The NCAA Men’s Division I College Basketball Tournament began March 15, kicking off another unpredictable and entertaining March Madness. As always, the 2022 tournament promises its fair share of Cinderella stories, historic playoff runs and outstanding individual performances. The Longwood University (Va.) Lancers earned their first tournament berth in program history after smoking Winthrop University (S.C.) to win the Big South Conference Championship. 

Legendary Duke University (N.C.) head coach Mike Krzyzewski is in his last season at the helm of a powerhouse program, hoping to cap off his career with a sixth championship ring. The father-son duo of head coach and four-time NBA all-star Penny Hardaway and junior guard Jayden Hardaway will look to lead N0. 9 seed University of Memphis (Tenn.) to its first national title. Wheel staff filled out their brackets and defended their picks for which team they believe will bring home the hardware. 

Jenna Daly, sports editor: Gonzaga University (Wash.) Bulldogs 

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Gonzaga Bulldogs

I am not overly qualified to select a champion, but I will try my best. Over many years of mindlessly listening to ESPN debates on my TV, I have always heard Gonzaga’s name thrown around during March Madness. I know that Gonzaga is a powerhouse on the court with the potential to dominate each postseason, but they have continuously gotten crossed up. Regardless of their habitual choking, I believe this could be the year that Gonzaga climbs the ladder to cut down the nets in New Orleans. Before anyone claims that I am hopping on the Gonzaga bandwagon because they are favored to win, I must point out that fellow sports editor Claire Fenton informed me of this fact after I had already submitted my bracket.

I believe that the Bulldogs are prepared to capture their first championship title this year and motivated by their two championship losses in the past five years. They can also rely on younger players like sophomore guard Julian Strawther and freshman forward Chet Holmgren, both of whom are offensive forces to be reckoned with. 

The Bulldogs have captured another WCC Tournament victory and their scoring margin increased by 1.5 points from last year to 22.8 points. Some may argue that statistics are useless when predicting tournament results, which is fair. However, these  numbers suggest that Gonzaga’s team is stronger than last year’s, which lost to Baylor 86-70 in the championship game. Gonzaga has only improved since last year, and will be hungry for a win after years of various disappointing defeats

Claire Fenton, sports editor: University of Kentucky Wildcats

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/University of Kentucky

To be frank, I don’t feel great about my pick. It’s called March Madness for a reason: anything can, and will, happen between now and the final tip-off in New Orleans on April 4. My confidence in my ability to craft a perfect bracket is still recovering from the University of Virginia’s unprecedented loss to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 2018, when I predicted the Cavaliers would take home the title. I’ve learned that pretending to know what I’m talking about when justifying my picks is a fool’s errand, and that sometimes a coin flip is a better predictor than analytics. 

Betting on a team that couldn’t even win their conference may seem like a risky move, but I’m counting on one player to pull it off: junior forward and national player of the year frontrunner Oscar Tshiebwe. Tshiebwe went to high school 90 minutes from me, and even played against my younger brother. I had the privilege of watching him dominate as a 6’9”, unbelievably muscular high schooler, in awe of the way he would dunk over and power through his peers as if they were Lego figurines. I’m not particularly a fan of Kentucky or their head coach John Calipari. But Tshiebwe, whose father was poisoned when he was just 12 years old, who left the Democratic Republic of the Congo at 15 to pursue basketball and who plans to use the profits from his NIL sponsorships to move his mother to the United States? Now that’s someone worth rooting for. 

Sophia Ling, executive editor: University of Richmond (Va.) Spiders

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/University of Richmond

I do not know anything about basketball or March Madness, so I’ll be shooting out of thin air. The Spiders are seeded twelfth. To transition my discussion to the animal kingdom, spiders are sneaky. They’re venomous and can attack at a moment’s notice, which means that despite being ranked much lower than the likes of Gonzaga and Villanova University (Penn.), they still have a fighting chance.

Spiders also have eyes everywhere and a couple more legs up on Gonzaga. Meanwhile, Bulldogs have shallow eye sockets and wrinkles on their faces, features that could lead to blindness, which is not super helpful when trying to shoot baskets. Spiders, however, are blessed with nimble limbs, multiple eyes and poison in their glands. The Spiders might also be friends with Spider Man, and who knows, he could make an appearance. 

Michael Mariam, managing editor: University of Arizona Wildcats

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Zscout370

The Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in the country, and they could not be peaking at a more perfect time. Arizona finished the regular season with only three losses and claimed both the PAC-12 regular season and tournament titles. They just beat the University of California, Los Angeles, who advanced to the Final Four in 2021, for the second time this season, and have beaten numerous other tournament-qualifying teams as well. 

The team has been consistently winning without one of their best players, sophomore point guard Kerr Kriisa, who has been out with a sprained ankle. The Wildcats are hopeful Kriisa will return early in the tournament, which would strengthen the backcourt of an already dominant group. The South region has a few strong teams such as the University of Illinois and Villanova that could make runs in the tournament, but none are completely put together to win the dance like the Wildcats.

Madi Olivier, news editor: Colorado State University Rams

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Colorado State University, Department of Athletics

I have a guaranteed win with Colorado State, and I did it without crunching numbers and comparing athletes (or whatever it is that sports-minded people do in their free time). My method? Googling photos of every team’s mascot and choosing the cutest. 

This process is foolproof, as it has led me to victory in the past. Additionally, it takes far more grit and critical thinking to complete than it takes for traditional brackets. If you want to be boring — or as my dad would say, “smart” — about March Madness and simply bet on the better basketball teams, all you have to do is look at any random ESPN article or the teams’ seeds. However, the answers aren’t handed to you when comparing mascots. As a result, I had to make tough decisions. How am I supposed to choose between a cute Yale University (Conn.) puppy and a Kentucky kitten? 

After about 20 minutes of painstaking research, the clear winner was Colorado State’s ram named Cam. I have a boxer at home named Campbell, so it was meant to be. I will admit that my dog is not the epitome of athleticism — he could not catch a ball if his life depended on it and can jump about two inches maximum. But he’s adorable and would make an excellent mascot. At the end of the day, is that not what matters most?

I put in the work to answer these tough questions, and God responded with my dog’s name. Go Campbell!