Final Thoughts From the March That Was

Kansas is your 2022 national champion.

And man, did the Jayhawks ever earn it, putting in a second half to remember in claiming the title.

The epic tale of two halves capped a wild, crazy March Madness that was one for the books. Here's some final thoughts that I had following Kansas cutting down the nets.

The Big 12 is a basketball conference. The Big 12 now has won back-to-back NCAA tournaments, with Baylor winning last year and Kansas this year. Next year's selection committee is going to have to keep this in mind when it comes down to bubble teams. While Baylor was the first top seed to fall (in a wild game against North Carolina), Kansas flourished and Texas Tech was a gritty, gutsy team all the way to the end of their Sweet 16 battle with Duke. The conference finished 13-5 in the tournament and took the title home. Plus, with future member Houston making a second-straight Elite Eight, the future for hoops looks pretty strong in the Big 12.

The Big Ten, SEC, and Pac-12 flopped. The ACC did its part, sending North Carolina and Duke to the Final Four, along with Miami's upset run to the Elite Eight. The rest of the Power Five, outside the Big 12 and ACC, floundered and floundered badly.

The Pac-12, which had a great tournament in 2021, failed to repeat in 2022, sending no teams to the Elite Eight. UCLA didn't have the same magic that they had last year. And quite frankly, Arizona was flat lucky to be in the Sweet 16, getting some serious love from the refs in surviving TCU. It was an odd year for the Pac-12 in a year where they needed a strong performance to prove they weren't a one-hit wonder. No one's buying them after this season.

Meanwhile, five of the six SEC teams that made it lost to double digit seeds, the worst obviously being Kentucky (and we'll get to them in a bit). But Auburn fizzled out to Miami, Tennessee had no answer for Michigan, LSU was coach-less and lifeless in falling to Iowa State, and the nation's streakiest team, Alabama, had no streak in them against Notre Dame. The only SEC team that fared well? Arkansas, who made it to the Sweet 16, then promptly took out the tournament's top seed in Gonzaga before falling to Duke in the Elite Eight. And with the monster class the Razorbacks have coming in, there's a reason why they're ranked at or near the top of every way-too-early preseason poll.

Finally, the Big Ten once again landed nine teams in the tournament. In 2021, they went 8-9. This year? 9-9, with no teams in the Elite Eight yet again. Purdue and Michigan were the only ones that survived the Sweet 16. And I'll give Michigan credit; I didn't think they should've been in the tournament. They played like they definitely belonged. But once again, the Big Ten got the most bids of any conference and promptly imploded. The 2023 committee simply can't overlook this:

Elite Eights in the last two seasons: Arkansas/Houston: 4 - The entire Big Ten conference: 0

Eighteen combined bids in two seasons and very little, if anything, to show for it. And "they're so tough, they beat each other up before the tournament", isn't going to fly. Next year's teams are going to have to prove it, and if the committee has a Big 12 and Big Ten team to choose from at the end, recent history says take the former over the latter.

The title game had to be rough on Kentucky fans. Kentucky beat North Carolina 98-69 in Las Vegas. They went to Lawrence and manhandled Kansas, 80-62.

I can't even imagine how sick I'd be as a Kentucky fan to watch two teams the Wildcats absolutely throttled playing in the national championship. It goes to show that anything can truly happen in March, and that the most important game is definitely the next one. If you look ahead, your season is dead.

The St. Peters story. Every year, there's a Cinderella. I don't think anyone guessed it'd be St. Peter's. But what a Cinderella they were.

It's one thing to take down Kentucky in the first round. It's another to be the third 15-seed to make the Sweet 16. But to take down Purdue and make it to the Elite Eight? Insane. St. Peter's entire athletic budget is smaller than John Calipari's salary. Shaheen Holloway produced more bang for the buck than any coach in America, which is why Seton Hall was wise to pick their alumnus up. And, in a class move, Holloway had his entire St. Peter's team at his introductory press conference. Seton Hall should be pumped for what's ahead.

Meanwhile, St. Peter's has instilled true hope in every non-major D1 team. It's one thing to tell a double digit seed that it can be done. It's another to show them that it has been done and can be done again. And what St. Peters did was historic, and incredible, and exciting to watch. Proud as a Peacock? Absolutely.

Time to make automatic bids not part of the First Four. I was enthused that something I'd been advocating for years on this very site is finally starting to pick up steam. Conference champions, no matter the conference, shouldn't be playing in the First Four. The First Four should be all bubble teams fighting it out for the chance to continue their dance. The conference champions earned their place and shouldn't have to be in any play-in game, period.

Also, the bubble teams should be playing as 9 and 10 seeds, meaning they have a decently tough game afterwards, then a date with likely (because UMBC and St. Peters can always pop up), a one or two seed. That's what's fair for a bubble team that barely made it in. A team that had an automatic invite shouldn't have to visit Dayton.

Finally, the title game itself. What a phenomenal back and forth game. North Carolina proved that no lead is safe ... twice. They blew a gigantic lead against Baylor, yet found a way to compose themselves in overtime and win. This time, they had a 16-point lead on Kansas and lost it in the second half. They couldn't pull off the magic twice. Still, give Hubert Davis tremendous credit. He's the right coach at the right time for Carolina. He got them to peak in March and the team rallied around his coaching style and persona. There's going to be a lot of Carolina blue in Final Fours to come, as top recruits are going to buy in to what Davis is selling.

Meanwhile, the other shoe hasn't dropped yet on Kansas, but Bill Self had to be loving every second of taking the trophy from Mark Emmert's hands. It was the ultimate middle finger to the NCAA brass from the Jayhawks to be hoisting the title in New Orleans. Kansas is Kansas; they're always going to be good. If the shoe drops, with their tradition and the transfer portal, they'll be back pretty much instantly.

What Kansas proved is that basically, not the threat of sanctions, the rise in conference play, tough non-conference losses or Mark Emmert's shadow could take them down. And, it solidifies what we thought we knew already: Kansas is a blue blood that's not going anywhere anytime soon.

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