My first time picking a March Madness winner didn’t go too well. Frankly, it was a disaster. After a long and thought-out process, I decided to back the Kentucky Wildcats to cut down the nets this postseason. And well, they then went out and lost to the 15th-seeded Peacocks of Saint Peter’s. So now I am back to pick another winner. I am going to keep it a bit shorter this time around in order to mitigate my embarrassment when my prediction goes wrong again.
The team I am picking to win the 2022 National Championship is the Arizona Wildcats. After watching a full weekend of win-or-go-home basketball I have decided that there isn’t a better team in the nation than the Wildcats. A lot of times I am a bit reluctant to embrace the Pac-12 teams in the tournament because I am a WSU fan and view some of those teams as overrated. I have used that same logic to avoid Arizona teams in the past, but this is a much different scenario.
Arizona has what it takes to win it all. And by that I mean they have Benedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko, who are two future NBA starters if not better. That was on no better display than in the overtime win against TCU on Sunday. In what was one of the best games of the opening weekend, Mathurin and Koloko accounted for 58 of the Wildcats’ 85 points. Both players made huge plays down the stretch, especially Mathurin. He had a fantastic three-pointer to tie the game and eventually send it to overtime. He made a great backdoor cut with a strong finish through contact. He grabbed a massive offensive rebound and put it back in to break a tie in overtime. And then Koloko came through with a powerful putback dunk that iced the game with 11 seconds left.
Arizona has everything that they need to win in those top two stars but luckily for them that is not all they have. There is also a great group of complementary players to go along with the superstars. Kerr Kriisa, Azuolos Tubelis, Dalen Terry, and Pelle Larson all play big minutes at an effective rate. They fill in the gaps (although there aren’t very many) between Mathurin and Koloko. The Wildcats have plenty of options for the player that takes a big step up and plays out of his mind in the big moments. Stars obviously have a huge impact on how far a team gets in the tournament, but the role players also have sway in their team’s performance. Arizona has both, which makes them a very dangerous team in March.
The last piece of the trifecta is coaching, which Arizona also has. Despite being in his first season as a head coach, Tommy Lloyd has done an incredible job in Tucson. He led the Wildcats to win their first Pac-12 championship tournament since 2018 and earn a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. That coupled with his years coaching under Mark Few at Gonzaga gives Lloyd enough experience in tournament basketball games to have confidence in his abilities. He also knows what it is like to lose in the biggest game of the season so he will be much more driven than other first-time head coaches to win it all.
Hopefully, I did not just curse Arizona like I did with Kentucky by picking them to win the national championship. I feel more confident with my pick this time around (maybe because there are only 15 other teams instead of 67). Good luck to the Wildcats of Arizona (not you Villanova) and bad luck to everyone else. Please let me be right this time.