Top March Madness Predictions for First Round 2022: East Bracket

Top March Madness Predictions for First Round 2022: East Bracket
Thu 17th March 2022

Look below to find our top March Madness predictions for all the First Round action in the East Bracket. 

Thursday, March 17th, 2022

#1 Baylor vs #16 Norfolk State – 2pm ET

The Baylor Bears are the number one seed in the East region and will be taking on 16th seeded Norfolk State. Baylor finished the season after being knocked out in the Big 12 conference tournament by Oklahoma, while Norfolk State won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament. 

Marko Nadin

The Baylor Bears are starting the defending of the championship with a first round showdown against Norfolk State. The Bears finished the regular season on top of the Big 12 conference with a 26-6 record. The Bears were on a three-game winning streak against tough opponents such as Kansas, Texas and Iowa State but then were stunned by Oklahoma in the conference finals by 75-68. Baylor is a 20-point favorite going into this game. In the previous two encounters between these two teams, the Bears won by 41 and 28 point differential but this time around, it may not be that easy.

The Norfolk State Spartans finished on top of the MEAC conference with a 24-6 record. They managed to win the conference defeating Coppin State in the final by 72-57. The Spartans compete on a much lower level than Baylor but every NCAA tournament has their Cinderella stories. Norfolk State allows just over 37% shooting from the field which ranks them second in the nation and they are also 11th with their opponents shooting only 29% from the three-point line.

Marko’s College Basketball Pick: Norfolk State +20.5 (-110)

Tony Battalio

Baylor is the defending national champions and will be looking to start their path to a repeat in this game. Only one time in NCAA history has a number 16 seed defeated a number one seed which means Baylor has history on their side in this one. Despite an early exit in the Big 12 Conference Tournament, the Bears are still one of the best teams in the country this season. Baylor comes into this one with a record of 26-6 on the season. They will be a tough out in this tournament and it wouldn’t shock me if they went all the way again this year.

Norfolk State will always be remembered for one of the greatest upsets in the history of the NCAA Tournament. When they were a 15 seed and knocked off the 2 seeded Missouri Tigers way back in 2012. Now they will be looking to create some more magic in this game as they look to become only the second number 16 seed to upset a number one seed. Norfolk State comes into this game with a record of 24-6. However, they won’t be winning this game as Baylor is just too talented.

Baylor’s College Basketball Pick: (-4500)

Noah Dunlap

Baylor comes into this year’s tournament as a one-seed, looking to repeat as national champions. Obviously they’ve had a tremendous year, coming in at 26-6 on the year, and looked great for virtually the entire year, apart from about a one-week stretch where they struggled a bit. The key concern is the health of James Akinjo, the Bears’ leading scorer, as he is already been announced to be out for this one. While that won’t make a difference here, if he remains out, it could play a role by this weekend. 

Norfolk State has had a good year, entering at 24-6 out of the MEAC, including winning the MEAC tournament. The Spartans play outstanding defense, as they come into this one ranking in the top-11 in both opponents FG% and opponents 3-pt FG%, but the problem is that that has been against much lesser competition. They just don’t have the size or athleticism to compete with the Bears here, so I’m taking Baylor with ease. 

Noah’s College Basketball Pick: Baylor (-4500)

#8 North Carolina vs #9 Marquette – 4:30pm ET

This in my opinion will be the best first round matchup in the East bracket. As a red hot North Carolina Tar Heels team will take on the Marquette Golden Eagles from the Big East. Either one of these teams could win this one. 

Marko Nadin

The North Carolina Tar Heels are not having a good season by their standards as they finished second in the ACC with a 24-9 record. Still the blowout win against Duke in Mike Krzyzewski’s last home game boosted their confidence and they may go deep in the tournament despite the fact that they have a tough opponent in the very first round. The Tar Heels failed in the conference final failing to Virginia Tech by 72-59 after they defeated Virginia in the semis. UNC are among the top 30 teams in the nation in points and rebounds per game and are shooting a decent 37.4% from the three-point line.

The Marquette Golden Eagles are a dark-horse candidate in this year’s tournament. They are coming in the tournament after finishing fifth in the Big East with a 19-12 record which does not show how good this team really is. Marquette defeated Villanova twice this season as well as Illinois. They lost in the conference quarterfinal game against Creighton. Marquette’s defense is questionable as they allow 70.8 points per game which ranks them 226th in the nation. They are going into the game against UNC as +3.5 points underdog and will cover that spread.

Marko’s College Basketball Pick: Marquette +3.5 (-110)

Tony Battalio

The North Carolina Tar Heels got very hot during the stretch run of the season. Despite losing to Virginia Tech in the ACC Conference Tournament Semifinals this team is still a serious threat to make a deep run in this tournament if they can get past a tough Marquette team. Honestly I think North Carolina is good enough to knock off Baylor in the second round with the way they have been playing lately. This team in my opinion is an Elite Eight team. 

The Marquette Golden Eagles come into this game with a record of 19-12 on the season. They are a potential sleeper team in this one in my opinion. However, I don’t know if they could manage to pull off the same type of run that North Carolina could if they end up getting the victory on Thursday afternoon. They played in a very competitive Big East conference this season that should have them tested and ready to go for the Big Dance. As for the result of this game though, I have North Carolina getting the victory.

Tony’s College Basketball Pick: North Carolina (-164)

Noah Dunlap

After a really slow start to the year, the North Carolina Tar Heels have gotten hot as the year progressed, and now are a potential sleeper to make a deep run in this year’s tournament. They shoot and rebound extremely well, though the defense does remain a bit questionable. Despite some of the concerns, the ceiling for this UNC team is extremely high, so if they play well, look out. 

They do get a tough matchup in the first round, however,  as they take on the Marquette Golden Eagles. Marquette had a respectable 19-12 year in the Big East, though the key is quality of wins, as they have a handful of extremely impressive wins. Much like their opponents, their offense is solid, though there are questions about the Golden Eagles defense. This comes down to who shoots the ball better, and I think that turns out to be the Tar Heels. I think this is one of the best first round matchups we’ll see, but I like UNC to squeak away with a close win. 

Noah’s College Basketball Pick: North Carolina (-164)

#2 Kentucky vs #15 Saint Peters – 7:10pm ET

The Kentucky Wildcats are one of the greatest blue bloods in the sport of college basketball. But it has been a long time since they’ve reached the mountain top by their standards. They will look to make a run this season that starts with this matchup against the MAAC champs Saint Peters. 

Marko Nadin

The Kentucky Wildcats as usual are among the top contenders every year going into the tournament but this season they really stand a chance of actually winning it. Coach John Calipari decided to use a different formula in building this team by making numerous transfers which might pay off this season. The Wildcats finished the regular season on top of the SEC with a 26-7 record but failed in the conference semifinal to Tennessee. The Wildcats score just over 80 points per game (13th in the nation) while shooting 48.9% from the field (12th). Congolese forward Oscar Tshiebwe is the best rebounder in the game with 15.1 boards per game. He also adds 17 points on 60.2% shooting from the field and whoever faces the Wildcats will have major issues to deal with the 6-9 forward. Kentucky is an 18-point favorite against Saint Peter’s and will easily cover it.

The Saint Peter’s Peacocks finished the regular season second in the MAAC with a 19-11 record but managed to win the conference defeating Monmouth 60-54 in the conference final. The Peacocks score just over 66 points per game but allow only 62.4 which ranks them 24th in the nation. No player on the team averages more than 11 points per game. The Peacocks have covered the spread in the last 5 games playing on a neutral field as underdogs but Kentucky will put an end to that series.

Marko’s College Basketball Pick: Kentucky Covers

Tony Battalio

The Kentucky Wildcats are coming into the game as a top two seed in the East Region. Which gives them a favorable draw that allows them to avoid top seeded Baylor until they reach the Elite Eight. Kentucky has been great at times this season and has some huge wins on its resume, including a blowout win over Kansas in the fieldhouse. They finished the season with a record of 26-7 on the year and they will look to add six more wins to that mark and claim themselves a national championship. 

Saint Peters enters this game with a record of 19-11 on the season. They had a somewhat mediocre regular season but hot at the right time to win their conference tournament. They went on to beat Monmouth by a score of 60-54 in the MAAC championship game. Now they will look to add to the history of the 15 seed vs 2 seed upset list and knock off the Wildcats. It would surely be one of the most monumental wins in program history. However, I can’t see it happening as I have Kentucky getting the victory in this game. 

Tony’s College Basketball Pick: Kentucky

Noah Dunlap

Oscar Tshiebwe and TyTy Washington. That about sums up this preview. The two prominent Kentucky stars are going to be the focus of this matchup, and put simply, Saint Peters doesn’t have anyone that can compete with those two, especially the size and physicality of Tshiebwe.

Add in the fact that the Peacocks are only 19-11 in the MEAC, and had to use a magical run through the conference tournament to even get here in the first place, and I think we’re looking at a Kentucky blowout in this one. Saint Peters is on a magical run already, but the magic runs out in this one. Wildcats by 20+ with ease. 

Noah’s College Basketball Pick: Kentucky

#5 Saint Mary’s vs #12 Indiana – 7:20pm ET

The 5 vs 12 seed upset is a tale as old as time and at least one such occurrence seems to happen every single year. As far as this year’s tournament is concerned this one is the game that it would most likely happen in. As the 5th seed Saint Mary’s Gaels meet the 12th seeded Indiana Hoosiers. 

Marko Nadin

Indiana made it to the final tournament after winning the First Four game against Wyoming 66-58. The Hoosiers finished the regular season 9th in the Big Ten Conference with a 21-13 record. They had a great start of the conference tournament defeating Michigan and Illinois but failed short in the semifinals 80-77 to Iowa despite leading at halftime. Indiana is a three-point underdog going into this one and they have covered the spread in their last 5 games as well as the last four against teams with a winning record over 60%.

The Saint Mary’s Gaels finished the regular season with a 25-7 record which put them second in the WCC. The Gaels finally defeated Gonzaga this season as they topped them in the last game of the regular season by 67-57. The Gaels ran on the Zagz again in the conference finals but this time Gonzaga won 82-69. Saint Mary’s has the eighth-best defense in the league when it comes to points allowed with 59.4.

Marko’s College Basketball Pick: Saint Marys (-140)

Tony Battalio

The Saint Mary’s Gaels come into this game with a record of 25-7 on the season. They finished second in the West Coast Conference and were runners up in the West Coast Conference Tournament as well. As they lost to the number one overall seed in this tournament and the national title favorites the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Gaels are a serious dark horse team in my opinion as I could see them making a run all the way to the final four. But first they will have to get past a red hot Indiana Hoosiers team. 

The previously mentioned Indiana Hoosiers have already played a game in this tournament. As they won their first four play-in game over the Wyoming Cowboys on Tuesday evening by a score of 66-58. They were led once again by top scorer Trace Jackson-Davis, if he stays healthy and constant this Hoosiers team can be as dangerous as anybody in the rest of the field of 68 teams. However, I don’t think that is going to happen as there will be no 12 vs 5 upset in this one because I have Saint Mary’s getting the win. 

Marko’s College Basketball Pick: Saint Marys (-140)

Noah Dunlap

This is a really intriguing first round matchup, as the Saint Mary’s Gaels take on the Indiana Hoosiers, who took down Wyoming in their First Four matchup. The Gaels come in after having predictably finishing second in the WCC, only behind Gonzaga. They did however knock off the Zags in one of their matchups this season, and kept another extremely close. As is typical for a Saint Mary’s team, they play really disciplined basketball, and while it’s a slower pace, they virtually always shoot the ball well. 

Indiana, as mentioned earlier, had to go through the First Four against Wyoming to get to this point, after a decent, but not great year in the Big Ten. Trace Jackson-Davis is the key for this Hoosier team, as if he plays well, they’re a team that can make a real run. The problem is that I’m not high on the rest of this Indiana roster, which is why I’m taking Saint Mary’s in this 5/12 matchup. 

Gaels by double-digits!

Marko’s College Basketball Pick: Saint Marys (-140)

#7 Murray State vs #10 San Francisco – 9:40pm ET

The champions of the Ohio Valley Conference will meet a team from the West Coast Conference in this one. As the Murray State Racers will take on the San Francisco Dons in this seven vs ten seed matchup. This is going to be a really good game between two very good mid-major schools. 

Marko Nadin

The Murray State are starting the tournament against San Francisco and are one of the best teams to place a bet in the opening round since they are only one-point favorites and will probably win by a double-digit margin. The Racers finished the regular season on top of OVC with a 30-2 record. They still haven’t lost in 2022 since their last loss was right before Christmas. Murray State are among the top 25 teams in the nation in points scored and grabbed rebounds. They have won the only previous match against San Francisco back in 2011.

The San Francisco Dons haven;t made a significant run in the tournament since Bill Russell was at school there. Things will not change for better this time either as they will stand no chance against Murray State. The Dons are one of the worst free-throw teams in the league making less than 70% of their attempts.

Marko’s College Basketball Pick: Murray State (-140)

Tony Battalio

The post Ja Morant era is going quite well for Murray State as they were one of the best teams in college basketball this season. They finished the season with a record of 30-2 on the year and went undefeated in Ohio Valley Conference play as well, which is hard to do no matter how great of a team you are. In the conference tournament finals they beat Morehead State in a game that was closer than many people thought it would be as the game ended 71-67. This team is a real final four threat in my opinion as well. 

The San Francisco Dons finished the season with a record of 24-9 and were knocked out in the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals. They are a very good at-large team this season and if they can get past Murray State they will definitely have a shot at making a run. This one is going to be a highly competitive game and I look for it to come down to the very final tick on the clock. As for the result of this game however, I have the Murray State Racers getting the victory in this one and advancing to face the winner of Kentucky and Saint Peters.

Tony’s College Basketball Pick: Murray State (-140)

Noah Dunlap

This one gives us another WCC team, the San Francisco Dons, who finished third in the conference behind Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, with a 24-9 record, taking on the Murray State Racers. To be quite honest, I didn’t think this Dons team should have made the field, as in my opinion, they simply don’t have the wins they would need. Most of their wins have come against mediocre competition at best, and with none losses, I thought they should’ve been left out, all things considered. On top of that, they get one of the hottest teams in the country in this one in Murray State. 

This may not be Ja Morant’s Racers from 4-5 years ago, but they aren’t far behind. They won the Ohio Valley Conference with ease, including the conference tournament, as they sit at 30-2. On top of that, they’ve won 20 straight, as they’re yet to lose in 2022. Using a fast paced, up-tempo style of basketball, I like the Racers to be a potential Cinderella team this year, which starts with them taking care of business in this one. Racers by double-digits. 

Noah’s College Basketball Pick: Murray State (-140)

#4 UCLA vs #13 Akron – 9:50pm ET

The Pac-12 conference tournament runner ups are set to meet the Mid-American Conference champions in this one. As the UCLA Bruins will take on the Akron Zips. This one could get ugly very quick if Akron doesn’t come ready to play. 

Marko Nadin

After a pretty good season last year, the UCLA Bruins will have another shot at the Final Four. They have a great team that finished the regular season second in the Pac 12 conference with a 25-7 record. The Bruins found their way to the conference finals but couldn’t go over Arizona, losing 84-76. Jaime Jazquez is playing amazing lately, going over 20 points in three of the last five games. UCLA is averaging 76.6 points per game this season and will definitely go way over that.

The Akron Zips have finished third in the MAC with a 24-9 record. They won their conference with a 75-55 win over Kent State in the final game. Sophomore forward Enrique Freeman is playing great on both sides of the floor averaging 13.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. The Zips are a tough team and may keep the game close for a half but stand no chances of beating the Bruins. UCLA is a 13.5 points favorite going into this one and will definitely cover that spread.

Marko’s College Basketball Pick: UCLA (-1400)

Tony Battalio

The UCLA Bruins had one of the strangest seasons in the history of college basketball. They were paused several times because of coronavirus and had a lot of their momentum stopped several times. They still managed to finish second in the Pac-12 conference tournament as they lost to the Arizona Wildcats in the finals. The Bruins have the potential to make a deep run in this tournament as long as Covid doesn’t rear its ugly head once again and they can remain healthy. 

It was surrounded by controversy but the Akron Zips got the job done in the Mid-American Conference tournament finals over their rival Kent State. Now Akron gets to take on another team with gold and blue colors when they meet the Bruins in this one. Akron will surely have to play their best game of the season if they want a shot at getting the upset in this one. However, I just can’t see that happening as I have the much more talented Bruins picking up the victory in this game. 

Tony’s College Basketball Pick: UCLA (-1400)

Noah Dunlap

While I don’t think this is the same UCLA team that made a run to the Final Four last year, they’re still a tremendously talented team, led by Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr. They found a way to hang around and finish second in the Pac-12, and I don’t think they have any issues in this first round matchup. 

Akron comes in having only finished third in the MAC, but they used a good run through the tournament to get the automatic bid. The key for the Zips is Enrique Freeman, who is averaging a double-double this year, though it’s come against much lesser competition. I don’t think he, or the rest of this Zips roster has enough to get the job done. Akron keeps it close for the first 15 minutes or so, but UCLA pulls away by halftime, as they pull out a win by 18 or so. 

Noah’s College Basketball Pick: UCLA (-1400)

Friday, March 18th 2022

#3 Purdue vs #14 Yale – 2pm ET

Two teams from two of the best academic conferences in the nation will face off in this one. As the three seeded Boilermakers of Purdue will meet the 14th seeded Yale Bulldogs for a trip to the second round on Saturday. 

Marko Nadin

The Purdue Boilermakers are a team that shouldn’t be underestimated this season. Not many take them as serious contenders but they can literally defeat anybody. The Boilermakers finished the regular season with a 27-7 record which put them third in the Big Ten. Purdue lost the conference final 75-66 over Iowa. Purdue is scoring 80.7 points per game which ranks them seventh in the league. They are ranked third in the nation in field goal shooting with 49.7% and 39.7% from the three-point line. 

The Yale Bulldogs won the Ivy League this season defeating Princeton in the final 66-64. They finished the regular season second in the conference with a 19-11 record. Yale has won 13 of the last 16 teams which means that they are in good form. Purdue shouldn’t have any issues with Yale and take care of business early in the game. Yale is simply undersized and on a totally lower level than Purdue meaning that the Boilermakers will cover the -16 points margin.

Marko’s College Basketball Pick: Purdue (-2100)

Tony Battalio

The highly favored Purdue Boilermakers have been prone to choking during the NCAA tournament in the past. However, this year feels different as this may be the best team that head coach Matt Painter has ever had during his time on campus. At one point in the season the Boilermakers were the number one team in the nation before losing some heartbreaking games. Now they will look to start their run towards a national title with a win in this one against the Yale Bulldogs. 

The previously mentioned Yale Bulldogs have had their share of March Madness glory in recent years as this is their third trip to the big dance in the last half decade. Yale has a few upsets under their belt as well as it seems like the Ivy League representatives just love playing bracket buster no matter who gets in from the world’s smartest institutions. This year could always end up being a repeat of their upset win over Baylor a few years back. However, I just can’t see that being the case as this Purdue team is way too talented this season.

Tony’s College Basketball Pick: Purdue (-2100)

Noah Dunlap

Purdue is a title contender, there’s no way around it. They’ve arguably been the best team in the Big Ten all year long, and made it to the finals of the Big Ten tournament where they lost a close one to Iowa. The key to this Boilermaker team is Jaden Ivey and Zach Edey, as they’re the primary core for this Purdue squad, and if the Boilermakers do make a Final Four run or better, it’s going to be on the shoulders of those two. 

Yale is becoming a common sight in the NCAA tournament out of the Ivy League, as this is their third appearance in the last five years. While the Bulldogs don’t have the talent or athleticism that Purdue does, I think they almost certainly keep this one close, by playing slowed down, disciplined basketball, that limits the number of possessions either way. The Ivys seem to always perform well in the tournament, and I don’t think this year is any different, though I don’t think they have enough to pull off the upset. Purdue gets the win, though I think it comes by single digits, potentially closer than many expect. 

Noah’s College Basketball Pick: Purdue (-2100)

#6 Texas vs #11 Virginia Tech – 4:30pm ET

The Texas Longhorns late season collapse almost led to them missing the tournament. While the Virginia Tech Hokies late season winning streak is the only reason they are in the tournament. As two power five conference schools are set to square off in this 6 vs 11 game. 

Marko Nadin

In one of the most interesting matchups of the first round, Virginia Tech and Texas will face each other in Milwaukee. Virginia Tech finished the regular season seventh in the ACC with a 23-12 record. The Hokies won the tournament despite being a major underdog, defeating North Carolina in the semifinal game and later Duke by 82-67 in the conference finals. Virginia Tech is ranked 18th in the league allowing 61.3 points per game. They will have a tough opponent immediately in the first round but that will be another chance to prove how serious a team they are this year.

The Texas Longhorns are another great defensive team as they are ranked 9th in the league with 59.5 allowed points per game. They have finished the regular season fourth in the Big 12 with a 21-11 record. A bad news for the Longhorns is that they are going into the tournament with three consecutive losses and a lack of confidence against the Hokies would be deadly for Texas. The total point margin is set pretty low at 123.5 points and despite the fact that these two teams are playing great on the defensive end, this game will go over.

Marko’s College Basketball Pick: Over 123 (-110)

Tony Battalio

The Texas Longhorns finished the regular season and Big 12 conference tournament with a record of 21-11 on the season. They were knocked out of the Big 12 conference tournament in the quarterfinals by the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University. Now the Longhorns will be looking to take down one of the hottest teams in the country in this one when they face off with Virginia Tech. Texas in my opinion is likely going to be a one and done team in this year’s tournament as they ended up with an unlucky draw. 

The Virginia Tech Hokies shocked the college basketball world when they beat 3 of the top teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference in three straight nights. By doing so they won their first ever ACC conference tournament as well. It all started when they knocked off Clemson in round 2, then they beat the second place Fighting Irish in the quarterfinals before taking down the two blue bloods in North Carolina and Duke. As for the result of this game I think their winning streak will live another night as I have Virginia Tech winning this one over the Longhorns.

Tony’s College Basketball Pick: Virginia Tech (-108)

Noah Dunlap

Give me the magical run to continue in this one for the Virginia Texh Hokies. They’ve had a decent year so far, but had to use a great run through the ACC tournament, including a win over Duke in the finals, to get in the field in the first place. The Hokies defense is the key, as that’s what has propelled them this far, as their offense is certainly shaky. However, the good news for VA Tech is that they get a Texas team in the first round that has struggled on the offensive end as well.

Texas had a really good year, that is until the very end. They’re 21-11 on the season, but have lost three straight, and with an offense that has been awful at times this year, I’m not all that optimistic that they’re able to end the losing streak in this one. In this matchup of elite defenses (and bad offenses) I’m taking the Hokies, as, with the two teams trending in different directions, I think the momentum they have going is enough to get them over the edge. 

Noah’s College Basketball Pick: Virginia Tech (-108)

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*Odds and spreads correct at time of publication, courtesy of FanDuel.

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