2022 NCAA Tournament First Four Preview and Predictions
The 2022 NCAA Tournament bracket has been released. Here is a preview of the First Four games, set to be played in Dayton, Ohio from March 15-16.
No. 16 Texas Southern vs. No. 16 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi – March 15, 6:40 p.m. ET on truTV
Texas Southern finds their way into the First Four for the second consecutive year after finishing second in the SWAC regular season and winning the conference tournament. Senior forward John Walker III leads the Tigers with 9.9 points per game while shooting 47% from the field. He scored 17 points in Texas Southern’s SWAC Championship victory over Alcorn State. Junior guard PJ Henry averaged 16.5 points over the Tigers’ final two playoff games. Texas Southern doesn’t do a whole lot in terms of offense, but they make up for it with their solid defensive effort.
By many metrics, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is the worst team in the field of 68. The Islanders got here after finishing fourth in the Southland Conference and winning the conference tournament. Their best player is junior forward Isaac Mushila, who averages 13.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Corpus Christi is a decent defensive side that gets to the free throw line pretty often on offense. In a close game, that could be the difference.
Each of these teams prioritizes defense while being unafraid to run in transition. Neither team is great with ball security, so this could turn into a sloppy game with a lot of turnovers. Ultimately, I like Texas Southern’s defense to be the difference-maker as they have a distinct advantage on that end of the floor. TAM-CC could make it close, but I’ll take the Tigers in the opening game of the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
Predicted Winner: Texas Southern
No. 12 Indiana vs. No. 12 Wyoming – March 15, 9:10 p.m. ET on truTV
Indiana looked dead in the water towards the end of the conference season. The Hoosiers went 2-7 in the nine games leading up to the Big Ten Tournament. They flipped a switch, and defeated Michigan and Illinois before falling to eventual champion Iowa on a Jordan Bohannon bank shot three-pointer. Over those three tournament games, star big Trayce Jackson-Davis averaged over 25 points. TJD is the main attraction, but the supporting cast of Xavier Johnson, Race Thompson, Parker Stewart, and Miller Kopp isn’t bad at all.
The Wyoming Cowboys are led by the one-two punch of Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado. Ike averages 19.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game while Maldonado averaged 18.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. Both are very efficient. Maldonado specifically is a matchup nightmare as a 6’7″ guard who frequently switches into the post because of his size. Wyoming also has a knockdown perimeter presence in Drake Jeffries who is shooting 42% from three.
I really like head coach Jeff Linder and this Wyoming team. Linder recently referred to the offensive combo of Ike and Maldonado as having “two Derrick Henrys that are going to pound on you, and eventually, you’re going to break.” As much as I want Wyoming to come away with a win in this game, I can’t ignore the fact that Indiana is playing better basketball at this point in the season and TJD has really turned it on. Wyoming ended the season with mixed results. I’ll pick the Hoosiers, and that way either my pick is correct or the team I want wins.
Predicted Winner: Indiana (begrudgingly though, Wyoming please win)
No. 16 Bryant vs. No. 16 Wright State – March 16, 6:40 p.m. ET on truTV
Bryant made some headlines recently as they utterly demolished Wagner in the Northeast Conference championship game, 70-43. Division I leading scorer Peter Kiss scored 34 points in the victory while taunting plenty of Wagner players and supporters along the way. Kiss is averaging 25.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game to go with a 45.6% clip from the field. He’s a volume scorer for sure, but he’s an electrifying presence. Guard Charles Pride adds 18.0 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
Wright State, the winners of the Horizon League tournament, are led by a big three of Tanner Holden, Grant Basile, and Trey Calvin. The trio combines for 52.6 points per game and all shoot a respectable percentage from the field. The Raiders are also one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the country.
Overall, this should be a fast-paced game as both teams like to run at a decent clip. Bryant specifically ranks No. 7 nationally in Adjusted Tempo. Of all the First Four games, this one is the biggest toss-up for me. Wright State is favored and has the more efficient offense, but Bryant has the star power and just ran roughshod over Wagner in the NEC Championship. I’ll take the Bulldogs to ride that victory into a First Four win. Should be a close one.
Predicted Winner: Bryant
No. 11 Notre Dame vs. No. 11 Rutgers – March 16, 9:10 p.m. ET on truTV
Have to be honest and say that Notre Dame is a team that probably should not have made the field based on resume. The Fighting Irish had an impressive 22-10 record that resulted in a second-place ACC finish, but their record was artificially boosted by a lot of wins against Quad 3 and Quad 4 opponents and didn’t have much substance to it. They are still a top-30 offense in the country and are led by Blake Wesley and his 14.6 points per game. This team shoots 38% from three on decently high volume.
Rutgers is here based on the quality wins they picked up in Big Ten play. In fact, every other Big Ten team in the Field of 68 teams has lost to Rutgers at some point this season. Ron Harper Jr. is a high-level shot-maker who averaged 15.6 points per game this season while shooting 39% from three. Veteran guard Geo Baker adds 12.4 points per game. As a team, the Scarlet Knights are solid defensively and that will be the end of the floor where they make this a game.
Notre Dame finished 2-8 against Quad 1 opponents and 4-9 against Quads 1+2. Are they capable of beating Rutgers? Sure, but their track record of folding against any halfway decent team they play isn’t encouraging. The Scarlet Knights have proven they can hang with and even beat teams much better than Notre Dame, and that experience will pay dividends in this matchup. For what it’s worth, I also think Rutgers has a better shot of beating Alabama in the following game than Notre Dame does. However, Rutgers has cooled recently, losing four of their last six games. I think Notre Dame’s three-point shooting will make a big difference in this game and Rutgers won’t have the RAC advantage.
Predicted Winner: Notre Dame
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