banchero, is a low-motor superstar who does not demand the ball when he should— Jeremy Roach usually ends up being the one to run the offense in key moments, and he will struggle to face the length of UNC’s guards.
The Tar Heels (currently +162 on the moneyline) have a very low floor but a tremendously high ceiling, and they are going to favor the latter this weekend.
Villanova WILL beat Kansas in the Final Four
Stop me if you have heard this before: Jay Wright is winning in March.
At this point, it only feels fair that the basketball world anoints Jay Wright as the best coach in college basketball— or, at the very least, the most consistent coach in the sport.
Villanova is a very good defensive outfit with multiple slashers and a steady dose of outside shooting, headed by senior guard Collin Gillespie. The Wildcats will be without guard Justin Moore, who was lost to an injury late against Houston, but there is no team more adaptable than this Nova squad.
Coach Wright’s squad is allowing just 55 points per game compared to scoring 66 on average, though they have scored fewer points than they did in the game before in every round thus far. Still, this can be attributed to a slower pace of play and emphasized value on possessions.
Villanova’s matchup, the #1 Kansas Jayhawks, looked to be on their way out of the tournament before annihilating the Miami Hurricanes with a 47-15 second-half differential, ultimately winning 76-50. They are good on the offensive glass and have a nice blend of outside shooters and rim attackers.
Ochai Agbaji got back to his usual self against the ‘Canes, especially in the second half, finishing with 18 points and making both of his threes. The senior guard was the Jayhawks’ best player in the regular season but had gone quiet in the tournament.
The reason that Villanova has the edge in the matchup despite their +164 odds is that they are mostly a steady unit, whereas Kansas goes up and down. The Wildcats are also fine if their shot is not falling since they are the best free-throw shooting team in America and can play airtight defense for 40 minutes.
We are destined for a North Carolina-Villanova championship match.