Thursday, May 26, 2022

2022 NCAA Tournament bracket: Scouting the Final Four teams as March Madness heads to New Orleans

The Final Four matchups are set with Duke vs. North Carolina and Kansas vs. Villanova meeting in Saturday’s semifinals

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The field for the 2022 Final Four is set, and only one No. 1 seed will be making the trip to New Orleans. But there will be plenty of college basketball royalty represented when the action tips off next Saturday from the Caesars Superdome as Kansas, Villanova, Duke and North Carolina compete for the national title.

First up on Saturday will be the game between the No. 1 seed Jayhawks and No. 2 seed Wildcats at 6:09 p.m. on TBS. Then, after that one concludes, No. 2 seed Duke will take on No. 8 seed North Carolina.

With legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski aiming for his sixth national title before retiring at season’s end, the Blue Devils figure to be a big story. Despite being more reliant on freshmen than any of the remaining squads, Duke is playing its best basketball of the season, which gives Coach K a great shot to go out on top. First, though, the Blue Devils will have to get past the Tar Heels after their biggest rival handed them a 94-81 defeat in Coach K’s final home game on March 5.

The 2022 NCAA Tournament has taught us to expect the unexpected this time of year, and a Final Four with this combination of teams is sure to deliver some drama before a champion is crowned on April 4. 

Here is the early look at what’s ahead for the Final Four.

(2) Villanova vs. (1) Kansas

Date: Saturday, April 2 | Time: 6:09 p.m.

Location: Caesars Superdome in New Orleans

TV: TBS | StreamingMarch Madness Live    

  • Scouting the Wildcats — Villanova never dropped out of the AP Top 25 this season, but the Wildcats did fade to No. 23 in December after a 7-4 start. With losses against UCLA, Purdue and Baylor during non conference play and a lone marquee victory over Tennessee, it seemed like these Wildcats might merely be good instead of great. But over the second half of the season, coach Jay Wright’s veteran squad evolved into a national title contender by doing all the little things right. The Wildcats shoot a national best 83% from the free-throw line and commit just 9.9 turnovers per game. Those attributes and a stifling defense were on display in a 50-44 Elite Eight win over Houston in which Villanova shot just 28.8% from the floor but hit 15 of 15 free throws. The Wildcats are not a deep team and could be especially lean in the Final Four after starting shooting guard Justin Moore left the Houston game with an injury. Key reserve guard Jordan Longino is also out due to injury. But Villanova still has veteran stars Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels. Having won 14 of their past 15 games, the Wildcats will be a tough out even with a thin rotation. 

  • Scouting the Jayhawks — Kansas never left the top 10 during a bounce-back season following the relative disappointment of a 2020-21 campaign that ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks split the Big 12 regular season title with defending national champion Baylor and then dashed to a Big 12 Tournament title to enter the Big Dance with momentum. Victories over Texas Southern, Creighton, Providence and Miami sent KU to the Final Four from the Midwest Region as the last No. 1 seed standing. Kansas trailed Miami 35-29 at halftime of its Elite Eight matchup but outscored the Hurricanes 47-15 in the second half to make a statement entering New Orleans. With Arizona State transfer Remy Martin beginning to reach his potential at point guard and senior wing Ochai Agbaji enjoying a renaissance season, the Jayhawks are strong in the back court. Their cast of role players, led by dynamic forwards Christian Braun and Jalen Wilson, is deep as well.

(8) North Carolina vs. (2) Duke

Date: Saturday, April 2 | Time: 8:49 p.m.

Location: Caesars Superdome in New Orleans

TV: TBS | StreamingMarch Madness Live

  • Scouting the Tar Heels — When legendary North Carolina coach Roy Williams announced on April 1 last year that he was retiring immediately, it meant this was going to be a transition season for the Tar Heels. In the end, however, UNC’s 2021-22 campaign will end in a familiar setting as the program makes its 21st Final Four appearance under first-year coach Hubert Davis. It was unclear as recently as mid-February whether North Carolina would even make the NCAA Tournament after it lost at home to Pittsburgh on Feb. 16 while on the bubble. But UNC rallied down the stretch with five straight victories to close the regular season, including a 94-81 win at Duke on March 5. The Tar Heels are thriving offensively with a lean rotation with stars such as sophomore guard Caleb Love, junior center Armando Bacot and graduate transfer forward Brady Manek each bringing different scoring specialties to the table. Davis may be a first-time head coach navigating his first season leading the program, but after a decade under Williams and a storied playing career of his own, he’s got his squad playing its best basketball at the right time. 

  • Scouting the Blue Devils — Duke’s final season under legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski started with a bang as the Blue Devils knocked off Kentucky in a top-10 showdown to open the season. After also beating Gonzaga, the Blue Devils briefly rose to No. 1 and enjoyed a mostly smooth ride through ACC play until the end. Then, in Coach K’s final home game, the Blue Devils lost 94-81 against arch rival North Carolina and squandered the chance to send Krzyzewski out with a regular season sweep of the program’s nearby nemesis. A week later, an 82-67 loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament title game sent the Blue Devils into the Big Dance without much momentum. But Duke’s young team has grown up in a hurry with sophomores Jeremy Roach and Mark Williams playing key roles to compliment freshman phenoms AJ Griffin and Paolo Banchero. In victories over Texas Tech and Arkansas during the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, Duke turned in sterling offensive performances. So far in this tournament, Krzyzewski has reached 1,200 career victories, 100 career NCAA Tournament victories and passed UCLA legend John Wooden for most Final Four appearances by a coach with 13. Now the only question is whether Duke can get Krzyzewski a sixth national title.

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