NCAA Tournament bracket preview from the N&O looks for some home cooking in Houston
Petre Thomas/USA TODAY Sports

Back by popular (?) demand, this region-by-region bracket preview — in homage to late News & Observer sports columnist Caulton Tudor, who invented the format and lingo — cuts to the meat of the bracket. For the second straight year, it identified a whopping seven of the Sweet 16 in 2022.



FAVORITE: UCLA (2) gets a convenient Sacto-Vegas road, but there are potholes everywhere in a brutal bracket full of potential title contenders.

GOING SWEET: Kansas (1), UCLA (2), Gonzaga (3), St. Mary’s (5)

DARK HORSES: Iona (13) once hoped to be a charter member of the Big East under Jim Valvano. It gets a Big East matchup with UConn (4) to start. TCU (6) has flown under the radar all season in the deep Big 12. St. Mary’s (5) went toe-to-toe with Gonzaga all season in the WCC.

MIGHT FLOP: Boise State (10) has never won an NCAA Tournament game. Dan Hurley’s 0-for-2 in the first round at UConn (4).

SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE: Probably not Iona’s Rick Pitino, as he plays footsie with St. John’s. Could it be former Duke assistant Chris Collins, back in the tournament for a second time at Northwestern (7)? Drew Pember at UNC Asheville (15) is the best player within these borders you’ve never heard of.

SYNOPSIS: Hard to believe Kansas, UCLA, Gonzaga, UConn and St. Mary’s — five of the top 11 teams in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings — ended up in the same region, but even without Jaylen Clark, the Bruins are the team to beat.



FAVORITE: No team’s been as consistently good, start to finish, as Houston (1)

GOING SWEET: Houston (1), Xavier (3), Miami (5), Texas A&M (7)

DARK HORSES: Kent State (13) only lost by seven at Gonzaga in December. Is this finally the year Colgate (15) shoots its way into the second round? Texas A&M (7) feels dramatically underseeded, and Buzz Williams knows his way around the tournament.

MIGHT FLOP: If the Big Ten is going to indulge in its ritual March collapse, it could start in the first round here with Indiana (4), Iowa (8) and Penn State (10). Texas won the Big 12, but no interim coach has won a title since Steve Fisher beat Seton Hall thanks in part to a late foul call by Raleigh’s own John Clougherty.

SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE: The father-son combo of Darian and Tucker DeVries at Drake (12) will tug at some heartstrings. Jim Larranaga keeps on trucking at Miami (5), but he’s 73. He can’t keep going forever. Miami and Pitt (11), meanwhile, could go a long way toward salvaging the ACC’s reputation. Underestimate them at your peril.

SYNOPSIS: There are three Texas teams in this regional with a chance to make it back home for the Final Four but this is Houston’s year. Kansas’ loss — missing out on Kansas City and getting sent to the Vegas cage match instead — is Houston’s gain.



FAVORITE: No one expected Kansas State (3) to compete in the Big 12. No one’s expecting the Wildcats to come out of this bracket, either.

GOING SWEET: Purdue (1), Marquette (2), Kansas State (3), Duke (5)

DARK HORSES: The Memphis (8)-Florida Atlantic (9) winner will give Purdue (1) all it can handle. Max Abmas is still at Oral Roberts (12), giving off C.J. McCollum vibes against Duke (5).

MIGHT FLOP: Not only does Rick Barnes not exactly have the best March record, Tennessee (4) lost point guard Zakai Ziegler to a torn ACL and will struggle to get past Duke (5) even if it gets past Louisiana (13).

SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE: It will be curious to see if the national perception of Duke (5) changes with Mike Krzyzewski gone and the most likable group of Duke players since Zion. Probably not, though. There’s always Abmas and Purdue star Zach Edey, who’s never made it past the Sweet 16.

SYNOPSIS: Purdue has the player of the year in Edey but the Boilermakers are too young in the backcourt and that will catch up with them eventually. Kansas State, which had only one really bad loss all year, is well positioned to pick up the pieces at Madison Square Garden.



FAVORITE: The Pac-12 wasn’t deep but it was strong at the top, and Arizona (2) will join UCLA in Houston.

GOING SWEET: Alabama (1), Arizona (2), N.C. State (11), Charleston (12)

DARK HORSES: Charleston (12) didn’t win 31 games by accident. The Cougars are capable. N.C. State (11) didn’t finish strong but the Wolfpack proved they can beat anyone. Bob Huggins will have West Virginia (9) ready for Alabama (1) if the Mountaineers advance.

MIGHT FLOP: Baylor (3) isn’t up to its usual standards and is ripe to fall. Mountain West teams like San Diego State (5) and Utah State (10) have a dismal record in the NCAA Tournament despite outstanding analytics.

SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE: Anyone but Alabama (1) and Brandon Miller. Princeton (15) has dined out on a one-point loss to Georgetown since 1989. The Tigers are 2-9 in the first round since.

SYNOPSIS: Underperforming as a favorite in the tournament is almost as much of an Alabama staple as CFP appearances. Baylor and Virginia don’t look ready for a long run. The door is open for Arizona.


Arizona (2), Houston (1), Kansas State (3), UCLA (2)


Houston has everything: A clutch scorer in Marcus Sasser; ball-distributing point guard Jamal Shead; gritty, long, two-way big men Jarace Walker and J’Wan Roberts; and a coach who’s seen everything and been here before. They can slow it down and out-Virginia Virginia, and they can open it up and outscore you, but they’ll always be dogged on defense.

The Cougars didn’t play in the toughest conference, but they went 7-2 against NCAA Tournament teams and have been to back-to-back Elite Eights. They know what they’re doing in March. And 40 years after N.C. State denied Phi Slama Jama, the Cougars win the title in front of a hometown crowd as Pembroke’s own Kelvin Sampson helps cut down the nets a mere 10 miles from campus.

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