Staff Picks | Men’s basketball national championship


AP Photo/Gerry Broome

Duke sophomore center Mark Williams (15) struggles for the ball with Wake Forest graduate student forward Dallas Walton (13) during a game on Tuesday, Feb. 22, in Durham, North Carolina.

By The Pitt News Staff

With the men’s NCAA basketball tournament set to begin in earnest on Thursday, The Pitt News sports desk predicts who will cut down the nets in New Orleans on April 4.

Villanova over Baylor // Dalton Coppola, Assistant Sports Editor

Villanova will start its tournament in Pittsburgh but it will end in New Orleans. Graduate student guard Collin Gillespie’s versatility and leadership will prove to be the difference in Villanova’s run through the Big Dance. Head coach Jay Wright’s Hall of Fame resumé paired with Gillespie at the point of a Big East Champion will propel the Wildcats to another championship.

Write it with a sharpie — the Villanova Wildcats are going to go back to the National Championship as a No. 2 seed and will take down the Baylor Bears.

Arizona over Texas Tech // Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

There has been no clear best team this year, as anyone who got into the top 10 ended up losing a game they perhaps should’ve won. Arizona was that team on Feb. 26 when it lost a road game to unranked Colorado, but that isn’t going to stop the Wildcats.

Led by head coach Tommy Lloyd, the team from Tucson barreled through the PAC-12 tournament and clinched the championship game on the back of Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s 18 points and 10 rebounds against UCLA.

This year’s tournament is up in the air, but Arizona looks to be the one to land on its feet in the end.

Loyola Chicago over Duke // Brian Sherry, Staff Writer

There would be no better Cinderella story than Loyola Chicago taking down perennial-favorite Duke in a national championship thriller. The matchup would feature two elder figureheads of the sport, Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Sister Jean, duking it out for the title. Both icons are more than likely in their last NCAA tournament appearance, making this matchup even more special.

Loyola Chicago will prevail in the end, providing hope to millions in uncertain times. 

Duke over Tennessee // Stephen Thompson, Sports Editor

There is immense pressure on Duke to take home a title in head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season. The 2021-22 season has been entirely underscored by his impending retirement, and after his Blue Devils flopped in the regular season finale against rival North Carolina and the ACC Tournament, the demands to close in victorious fashion are even louder.

Tennessee will be a worthy opponent — they’ll have to conquer one of the harder regions of the tournament to get to this point — but it’s Duke’s year, for the simple reason that it has to be. The Blue Devils cannot afford to lose and luckily for them, they’re as likely as anyone to win when it matters most. Duke boasts a pair of future NBA Lottery picks that bring an ounce of flair, the ACC Defender of the Year that brings the muscle and two veteran guards that run the show with efficiency. They play complementary basketball and are built for this moment.

Villanova over Kentucky // Richie Smiechowski, Senior Staff Writer

Picking two blue bloods goes against everything that March Madness stands for, but in a season of unpredictability, two of the nation’s strongest will go head to head for the National Title.

For Kentucky, Oscar Tshiebwe is quite literally a tank. His physicality will be an asset for Kentucky as the games begin to wear on. It also feels like it might be due after a decade-long drought. As for Villanova … well, it just always seems to show up in the tourney.

Kentucky over Arizona // Frankie Richetti, Senior Staff Writer

Sixteen of the past 19 National Champions entered the tournament among the top six in KenPom’s rankings. Arizona and Kentucky are both in the top three.

Both teams rank top 10 in offensive efficiency, while Arizona boasts a better defense. In a game that would feature two future lottery picks in Kentucky guard TyTy Washington and Arizona guard Ben Mathurin, Kentucky has the slight edge in the backcourt as they are getting healthy while Arizona point guard Kerr Kriisa’s status remains in doubt.

The X-factor for Kentucky is Davidson transfer, Kellan Grady. Grady shoots 42% from downtown and is one of the best shooters in the nation. While slumping coming into the tournament, I think Grady catches fire and will play a pivotal role in bringing the hardware back to Lexington.

Arizona over Baylor // Zack Gibney, Senior Staff Writer

Take Baylor’s defeat in the Big 12 tournament with a grain of salt. It didn’t win its conference last season either, but it’s safe to say it was fine settling for a national title. Scott Drew’s team will be ready.

But in a year where no team is a comfortable watch, Arizona is as close to a sure thing as anyone in the country.

Also, Arizona is hot at the right time. Of the Wildcats’ three losses, they avenged two of them — UCLA and Colorado — later in the season. They cruised through a strong field in the PAC-12 tournament, and while they got a tough draw with Villanova also in the South Region, Arizona picked up 31 wins against a tough schedule — something that should help it in March.

Arizona over Kentucky // Kyle Saxon, Senior Staff Writer

There are plenty of reasons people will doubt Arizona’s national title hopes –– a first-year head coach, the uncertain availability of star sophomore point guard Kerr Kriisa,and recent Wildcat woes in the Big Dance. Rest assured –– the product on the court leaves no reason for doubt.

Arizona’s size and versatility make it a matchup nightmare for any team, including Kentucky. While John Calipari’s team has been extremely dangerous at full strength, there is simply no answer for Arizona when it is hot. PAC-12 player of the year Bennedict Mathurin will be the most outstanding player of this tournament, and Tommy Lloyd will win a national championship in year one.

Arizona over Texas Tech // Nick Aaron, Staff Writer

Arizona looks the part of a national championship team after emerging on top in the PAC-12 tournament. Texas Tech might surprise some people with such a deep run into the national championship game, as it didn’t even win the Big 12 conference title. But the Red Raider offense will pace it to get this far, and likely run into a wall against the Wildcats. 

Arizona is playing its best basketball of the season, and hasn’t won a national title since 1997. The Wildcats are about due for their first championship of the 21st century.

Kentucky over Villanova // Jermaine Sykes, Staff Writer

The NCAA championship will be a battle of wildcats. But the similarities don’t stop at the mascot. Both Nova and Kentucky are No. 2 seeds in the tournament and are coached by two greats — Jay Wright and John Calipari. Here I give the nod to Kentucky and Wooden Award nominee Oscar Tshiebwe.