Analysis: March Madness Final Four predictions

Eric Reynolds, Sports Writer

The NCAA men’s basketball season has ended, so it is time for the March Madness tournament. The March Madness tournament is one of the most significant events of the sports year. While USI cannot compete in it until its transition period is over, college basketball is at the forefront of the sports world.

The First Four games began Tuesday, and the official bracket games begin Thursday. I have made my final four predictions, and while it is extremely unlikely that I will get these correct, just like the rest of America, I will have fun trying. 


South: First-seed University of Alabama

Alabama is the No. 1 overall seed in the entire tournament. They are led by one of the best freshman in the country, Brandon Miller. Alabama might be the team from top to bottom in the tournament with no glaring flaws in its game. The Crimson Tide currently has the seventh-best offense in the country with 82.2 points per game with a point differential of +13.6.  

However, Alabama’s path to the final four could be a very challenging one. In the first round, the Crimson Tide will face Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. This would be a 1-16 matchup in which the one seed has a record of 147-1 in this round of games. 

The following games could pose a threat to Alabama in any round. The winner of the eight-seed Maryland University and nine-seed West Virginia University game will play Alabama in the round of 32. The popular cinderella pick, 12-seeded College of Charleston, could possibly match up with Alabama in the Sweet 16. 

Alabama is going to be a popular pick to be in the final four, but that is a well-earned honor. They have handled adversity in their program this season, along with anyone they have played. Alabama is the favorite to win the tournament this season, but anything can happen in March. 


Midwest: Four-seed Indiana University

The Hoosiers of Indiana University have had an odd season, to say the least. Indiana has not had any particularly terrible losses, but they have had some inconsistent play from a few key contributors in Trey Galloway, junior guard, and Miller Kopp, senior forward, down the stretch. The Hoosiers are led by all-American Trayce Jackson-Davis, senior forward, with 20.8 points per game go along with 10.9 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. 

Indiana University lost its starting point guard Xaiver Johnson, senior guard, to a foot injury in an 84-62 loss at Kansas University Dec. 17 Since this game, the emergence of Jalen Hood-Schifino, freshman guard, has been critical to the success of the Hoosiers. Hood-Schifino has cemented himself as a top prospect in next year’s NBA draft due to his performance following the Johnson injury. 

Indiana has a difficult road to the Final Four, but every team does. Their opening-round matchup versus the 13-seed Kent State is a popular upset pick for many bracket makers, but Kent State is a very undersized team that does not match up great against the size of Indiana. 

The Hoosiers’ path won’t get any easier if they match up against veteran lead Drake University in the second round. If they get through to the Sweet Sixteen, they could face a top-seeded Houston University. Indiana is a team that can beat anyone in the country when its players get hot and rolling.


West: Two-seed University of California-Los Angeles

UCLA was one of the favorites to win the championship entering the season, and rightfully so, with many returning and experienced players. Whether it’s Tyger Campbell, redshirt senior guard, or Jamie Jaquez Jr., senior guard/forward, this team has plenty of big-game experience from their 2021 final-four run. 

UCLA’s leading scorer and rebounder is Jaquez Jr., with 17.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. To go along with their top-end talent, the Bruins are one of the deepest teams in the NCAA, with 11 players who have played in over 20 games, six of which scored more than 7 points per game. 

One doubt that is present to UCLA making a deep playoff run is the loss of starting guard Jaylen Clark, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. Still, their depth can overcome this major setback better than any other team in this position. 

UCLA’s first tournament matchup is against the fifth-seed University of North Carolina-Asheville. This is a scary matchup for UCLA due to UNCA’s leader Drew Pember being one of the best players in the country, averaging 21.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. However, UCLA is the better overall team, with a major talent discrepancy that should be enough for them to win their first-round game. 

The road after the round of 64 the path for UCLA sets up very nicely with favorable possible matchups against teams such as Northwestern University and Texas Christian University, which do not have the high-powered offenses to keep up with UCLA. 


East: Fifth-seed Duke University

Duke University possibly has the hottest team heading into this year’s tournament. The Blue Devils have won nine straight games, including the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. During this win streak, they beat multiple tournament teams, including the University of Miami, Virginia University and Pittsburgh University all of which could be in line to make deep postseason runs. 

Kyle Filipowski, freshman center, leads Duke in points, rebounds and steals. Like previous Duke teams, this one is on the younger side. Along with Filipowski, they start Tyrese Proctor, freshman guard, and Mark Mitchell, freshman forward. The inexperience is not the only downside to a deep tournament run from the Blue Devils as they also have a first-year head coach in Jon Scheyer. After the retirement of legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski last season, Scheyer took over the program and continued the standard of success.

The first-round matchup for Duke could be difficult as they face Summit League champion Oral Roberts University. Oral Roberts is a trendy upset pick because they did not lose a game in conference play, but the Summit League has less-than-stellar competition compared to the power five conferences. Oral Roberts also made a deep tournament run in 2021, possibly influencing the strength of this year’s team. 

Following their first-round matchup, the Blue Devils could be in for a tough road to the Final Four with matchups like the four-seeded Tennessee University, top-seeded Purdue University, and red-hot eighth-seeded Memphis University. The East region is totally up for grabs, and there are as many as seven teams that the public could pick to reasonably make it out of this region, making it one of the most debated in the entire tournament. 

The round of 64 starts Thursday with the first game of nine-seeded West Virginia University against eighth-seeded Maryland University at an 11:15 a.m. tipoff.