Most Compelling NCAA Tournament Final Matchups
March is upon us and that means (at least) three things: the weather going in like a lion and out like a lamb, St. Patrick’s Day and the Madness of the NCAA college basketball tournament.
There are plenty of storylines to uncover as conference tournaments resume, conclude or get underway. And it makes following the ever-changing March Madness betting odds that much more intriguing.
Fortunately, most of them have taken shape on the court instead of in the form of off-the-court scandals. There’s also a sense of normalcy hovering over the sport following back-to-back years of anything but.
According to the oddsmakers, there are three schools that have separated themselves from the rest of the pack and have the best chance to cut down the nets on the first Monday night in April. However, this is a fairly open field which should make for a very entertaining bracket.
Let’s take a look at four of the most compelling potential matchups in the National Championship Game in New Orleans on April 4.
Gonzaga vs. Baylor
For the purposes of this piece, we won’t list any school more than once, but both schools would certainly provide high-quality matchups for a number of opponents.
Usually, a rematch of the previous year’s championship wouldn’t necessarily be considered compelling, but there hasn’t been a redux on the college hardwood since 1961-62 when Cincinnati prevailed over Ohio State in back-to-back title tilts.
The Zags and Bears are both potential No.1 seeds and have played high-level basketball all season. Mark Few is still seeking that elusive first crown and what better way to try and get it than against the team that beat them in 2021.
Auburn vs. Tennessee
An all-SEC final, without Kentucky? Why not! These two squared off only once during the regular season, a five-point Vols victory in Knoxville on February 26. And yes, there’s a chance they meet again in the conference tournament finals as the top two seeds in the bracket.
But what if Auburn wins the SEC Tournament Championship? What better way to settle it once and for than in a grudge match in the Bruce Pearl bowl in the Bayou?
Plus, the Tigers are one of just two schools (Gonzaga the other) to have two players on the Wooden Award finalist list. Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler would be household names coming out of Final Four weekend for sure.
Kentucky vs. Villanova
Which coach would have more product in their hair and whose suit would be the snazziest? In all seriousness, John Calipari and Jay Wright are about much more than their appearances and this would rank right up there in the all-time championship coaches clashes.
Calipari still has just one title on his resume and adding a second would elevate him in the pantheon. Wright has earned rings by knocking off two of the sports’ powerhouses in North Carolina and Michigan. A third crown puts him in very elite company and a different conversation altogether.
It is an even year after all, and following championships in 2016 and 2018, it might be an inevitability since the 2020 tournament was canceled altogether.
Duke vs. Kansas
Again, we could have put Duke up against just about anyone (on and off this list) and it would be immediately compelling. Coach K going out on top would be the stuff of Hollywood.
We considered Kentucky seeing how many argue their Regional Final battle in 1992 is the best college basketball game of all time. Another crack at North Carolina would be fitting, but this year’s version of UNC hasn’t had the pedigree of years past.
Gonzaga? Sign us up. Baylor? Sure. Arizona? Definitely. Any number of schools combined with Duke would make for must-see tv. In the end, we chose Kansas in a rematch of Coach K’s first National Championship in 1991. Oh, and Ochai Agbaji and Paolo Banchero aren’t too bad either.
Whether any of this hypothetical matchups become reality remains to be seen as we await Selection Sunday to see how it all could shake out.