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Friday, May 27, 2022

NCAA Men’s Tournament Bracket Winners and Losers

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Tom Brady gave college basketball roughly 73 minutes in the spotlight. There were 70 to celebrate Gonzaga and 67 to discuss Duke. There were 48 to discuss how Kansas’ run in the Big 12 tournament earned them a gloriously clean path to the Final Four. There were 40 to weight the winners and losers of Selection Sunday.

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Then Brady’s shock retirement cancellation turned selections into a sideshow, and turned March Madness into a sideshow in the middle of March Madness.

And Madness herself became the biggest loser of the night.

The 2022 NCAA tournaments will continue, but the coverage will not; you can’t, not now. And college hoops will suffer. The men’s game, already losing popularity, was overshadowed. The women’s game, looking to capitalize on the momentum, aired for its selection show with Brady’s face monopolizing the cover of ESPN, which owns the rights to the women’s tournament.

The sport began its standout week packed into the public consciousness and digital spaces, so on this night typically reserved for discussions of matchups, upsets and underdogs, the biggest upset hit the headlines.

But of course, the 68 teams selected by the NCAA men’s basketball committee won’t mind a 44-year-old quarterback. So we’ll still dissect them. And, well, some were more losers than others.

Selection Sunday Winners

Kansas | Seed: 1 | Region: Midwest

The results of Sunday’s conference tournament clearly didn’t matter to the selection committee. Kansas’ run through the Big 12, on the other hand, did. He elevated the Jayhawks above Baylor, to No. 3 overall, and the Midwest Regional, which happens to be the weakest of the four.

San Diego State could be tough in Round 2. Iowa wouldn’t be easy thereafter. But Ken Pomeroy’s ratings say Providence, the No. 4 seed in the Midwest, comes across as more of a double-digit seed. Wisconsin, likewise, is clearly the mildest of the 3. And Auburn, at the other end of the region, has faded in the last five weeks. The Jayhawks should love their draw.

auburn | Seed: 2 | Region: Midwest

And so should the Tigers. They perhaps have the most direct path to the Elite Eight of any team other than the No. 1 seed. Their two most likely Sweet 16 opponents enter the tournament having either lost two straight games (Wisconsin) or their coach in chief (LSU). The bottom half of the Midwest is, by and large, the least inspiring group of eight teams of all.

arizona | Seed: 1 | Southern region

However, the cleanest path to the Final Four door belongs to Arizona. Illinois is ordinary. Houston is hurt. Seton Hall and TCU should be no problem. Tennessee could come into the Southern Regional finals on a 10-game win streak, so this isn’t a perfect tie for the Wildcats. But it is solid.

UAB and Chattanooga | Seed: 12 and 13 | Southern region

Arizona’s biggest hurdle against the Elite Eight? It can be one of these two. They could each win their first-round matchup, against Houston and Illinois, respectively. Each could make it to the second weekend.

Selection Sunday Losers

Baylor | Seed: 1 | Region: East

Baylor could very well defend its national title. But North Carolina-UCLA-Kentucky-Gonzaga is as fraught with obstacles as the possible paths to the top.

duke | Seed: 2 | Region: West

The Blue Devils were perhaps lucky to sneak into the second-seeded row, but they almost would have been better off with a 3. Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who finished their last run in the tournament, loom in the round of 32 Texas Tech, which would turn them into a pulp, is the likely Sweet 16 matchup, and Gonzaga is the best team in the country. So if Mike Krzyzewski is going to do one last race in March, he’s going to have to do it the hard way.

Villanueva | Seed: 2 | Southern region

The Wildcats not only attracted a potentially tough second-round opponent (Loyola) and the hottest third seed (Tennessee); they will have to overcome those obstacles along the way. Philadelphia was a potential landing spot for the second weekend. Instead of playing in his own backyard, Villanova will travel to San Antonio, if he survives the first weekend in Pittsburgh, where he could also be a de facto road team against Ohio State.

Providence | Seed: 4 | Region: Midwest

The Friars’ reward for their first regular-season title in the Big East?

First, a matchup with South Dakota State, which is riding a 21-game winning streak and shooting 44% from 3-point range, best in Division I by four full percentage points, in the Big Dance.

So if that goes well (unlikely), Iowa, which has won nine of its last 10, boasts the second-best offense in the nation and perhaps the best player.

We could go beyond the parentheses, but we don’t have to, because Providence isn’t.

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