March Madness Superlatives 2022
Every March, people around the country frantically search for information and answers on the basketball programs at sixty-eight institutions of higher learning in the United States. Here are some of those answers.
Best Player: Gonzaga big man Drew Timme edges out teammate Chet Holmgren for the nod here. Timme is an incredibly savvy offensive player who excels at passing out of the post and creating offense for not just himself, but everybody on the team. Timme averaged 17.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game this year and won West Coast Conference Player of the Year.
Best Coach: Mark Few took over an ascending Gonzaga program in 1999 and took it to heights that nobody thought would ever be possible. Few has made the NCAA Tournament every single year of his tenure, and this is now the second consecutive season in which the Zags will enter the tournament as the number one overall seed.
Most Underrated Coaches: Chris Jans has built a WAC Dynasty at New Mexico State. In his tenure, the Aggies have won 4 of 5 WAC Regular Season titles, and they haven’t lost more then 8 games in a season. Losing more than 6 just once. Jans’ winning percentage at NMSU is .796, a ridiculous tally. Bob McKillop of Davidson has never gotten the credit he deserves. Taking over a small college in the middle of North Carolina in 1989, McKillop has won 634 games there, winning either the conference regular season or tournament title in 17 seasons. He’s turned down offers from bigger programs to stay at Davidson, where he built a mid-major powerhouse.
Best NBA Prospect: Chet Holmgren is a unicorn. He stands seven feet tall, handles the ball and passes like a guard, shoots over 41% from three point range, blocks nearly 4 shots per game, and has mobility on the defensive end. He can do pretty much everything you want him to, a special talent. Holmgren should be the number one overall selection in the draft.
Team That Could Make Noise: Davidson went 27–6 in the regular season, including picking up a win against Alabama in Alabama. The Wildcats are the number 11 offense in the country, and everybody on their team is a threat to get scorching hot from distance. Not only is Foster Loyer one of the nation’s better point guards, but they have size as well, Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Luka Brajkovic stands six foot ten inches and scored 14 points per game on 41% 3 point shooting.
Team That Could Disappoint: Michigan State is one of those teams that I never got fully sold on. They don’t have a true go-to guy offensively and sitting as a 7 seed, they have a very tough matchup with Davidson in the first round, which I see Davidson coming out on top in.
X-Factors: If Duke is going to win the National Championship, it will be because of the play of freshman AJ Griffin. UConn’s ability to make a run hinges on the health of freshman Jordan Hawkins, and the shooting of Tyler Polley. If Oral Roberts 2021 Tournament Kevin Obanor shows up, Texas Tech could make a deep run.
All Underrated Team: Luka Brajkovic (Davidson), Andrew Nembhard (Gonzaga), Malik Hall (Michigan State), Tyrese Martin (UConn), Julian Strawther (Gonzaga)
Best Player: At 7 feet tall, 285 pounds, Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn is one of the hardest players in the country to guard. While he doesn’t playmake very well nor does he spread the floor, his interior dominance is incredible, putting up 21.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game this year. Cockburn was the Robin to Ayo Dosunmu’s Batman last year, but Cockburn has thrived as the number one option for Brad Underwood this year.
Best Coach: Jay Wright is the best coach in college basketball. I have never, in my life, seen a basketball team coached by Wright get rattled. Villanova are the New England Patriots of College Basketball in the sense that they will kill you slowly and painfully with their shotmaking and mental fortitude. Villanova doesn’t have the NBA talent like Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, and Mikal Bridges like it once did, but they’re still as dangerous as ever.
Underrated Coaches: Jamie Dixon took over a TCU program that had 3 winning seasons in the previous 14 years, and no 20 win campaigns in over a decade. Dixon immediately won 20 games three years in a row, including winning the NIT in his first season. After two down years in 2020 and 2021, the Frogs are 20–12 entering the tournament for the second time under Dixon after previously not making it for 2 decades. Not to mention the job Dixon did at Pitt and seeing where they’ve fallen since he left that program. Jared Grasso was an assistant for Tim Cluess at Iona before taking the job at Bryant, and in just 4 seasons, Grasso has started to build what Cluess built at Iona, a fast-paced offense that will score on anybody. Over the last two seasons, Grasso’s Bulldogs are 30–7 in NEC play (including tournament), and they’ve now made it to their first ever NCAA Tournament.
Best Prospect: Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin won Pac 12 Player of the Year for his excellent two-way impact. As a 6 foot 7 inch wing, Mathurin averaged 17.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game this year, while shooting 37.6% from three and playing excellent defense. He should be selected in the lottery.
Team That Could Make Noise: I’m scared to pick Michigan, but I’m also scared to pick against Michigan. Their computer metrics are solid, and they have some really impressive wins, as well as a top tier center in Hunter Dickinson, but they also have many concerns. Coaching is a question mark, the team looked better when Phil Martelli was at the helm than Juwan Howard, however, they have the talent to make a run in this tournament, just be vigilant.
Team That Could Disappoint: Ohio State has lost four of their last five games, and they have questions about defense, especially their ability to dictate the flow of a game through turnovers. Outside of EJ Lidell and Malaki Branham, there isn’t an offensive piece that I trust to get them a big time bucket, which makes them not super hard to guard late in games. And the major piece is that they face Loyola Chicago, who is one of the best Mid-Major teams year in, year out, and will be very ready for the battle.
X-Factors: Santiago Vescovi’s three-point shooting and playmaking ability is going to be the key to unlocking Tennessee’s offense. If Kerr Kriisa is playing, Arizona is my favorite to win the National Championship, if he’s not everything after the round of 32 is in question. Caleb Houstan has had his struggles, but he’s talented enough to be a major part of a deep run for Michigan.
All Underrated Team: Malachi Smith (Chattanooga), Charles Pride (Bryant), Jordan “Jelly” Walker (UAB), David Roddy (Colorado State), Christian Koloko (Arizona)
Best Player: Even though Johnny Davis won Big Ten Player of the Year, I’d argue that Keegan Murray is the best player in this region. Ascending from a role player on last year’s Hawkeye team, Murray took the Big Ten by storm, averaging 23.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 2.0 blocks per game, while shooting 40% from distance. Murray’s ability to kickstart the offense after defensive rebounds is a key piece of the puzzle for this Iowa team. There’s a genuine argument that Iowa has had the best player in the country for three consecutive seasons, with Murray following reigning National Player of the Year Luka Garza. Ochai Agbaji of Kansas is also a player that deserves to be mentioned here, as he won Big 12 Player of the Year.
Best Coach: Bruce Pearl has made basketball a marquee attraction at a football-crazed school in the SEC. After leaving Tennessee with his reputation in jeopardy and spending 3 seasons on NCAA penalty, Pearl took the Auburn job in 2014–15, and in just his fourth season, he guided the Tigers to a 4 seed, their best seeding since 1999. In 2018–19, the Tigers made a run all the way to the Final Four, and then they were 25–6 before COVID in 2019–20. With no players left over from the Final Four team, and finishing with a losing record last season, Pearl brought in top recruit Jabari Smith, transfer guards Zep Jasper, KD Johnson, and Wendell Green, and transfer big man Walker Kessler, and this group led Auburn to a memorable campaign.
Underrated Coaches: Matt Langel’s Colgate Raiders are 41–7 in conference play over the last three seasons. They have built an offense that few teams can stop with their excellent three-point shooting. Only 17 teams lost a larger share of their minutes from 2020–21 than Creighton, but Greg McDermott has guided this young group to a top 4 finish in the Big East and just a few possessions away from a Big East title. McDermott built a mid major power into a consistent tournament team in a high major league Somewhere in Middle America.
Best Prospect: Jabari Smith has the Kevin Durant comparison for a reason. At six foot ten, there aren’t many players who have the shotmaking ability of Smith. While his shot selection is questioned by many (including me), he has a crazy amount of offensive talent with defensive upside. A 43% three point shooter who averages 17 points and 7 rebounds per game in the SEC as a freshman is always very impressive. Smith came on late in the season as well, scoring 23.7 points per game while knocking down 51% of his 6.7 three-point attempts per game in his last seven. Smith will be a top 3 pick in the draft.
Team That Could Make Noise: Since I’ve already discussed Creighton when talking about McDermott, the other team that fits the description of this superlative is South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits shot a ridiculous 44.2% from three point range as a team, making them a nightmare for almost anybody. While they don’t attempt a ton of threes, the threat of their shooting opens up the game for everything inside, making up for the lack of height. SDST has won 21 consecutive games, going undefeated in Summit League play and then winning the conference tournament. Even without the legendary Mike Daum, who averaged 25 and 10 for the Jacks for a three-year stretch from 2016–2019, South Dakota State is in position to make a run.
Team That Could Disappoint: Kansas doesn’t have as complete of a team as one might expect. While Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun are two excellent wing players, they lack a true threat at point guard, with Dajuan Harris not really capable of putting the ball in the basket. Remy Martin began to come on during the Big 12 Tournament, but he still hasn’t shown the best version of himself and leaves me unconvinced. Not to mention, the Jayhawks don’t have a strong interior presence, with David McCormack being one of the more overrated players in the country in my opinion.
X-Factors: If Remy Martin is able to score effectively and efficiently, Kansas could prove me wrong. Arthur Kaluma had a super-strong finish to the season, and if he continues to soften the blow of the Ryan Nembhard injury, the Blue Jays could go deep. Al Durham’s impact for the Friars goes beyond the stat sheet, but that’s exactly where the Friars need it to show in March. Sam Waardenburg is going to need to hold up against the skyscrapers of USC and Auburn for the Canes to make a run.
All Underrated Team: Ryan Kalkbrenner (Creighton), Arther Kaluma (Creighton), Jack Ferguson (Colgate), Izaiah Brockington (Iowa State), Jacob Gilyard (Richmond)
Best Player: The frontrunner for National Player of the Year is Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe. After leaving West Virginia in the middle of last season, Tshiebwe came to Lexington and asserted his dominance on the glass all season long. The junior is just eight rebounds away from having the most rebounds in a college season since the mid-1980s. Tshiebwe had five games of twenty or more rebounds, including a 28 rebound game in December. Kentucky’s ability to control the glass is a key reason why they are a number 2 seed in the tournament.
Best Coach: Scott Drew has built the Baylor program from nothing into a power. In the FIFTY years before Drew got the job, Baylor made ONE NCAA Tournament appearance. Drew took the job amidst incredibly harsh NCAA violations, and in 14 of the last 15 years, Baylor has been ranked at some point during the season, including 3 different years with a number 1 ranking. The rebuild from the ashes was completed last year when the Bears won their first ever national championship. Including 2020, where they were going to get a number one seed, this is the third consecutive one seed for the Bears.
Underrated Coaches: Randy Bennett’s work at Saint Mary’s often goes overlooked because they play second fiddle to Gonzaga in the WCC, but Bennett is a hell of a coach himself. Opening up the international recruiting pipeline, Bennett has coached international stars like Matthew Dellavadova and Jock Landale over his 20 year stint at SMC where he is winning over 70% of his games. Shaheen Holloway is the Secretary of Defense. Saint Peter’s is an incredibly hard job for any coach, and Holloway has had three consecutive winning seasons there and three consecutive top 80 defenses by KenPom. Overshadowed by Rick Pitino in the MAAC, the Peacocks have a young coaching star on their hands.
Best Prospect: There is nothing in college basketball quite like a Jaden Ivey coast-to-coast run. Ivey is an elite NBA athlete playing college basketball, and it’s very clear every time that he steps on the court just how talented he is. Ivey is not only a world class athlete, but his three-point shooting has become a major positive for him this year. Ivey should be a top-five selection in the NBA Draft.
Team That Could Make Noise: Randy Bennett’s Saint Mary’s teams are usually known for their scoring ability, but this year, the Gaels boast the 9th best defense in the country, backed up by their excellent shooting on offense as well. The Gaels will force you to not take threes, and they have good size to match up with most high major teams. They even held Gonzaga under 60 points just a few weeks ago.
Most Likely To Disappoint: It feels like a broken record with the Big Ten teams in this section, but I have to choose Purdue here. Zach Edey is too easily exposed as a defender when he’s asked to come out of the paint, Sasha Stefanovic struggled in the Big Ten Tournament, and the defense just isn’t there for the Boilermakers. It’s easy to fall in love with the offense that this team has because when it’s clicking, it’s beautiful no matter if it’s Edey or Williams at the center, but the game is played on both ends.
X-Factors: Marquette is at their best when Kur Kuath is at his best. The Caleb Love experience is a roller coaster, and it must be at its’ peak for UNC to make a run. Somebody on Texas needs to step up and become a three-point threat.
All Underrated Team: Azar Swain (Yale), KC Ndefo (Saint Peter’s), Graham Ike (Wyoming), Hunter Maldonado (Wyoming), Enrique Freeman (Akron)
Best 1st Round Matchups
- Colorado State vs Michigan
- Murray State vs San Francisco
- Houston vs UAB
- San Diego State vs Creighton
- Saint Mary’s vs Wyoming/Indiana
Mid-Majors that I wish were in the field
- North Texas