basketball Edit

Rival Views: Reacting to the NCAA tournament bracket

Ochai Agbaji
Ochai Agbaji (USA Today Sports Images)

The 2022 NCAA tournament bracket is set, and we now sit just days away from the event’s opening-round games in Dayton, Ohio. Today,’s experts Rob Cassidy and Travis Graf take a peek ahead to the madness and discuss four topics related to the approaching tournament.


More: Lingering questions about the 2022 class

2022 Rankings: Rivals150 | Team | Position

2023 Rankings: Rivals150

2024 Rankings: Top 40



1.  Cards on the table time, who is your national title pick?

Cassidy: I picked Kansas before the start of the season, and I’m going to stick with the Jayhawks. Bill Self’s group is as battle-tested as any team in the country and finds itself in a bracket that doesn’t seem particularly threatening outside of a small, second-round upset threat at the hands of San Diego State or a possible Elite Eight loss to Auburn. Kansas' Remy Martin hasn’t exactly been the picture of consistency this season, but he seems to have started to click at the right time, which could provide the Jayhawks with a dimension they’ve been missing at times this year. This Kansas team feels like it’s getting more comfortable and complete by the week and clicking at the perfect time. Arizona and Gonzaga are probably safer, more common picks, but I’ll bet on the best team from the best conference.

Graf: This is the most open that the tournament has appeared in quite some time, but if you’re making me pick one team to make it the distance, give me Gonzaga. I know this is a cliché and safe pick because they’re the number one overall seed, but they’re the only team ranked in the top-10 of KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive rankings. This could bite me due to their strength of schedule, but they have the least amount of weaknesses in their game compared to other top teams. The Bulldogs have the best front court in America, a potential tournament star in Chet Holmgren, three guards who average over 10 points per game, possess elite rim protection, and rank 20th in the country in 3-point shooting.


2. Which team seeded lower than 11 do you think has the best chance to win its first-round game?

South Dakota State Jackrabbits
South Dakota State Jackrabbits (USA Today Sports Images)

Cassidy: The easy answer is to pick a 12 seed and roll with them, but I’ve been a Chattanooga guy all season, so I’ll stick with the 13th-seeded Mocs here. This is a veteran-led bunch armed with the best SoCon player since Steph Curry in Malachi Smith and a guy with elite, high-major experience in Kansas transfer Silvio De Sousa. Add in the fact that Illinois is coming off of a less-than-impressive performance in a Big Ten tournament loss to Indiana, and I could see Lamont Paris’ team pulling this off. That said, these things are called “upsets'' for good reason. The early betting line seems to be sitting at Illinois -7, and I think the Mocs can at least cover that if they don’t pull off a win.

Graf: South Dakota State over Providence. The Jackrabbits live up to their name as they average 86 points per game, good for second in the NCAA Div. I level. This is due in part to them being the best three-point shooting team in the country at 44.9 percent. Providence will need to impose their will early and get out in front of South Dakota State in this one.


3. Which first-round game has you most intrigued and why?

Keve Aluma
Keve Aluma (USA Today Sports Images)

Cassidy: Virginia Tech and Texas are two ships going in opposite directions, and I’m interested to see what happens when they pass. The Hokies have won seven of their last eight and an ACC Tournament title after an incredibly rocky start to the season, while Texas looks to be in disarray and has lost four of its last six games, including three straight. That said, the Longhorns are probably the more talented team on paper and certainly capable of snapping out of whatever funk this is. I’m not particularly sure what to expect from this game. I feel like somebody is going to get blown out, but I’m not quite sure which somebody it’ll be.

Graf: Virginia Tech vs Texas. Texas has more high end talent on paper, but they’re limping into the tournament after losing three of their last five. On the other hand, Virginia Tech is coming off of a great ACC Tournament run where they won going away against both Duke and North Carolina. Texas has the advantage in the backcourt and on the wing, but is the gap between Virginia Tech’s bigs over Texas’ an even bigger gap? I think so.


4. Which team that missed out would you add if you had the power?

Rick Pitino
Rick Pitino (USA Today Sports Images)

Cassidy: Iona. This isn’t based on its resume or its merit, but rather my own selfishness. I find Rick Pitino to be a compelling figure and his character arc to be fascinating. Pitino going from center-stage performer to low-major chaos agent has been wonderful to behold. Also, as an Italian-American, I’ll carry water for almost any paisan … even this one. Did the Gales deserve to be in the tournament? No. They lost at an inopportune time. Do I wish they were playing next weekend? Of course.

Graf: Texas A&M. They went through a slump early in conference play but had won their last seven games before the SEC Tournament championship game. In those seven games, the Aggies had knocked off tournament teams Arkansas, Alabama and Auburn, which was the highest of the three as a two seed. Texas A&M was one of the committee’s “first four out” of this year’s tournament and had a NET ranking of No. 42.