If the past few weekends of conference championships signified anything, it was how much Madness will be packed into this March. We were blessed with buzzer-beaters, upsets, and an endless amount of Master Class performances. From Rhyne Howard and Kentucky’s upset win over South Carolina in the SEC Championship to Miami’s historic run in the ACC Tournament, there’s a lot to preview, and SLAM’s got you covered.
There are a few new changes this time around, though:
For the first time since the tournament’s inception in 1982, the NCAA has decided to feature the historic March Madness branding for the 2022 tournament, while the increased 68-team pool will be seeded for the first time this Selection Sunday on March 13.
The first four games of the tournament will take place on Wednesday and Thursday of this week while the first and second rounds begin on Friday and run through next Monday the 21st.
The Heavy Hitters
This year’s No. 1 Seeds: South Carolina, Stanford, NC State and Louisville are stacked to the brim with talent, as we take a deep dive into how the heavy hitters got to the first round of the tournament.
Led Dawn Staley, the Gamecocks (29-2) are equipped with an array of talent, including the frontrunner for National Player of the Year, Aliyah Boston. The Gamecocks will make their 18th national tournament appearance since ’82 through the Greensboro Region. Throughout the 2021-22 season, the Gamecocks have remained favorites to cut down the nets in Minneapolis. Despite suffering only their second loss (29-2) on the season to Kentucky in the SEC tournament final, South Carolina leads the nation with 11 wins over ranked opponents, facing off against the winner between Howard (20-3) and the Incarnate Word Cardinals (13-16).
The Stanford Cardinal (28-3) cruised their way to their second-straight Pac-12 championship with wins over Oregon St., Colorado, and Utah, behind the tournament’s Player of the Year in Haley Jones. With 6-4 conference Defensive Player of the Year and the Pac-12’s leading rebounder Cameron Brink commanding the paint, the Cardinal are coming off of a 20-game win streak heading into the Spokane Region. First, though, they’ll have to take care of business against No. 16 Montana (22-12).
The ACC has been one of the strongest conferences top-to-bottom this season—boasting eight teams from the conference making the big dance—as both NC State and Louisville round out our heavy hitters. The Wolf Pack added to what’s already been a historic season after securing the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament for the first time in 32 years. Led by first-team All-ACC center Elissa Cunane, NC State makes their 27th national tournament appearance.
This list is nowhere near short of star-power, and that’s where Hailey Van Lith and Louisville (25-4) round out our heavy hitters. Finishing second behind NC State in the ACC, the Cardinals are set to make their first national tournament appearance since 2019. They’re set to match up against No. 16 Albany (23-9) in the first round.
Best Not Be Sleeping
They may not be the highest-seeded teams, but you just can’t be caught sleeping when it comes to Kentucky, Miami, DePaul, and the Michigan Wolverines.
Coming off of the stellar play of All-SEC First Team forward Rhyne Howard and standout Dre’una Edwards, the Kentucky Wildcats upset the No. 1 seed South Carolina Gamecocks in historic fashion for the SEC Championship, the program’s first since 1982. Riding a 10-game win streak into the Bridgeport region, the No. 6 Wildcats had a sub .500 record less than a month ago, and yet, they’ll enter the first round of the tournament with possibly the most momentum in the tournament. But first, they’ll have to go through Princeton (24-4) to keep on dancing.
The Canes have been synonymous with upsets during March, stunning Louisville in the ACC quarterfinals courtesy of Destiny Harden’s buzzer-beating turn-around jumper and Notre Dame in the semis. The No. 8 Miami Hurricanes (20-12) arrive in the Greensboro region after advancing to the program’s first-ever ACC Championship game.
The No. 3 Wolverines (22-6) enter the fold in the Wichita region with a first-round matchup against the No. 14 seeded American Eagles (23-8). Their resume includes quality wins over Baylor in late December—the program’s first win over a top-five team—Maryland in January and Iowa in early February. Led by projected top-five pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft, Naz Hillmon, the Wolverines will be looking to make history once more in March.
While they finished fourth in the Big East, the Blue Demons earned quality wins over Kentucky and Northwestern. Led by double-double machine Aneesah Morrow, the conference’s Freshman of the Year, DePaul (22-10) will match up against No. 11 Dayton.
Games You Can’t Miss
After all 68 teams were seeded on Selection Sunday, the opening round matchups are set. Here’s some games that you’ve got to tune into this weekend.
Photos via Getty Images.