We are less than 50 days from the start of the 2022 men's NCAA Tournament, which begins March 15. So ... how's that going? A year after a unique and unprecedented men's NCAA Tournament in and around greater Indianapolis, what's the plan for March Madness this year?
I caught up Wednesday afternoon with NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt, who oversees the men's tournament. Gavitt is in New Orleans, site of the 2022 men's Final Four, for the NCAA's monthly planning meeting with New Orleans' local organizing committee and other contractors. We spoke just after he completed the NCAA's operations seminar, which amounts to the final big to-do before things really start to get real down in the Bayou.
"Things are going well," Gavitt told CBS Sports. "Planning has been good and we feel good and confident with where we are -- as much as you can be."
The 2022 men's tournament will go back to its customary format: a 68-team field played out across three weeks at 14 sites, starting with the First Four in Dayton, which will host tournament games for the first time since 2019. The women's field will expand from 64 to 68 this year as well. The big questions involve how the tournament will be handled from a coronavirus precautionary standpoint amid the ongoing pandemic. The omicron wave is receding in parts of the United States while still seeing a rise in cases elsewhere. Projections from scientists and medical experts have the wave significantly reducing by the time March arrives, which will be good news for the NCAA.
"We've gone back to the original playbook," Gavitt said. "This year's tournament is being planned and executed like it was pre-pandemic. And that's not to say that we're not looking at adjustments that need to be made. We certainly are."
As for the COVID/medical protocols the NCAA will institute for its basketball tournaments, Gavitt said none of that has been decided and won't be until deeper into February. The men's and women's basketball committees are guided by NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline and the organization's medical advisory panel.
"Like we did last year, we want to make sure to exercise patience and not make decisions before they're necessary to be made," Gavitt said. "With omicron being on us and unpredictable, it didn't make sense to make final decisions on medical protocols until we got more experience and data."
While everything regarding COVID procedures is "still on the table," Gavitt said the 2022 men's and women's NCAA Tournaments "will be quite different than last year." That's welcome news. The 2021 experience was in many ways special but it was also one of the biggest logistical challenges ever done in sports in the history of the United States.
"I'm confident and safe to say we are not in the same situation we were in last year, and thus, the solutions need to be different," Gavitt said. "What those are will be determined and announced at the appropriate time, but they will not be exactly the same as they were last year."
Things like protocols for those who are boosted versus those who have vaccination without boosters, or those who are unvaccinated. Different testing cycles, etc. The membership will receive guidance on that in the coming weeks. The NCAA already has COVID guidelines that were recently updated, and might still be again, before March Madness gets underway.
"There'll be definitions around all that that's not my decision to make, but yes, certainly, if you followed the current [guidelines] released in early January for the winter regular season, and it continues to evolve and those you know those areas," said Gavitt, "they're all clearly defined in the documents -- around isolation and quarantine and testing -- but it's also important to note that those are not the protocols for the tournament because they haven't been determined yet."
In-person media availability? To be determined. Backup sites if necessary? In fact, those have long been something the NCAA keeps in its back pocket, but those sites and emergency procedures are intentionally kept secret (and until COVID, never came into play). Gavitt and NCAA staff members are in contact with representatives from all 14 sites on a weekly basis and things are tracking as expected.
Teams will need 25 games to qualify
This was a big area of concern a month ago, when cancellation rates were spiking and many in college athletics wondered whether or not teams getting to the 25-game threshold for NCAA Tournament qualification would be realistic. With January nearly over, it turns out the committees' decision to wait and see how things progressed was a prudent one.
Last season the number temporarily dropped to 13 due to significant scheduling challenges from the pandemic. In 2022, it will go back to the normal number of 25, Gavitt said. That number can include up to four non-Division I opponents and can also include one conference postseason tournament game. As of today, every men's D-I team has played at least 11 games and all are scheduled to play in at least 25 games (including accounting for one conference tournament matchup).
The key will be avoiding significant schedule postponements into February. Data provided by Ken Pomeroy recently shows the slow is becoming a crawl in terms of number of COVID pauses and game alterations.
Settling in on a ~5% cancellation rate. pic.twitter.com/ktiBGrHZWd— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) January 21, 2022
If there are teams that aren't at 25 games come Selection Sunday, there is still a potential workaround.
"[The committee] decided against a blanket waiver, which would have lowered that minimum number to some other number," Gavitt said. "But there is an individual institution waiver process. So if a team [with a] situation out of its control can't reach that number of 25 games, there's a waiver process in place that the committees can review and grant an exception waiver for championship eligibility."
The waiver window is Feb. 14-Feb. 25. Conferences will again be able to alter their league automatic-qualifier policies as late as Feb. 25, just like last year, in the event any issue with a conference tournament prompted a change in how a league would award its automatic bid recipient. Last season there were strict travel guidelines for teams in terms of distancing on planes and buses. While not finalized, Gavitt said it's "not likely" those stringent measures will be in place this year.
"We're keeping our eye on things and our ear to the ground because we're not naive enough to think that we're gonna have to make some decisions or adjustments as necessary, and we'll take them as they come," Gavitt said.
As for those contingency teams from last year -- the four top seeds in the NIT that just missed making the NCAA Tournament that were eligible to get bumped into the NCAA Tournament if other teams could not compete after being selected -- that possibility "is on the table" according to Gavitt. The men's and women's committees discussed it last week in Indianapolis but have not made a final decision. It's something that will be on the agenda at their next meeting window (Feb. 15-17).
Speaking of the next meetings, they will take place shortly before the annual in-season top-16 bracket reveal on CBS. That show has traditionally come on the Saturday after the Super Bowl, and will again this year. With the NFL schedule being extended a week, this year's in-season reveal will be Saturday, Feb. 19, on CBS -- 22 days before Selection Sunday.
And as March draws nearer, the men's and women's committees continue to work closer than ever in sharing all details and information about how the tournaments are being run so that the infamous headlines and NCAA missteps from 2021 with the women's tournament don't happen again. The NCAA had a gender-equity review in regard to all of its championships in 2021. Basketball's two tournaments are the biggest, and it's been the primary focus all season long for both committees.
Davidson might have its best since Stephen Curry was there
Davidson, at 16-2, is riding its best win streak since 2012-13, and on Monday the 25th-ranked Wildcats entered the AP Top 25 for the first time this season (their first appearance since 2015). Tonight the Wildcats will face off in a big matchup against VCU, with a chance at a rare sweep of the Rams.
The school hasn't started a season with a record this good since the mid-1960s. The reason Davidson is ranked is not just the 15-game win streak, but also because an unexpected, improvised game against Alabama in Birmingham was scheduled in late December after Davidson couldn't play Loyola Chicago -- its previous No. 1 game on the nonconference schedule -- due to the Ramblers going on COVID pause. The Wildcats beat Bama in a de facto road environment. It will be the shining jewel on this team's NCAA Tournament résumé, no matter what comes in the next six weeks.
Begs the question: Is this the best team Bob McKillop's had since Stephen Curry?
The Curry-led team that made the Elite Eight in '08 finished 11th at KenPom. Something that sometimes gets lost when discussing Davidson and the legend of Curry: this program has been to four NCAA Tournaments (but no tourney wins) since Curry left in '09. The best since was the '14-15 squad that finished 24-8, 36th in KenPom and earned a March Madness berth as a No. 10 seed. This team can best that. Now, the program record for wins in a season is 29, done in Curry's freshman and sophomore seasons, the latter of which was that magical Elite Eight run and included a 25-game winning streak. That Davidson team was also a 10-seed. Can this one go higher?
I think so. The Wildcats sit alone atop the Atlantic 10 standings (6-0) and are sitting on the 8-line in our latest Bracketology forecast. This team might be so good they will transcend the sleeper moniker by the time we get to March.
The Wildcats are led in scoring by stud shooter Hyunjung Lee (16.2 ppg), but this is an offense with firepower and long-range threats almost everywhere. Foster Loyer (15.8 ppg), Michael Jones (12.8 ppg) and inside-out big Luka Brajkovic (13.9 ppg) have turned Davidson into one of the best offensive platoons in college basketball thanks to its 3-point cannonry. McKillop's owned a reputation for slick offense for a long time, but Davidson's dangerous this season because it's never been this good from beyond the arc. The Wildcats rank second nationally at 41.6%, pacing toward a program record. (Curry's teams never shot better than 37.2%.)
Here's the twist: Davidson isn't fast-paced and winning games 90-77 or 88-85. Davidson modestly ranks 58th in points per game (77.3), is 27th in 3-point average (9.6) and 324th in adjusted tempo at KenPom. The Wildcats also check in top 10 in assist-turnover ratio (1.54), field goal percentage (49.8). Slow, methodical, surgical.
"We have very good shooters, but we also take very good shots," Wildcats assistant Matt McKillop told me this week. "Some of it is the offense and some with the players we have. The passes that Hyunjung Lee makes on the perimeter ... he finds his teammates wide open. I think we have a very talented shooting team."
McKillop pointed out that, until recently, Davidson's ORtg at KenPom was higher this season than the Elite Eight team. (It barely trails now and could conceivably rate better by season's end.) Loyer's been significant. The Michigan State transfer is right there with Lee and Jones among the best shooters in the country. Loyer makes 93% of his foul shots and 47% of his 3s.
"It took seeing Foster Loyer do what he did against teams of a high caliber for us to believe we could be [this good]," McKillop said. "We saw in the gym what he had. You see him in layup lines and the size he is and the athlete he may not appear to be. … Then in games, once we saw that we realized this could be pretty special."
The staff knew how good Lee was and saw Brajkovic make major strides in the offseason. Plus, Jones is a sniper and unafraid of the big shot. Davidson's kept teams wobbly because opponents are doing all they can to eliminate the 3-point shooting -- but they aren't willing to commit to double-teaming Brajkovic inside. McKillop seldom has this many options. Lee shoots 60% from 2-point range and 41% beyond the arc. Jones is an outrageous 52.7% from 3-point range on 74 attempts, in addition to being a 91% foul shooter. Brajkovic shoots 65% from 2 and 39.5% from 3.
"We've been pretty poised in the end of the games as well," McKillop said.
To think: they are this good after losing 2,000-point scorer Kellan Grady to Kentucky. And it's not like Grady was eager to leave -- he literally had to. He had to move on because Davidson does not have a graduate school. That opened a spot Loyer found enticing and it's made Davidson better because the team isn't as reliant on grinding out half-court possessions. It pushes the ball more, and with Lee and Loyer, those guards are more capable at seeing more of the floor. Grady's skill was great for Davidson; this roster is more attuned to the things that accentuate McKillop's philosophy. The ball finds nooks and crannies a bit more.
Davidson's performance has uplifted the A-10, which has seen consensus preseason favorite St. Bonaventure (11-4) stumble a bit. All other teams have five or more losses and Davidson is the only team in the top 65 at KenPom and the NET. The conference needs this team to continue to play well … but also might need it to take a loss to a VCU, Dayton or St. Bonaventure to better ensure it can get at least two NCAA Tournament bids. McKillop's handled the transition from SoCon to the A-10 in the past seven and a half seasons quite well. This weekend will mark the 1,000th game of his storied career. Few coaches are lucky enough to make it that long, yet here he is with another significant portion being scripted at the tender age of 71.
The Court Report's mailbag! Find me on Twitter, toss a question and I'll answer some each week.
@MattNorlander @GaryParrishCBS genuine question: with the wins and losses it has, does Alabama make the tournament? Has some great wins, but some terrible losses. Jekyll and Hyde with that 3-pointer-heavy style.— Ted (@Envulsion) January 26, 2022
Yes, Alabama's loss at Georgia on Tuesday night only makes the Tide's résumé all the more confounding. This is a team with a 5-4 Quad 1 record, a 2-1 Quad 2 record and a 5-1 Quad 3 mark. But that's still easily good enough to be in. Like, Alabama is objectively a 7-seed, at worst, as of today. It has wins over Gonzaga, Houston, Tennessee and LSU. This is streets ahead of emerging bubble teams.
Matt, at what point will HCBS acknowledge (and allot subsequent playing time) that the team’s best lineup is Remy Och, CB, JWil + big to rebound and roll? You watched the game tonight, right? DH is a good piece but not the lead guard for a F4 run— JAndrew_c (@JAndrew_Cochran) January 25, 2022
I received this question after Kansas -- which is now 17-2 and has the tourney dossier of a No. 1 seed -- survived double overtime and dropped Texas Tech to 1-21 all time at KU. Kansas fans, never change. (And I'm not even saying this guy is wrong. But when these are the concerns for what is a no-doubt-about-it top-10 team, KU is certainly back after a "down" 2021 that saw the Jayhawks land on the 3-line and fail to reach the second weekend of March Madness.)
.@GaryParrishCBS @MattNorlander Before Auburn and Purdue this season, who was the last first-time #1 in the @AP_Top25?— ProbableTimePOTY (@badnocall) January 24, 2022
The most recent instance of a team reaching No. 1 for the first time, prior to this season, was Baylor in 2017. The Bears went to No. 1 the week of Jan. 9 of that year and held the spot only one week. They've since been No. 1 10 times.
Missouri Valley wanted UIC over UT Arlington?— Jeremy Morgan (@LiterallyJeremy) January 25, 2022
Absolutely. UT Arlington wanted in on the Valley, but for the betterment of that school, it aligned with the WAC once it was clear a school in Texas with hardly any track record of success in basketball wouldn't be a fit in the Valley. UIC, meantime, was a great fit for a half-dozen reasons, most of which are laid out in our story here. The Valley and UIC officially announced the union on Wednesday.
• Kansas State junior center Ayoka Lee was fabulous on Sunday, setting a women's-record with 61 points (and without a 3-pointer attempted!). If you're curious the last time a men's D-I player had that many in a game, it came almost 13 years ago to the day when Utah Valley's Ryan Toolson had 63 in a four-OT game against Chicago State. Lee got all of hers in 40 minutes. The last time a men's D-I player did that: Jan. 5, 1991, when Kevin Bradshaw set the D-I-vs.D-I record by scoring 72 against Loyola Marymount while playing former D-I school U.S. International.
• Men's college hoops has had two comebacks that rank among the greatest ever in the past three days. On Saturday, Army overcame a 27-point deficit against Navy to win. On Monday, Coppin State set a MEAC record by winning after being down by 26 against Howard.
• Oakland's Jalen Moore is in a tight race with Saint Louis' Yuri Collins to be the nation's leading assister; each averages 8.1 per game. If Moore wins out, he'll have led the nation in assists per game in back-to-back seasons (he finished at 8.4 last year). The last player to lead the country in assists in consecutive seasons was Marist's Jared Jordan '06 and '07.
• If Western Kentucky's Jamarion Sharp (4.4 blocks per game) and Auburn's Walker Kessler (4.1) can keep their swat stats at 4.0 or better, they'll be the first pair of players to average that many in a single season since Kentucky's Nerlens Noel (4.4) and St. John's Chris Obekpa (4.0) did it in 2012-13.
• We might be worming toward a fantastic five-way race for the Big Ten title. KenPom projects Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin to finish with 13 league wins and Ohio State to finish with 12 -- and there still could be makeup games worked into to balance the schedule.
• Speaking of Ohio State, Buckeyes beat writer Adam Jardy has a story out on Keyshawn Woods helping in practice. So what's the big deal? Woods finished college in 2019. He's back in Columbus for the short-term, and OSU is so low on bodies it's using a specific rule that allows Woods -- who turns 26 this week -- to practice with the team in an emergency-type situation.
• This season has provided a rarity: multiple teams reaching No. 1 for the first time in program history. Purdue and Auburn have done it this season. The last time we saw this was 2008-09. That year it was Pitt and Louisville that did it. (Yes, Louisville was never No. 1 until '08-09; I triple-checked this.)
• We wrap with a chuckling sight. Scott Drew and his staff watched the Baylor women beat Iowa State over the weekend ... from the student section. Complete with good-natured "AIR-BALL!" chants. Great gesture.
Many people dream of getting to relive their college days.— Eric Kelly (@EricKellyTV) January 24, 2022
Scott Drew got to do that today for a half as he joined the Baylor Basketball student section.
And it seems like he had just a little bit of fun doing so. pic.twitter.com/BKWsNhe5o0