Remember the halcyon days of March Madness 2022? It was the glorious time between Selection Sunday and the first round of the NCAA tournament. Before the upsets and Cinderellas laid waste to our braces, we were all college basketball whizzes.
Our braces were perfect. The same goes for ESPN’s panel of experts who picked their Final Fours before the tournament began.
Then the games happened.
ESPN’s college basketball writers, commentators and analysts made their predictions shortly after the tournament field was announced on Selection Sunday. Here’s how the 54 respondents did — what they got right and what they missed:
Weekend of wreckage, Part 1
The first weekend saw one No. 1 seed (Baylor Bears), two No. 2 seeds (Kentucky Wildcats, Auburn Tigers), two No. 3 seeds (Tennessee Volunteers, Wisconsin Badgers) and two No. 5 seeds (UConn Huskies, Iowa Hawkeyes) lose. That’s a lot of damage. The Saint Peter’s Peacocks, a No. 15 seed, strutted all over everyone’s picks.
Of the 54 experts, 37 had the Wildcats winning the East Region. Four had Kentucky winning it all. To be fair to our experts, the Peacocks, in beating Kentucky, surely wrecked a lot of brackets. Of all brackets in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, 6.9% picked UK to win it all.
— Saint Peter’s Athletics (@SPUAthletics) March 20, 2022
Auburn was picked by 11 experts to reach the Final Four, but the Tigers didn’t make it past 10-seed Miami in the round of 32.
Weekend of wreckage, Part 2
Let’s call the Hogs, shall we?
The early elimination of two SEC powers and Baylor, the reigning national champion, kept many of our experts from a perfect Final Four. But it was the first night of the Sweet 16 which kept the majority of pickers from even having two teams correct.
The Arkansas Razorbacks’ 74-68 win over the No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga Bulldogs was the third-largest upset (+9.5) in the Sweet 16 since 1985, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Zags were picked by 88% of the experts (48 of 54) to reach the Final Four. Among ESPN brackets, 22.8% had Gonzaga winning the title, tops for any team.
This makes 23 consecutive NCAA tournaments for the Zags without winning a title. Gonzaga’s streak is up there with extremely long postseason title droughts across sports. The Chicago Blackhawks made the playoffs in 28 consecutive seasons (1971-98) without winning a Stanley Cup. The Stanford women’s basketball team went to 27 consecutive NCAA tournaments (1993-2019) without a title. Unlike Gonzaga, however, the Cardinal bookended their drought with championships in 1992 and 2021.
The first night of the Sweet 16 also saw a third No. 1 seed you. The No. 5 seed Houston Cougars crushed the Arizona Wildcats. It’s the fourth time since the tournament expanded in 1985 that three No. 1 seeds were eliminated before the Elite Eight. Twenty-nine experts had Zona in the Final Four.
The second night of the Sweet 16 saw Saint Peter’s back to inflict more damage. This time, with a 67-64 win, the Peacocks knocked out the Purdue Boilermakers, whom six panelists picked to make the Final Four. Two had Purdue winning the title.
Power ranking of destroying 2022 brackets (number indicates experts picks eliminated)
1. Arkansas Razorbacks (48, eliminated Gonzaga)
2. Saint Peter’s Peacocks (43, eliminated Kentucky, Purdue)
3. Houston Cougars (29, eliminated Arizona)
4. Miami Hurricanes (11, eliminated Auburn)
Duke an unpopular pick?
The Duke Blue Devils — if you haven’t heard of them, they’re the scrappy underdog of this tournament. An unpopular choice among our experts. Duke was picked to reach the Final Four by just one of our panelists. With a win over Arkansas in the Elite Eight, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has reached his 13th Final Four in his last NCAA tournament before retirement.
Villanova, the South Region winner, was picked by just five experts.
Thank the Jayhawks
Many of the experts could have been pretty nervous. The No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks trailed at the half to Miami, a No. 10 seed, in the Elite Eight. It was the first time the Jayhawks had trailed at the half since Feb. 12.
However, Kansas went on a 25-7 run in the first 10 minutes of the second half and ended up blowing out the Canes. The 76-50 win gives Kansas a Final Four berth, as predicted by 27 panelists.
For all but four experts, Kansas was the only team they got right.
The North Carolina Tar Heels are a blueblood in the sport, but they entered the 2022 tournament as a No. 8 seed. Saint Peter’s was, again, a No. 15 seed! The Peacocks have only ever had four alumni play pro basketball, the most recent being Rich Rinaldi in 1974. The experts should probably get a pass on missing either of these teams. They’ve had it pretty tough already.
The more hurtful oh-fors are the 25 panelists who didn’t get a single pick correct. However, four pickers can still nail their national champion prediction.
All Hail Jay Alter
The play-by-play announcer is the undisputed king of 2022 picks. He is the only panelist to correctly pick three of four Final Four teams.
But even he was bitten by Saint Peter’s upset of Kentucky.
“I should be happy, especially with all the upsets we’ve seen, getting three of the Final Four is great,” Alter said. “But I had UNC-Kentucky in the Elite Eight in my East Region. If I had just picked UNC to go one more round, it would’ve been a perfect Final Four.”
Alter’s pick of Duke to win it all was called an “on-an-island” choice.
“I guess the weather is pretty nice on the island,” Alter said.