Only the 'Sweetest' Teams Allowed

by Larry Ness

The 2022 NCAA Tournament Field (68 teams) was announced on Sunday March 13, with First Four games on Tuesday (Mar 14) and Wednesday (Mar 15). The 64-team field was set by Thursday and four days later, only the 'sweetest' 16 teams remained. I won't "bury the lead." Favorites went 3-1 SU & ATS in First Four games and then 12-4 SU & 9-7 ATS on Thursday. The Loyola-Ohio St game closed at pick'em, as favorites went 10-5 SU but just 6-9 ATS on Friday. It was on to the Round of 32 on Saturday and Sunday, Favorites were 5-3 SU on Saturday but had a bad day at 'the betting window,' going 2-6 ATS. Favorites improved to 6-2 SU on Sunday but were a modest 4-4 ATS. Doing the math, here's how "the numbers" stand, as the Sweet 16 games get set to tip off on Thursday night. Favorites are 36-15 SU (.706) but 24-27 ATS (37.1%), or -5.7 net games.

The four No. 1 seeds were Gonzaga, Arizona, Kansas and Baylor. Heading into this year's Big Dance, No. 1 seeds were 143-1 all-time against No. 16 seeds. The No.1 seeds all advanced this week as well, upping the all-time record to 147-1. I'm sure ALL will remember that one loss that came in the 2018 tourney. The 16th-seeded UMBC Retrievers not only beat the overall No. 1 seed (UVa) but did so in dominant fashion by a score of 74-54! According to NCAA.com, there had only been 15 games between No. 1 and No.16 seeds decided by 10 points or less entering the 2022 tourney. This year followed the same pattern, as the No. 1 seeds won by an average of 24.8 PPG. Ironically, the No. 1 seed with the largest margin of victory was Baylor (Bears won by 36 points), but it is also the lone No. 1 seed to NOT advance to the Sweet 16. The defending champs lost 93-86 in OT to No. 8 North Carolina. How 'bout 'dem Tar Heels? UNC's victory over Baylor was the Tar Heels' NINTH win against a No. 1 since seeding began in 1979, tying Duke for the most ever.

The 'Cinderella' team of the 2022 tourney is St Peter's, which beat No. 2 seed Kentucky 85-79 in OT on Thursday and then beat Murray St 70-60 on Saturday, ending the Racers' 21-game winning streak (longest in the nation). For the third time ever, a No. 15 seed has advanced to the Sweet 16. However, it happened just last year as well (Oral Roberts) and back in 2013 with Florida Gulf Coast's "Dunk City' squad. While it's not possible to top St Peter's run to the Sweet 16, it's only fair to give Iowa State and its head coach a shout out. T.J. Otzelberger came from UNLV to take over an Iowa St team that went 2-22 last season, including 0-18 in the Big 12. The Cyclones opened the season 12-0 and entered the tournament as an 11-seed  (20-12). Iowa St beat LSU (6-seed) 85-79 on Thursday and then beat Wisconsin (3-seed) 54-49 on Sunday. St Peter's and Iowa St are joined by two other double digit seeds in this year's Sweet 16, No. 11 Michigan and No. 10 Miami. All four teams are now just ONE win away from advancing to the Elite  Eight. Since No. 10 Miami and No. 11 Iowa St play each other on Friday, at least one double digit will have reached the Elite 8. By the way, No. 12 Oregon State and No. 11 UCLA each made Elite 8 appearances last season (UCLA made the Final Four). 

Only ONE of the four regions features the top four seeds and that's the West (played in San Francisco). It's No. 1 Gonzaga vs No. 4 Arkansas and  No. 2 Duke vs No. 3 Texas Tech. Gonzaga has now reached its SEVENTH straight Sweet 16 (third-longest streak ever). Will it finally be the 'Zags year? History is NOT on Gonzaga's side. The Bulldogs finished as the No. 1 team from the final AP and the AP's final No. 1 team has gone on to win the title only FOUR times since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. It's happened just ONCE since 2001 and that was Kentucky in 2012, led by Anthony Davis.

In closing, here's a list NO Power-5 school wants to be on. There were 10 Power-5 schools that were neither bowl eligible nor made the 2020 NCAA tournament. In alphabetical order they are; Cal, Colorado, Florida St, Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Northwestern, Stanford, Syracuse, Washington, Vanderbilt.

Good luck...Larry

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