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The ultimate Catholic school March Madness guide, 2022

Pope Francis with basketball. Credit: Alamy.

After a canceled tournament in 2020 and a strange, mildly dystopian fan-free tournament in a bubble in 2021, good old-fashioned March Madness is back for 2022. Finally.

But what if your alma mater’s program has become a sad shell of its former self – or if your team fell victim to a questionable rule excluding it from the tournament – and you’re left without a team still playing this March?

Fear not. The Pillar brings you a look at the 11 Catholic schools looking to cut down the nets come April.

The 2022 tournament begins on Tuesday, March 15, with the “First Four” set of play-in games in Dayton, and then the official first round kicks off on St. Patrick’s Day.

The Final Four will be played in New Orleans April 2, with the national championship on April 4.

The Pillar makes no guarantee about the accuracy of these predictions. Fill out a bracket at your own risk.

West Region

(1) Gonzaga University

Catholic affiliation: Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
Nickname: Bulldogs
Conference: West Coast Conference
Star players: Chet Holmgren, Andrew Nembhard, Drew Timme

Gonzaga Bulldogs - Wikipedia

Tournament outlook: Once again, Gonzaga enters the tournament as the top overall seed. What’s unknown, however, is if Gonzaga will – once again – come up short. The Bulldogs lost to Baylor in last year’s championship game in a shockingly anemic performance, making it the second time in four  years the team came up short in the final. Maybe this year will (finally?) be different. For their fanbase, one can only hope. Gonzaga’s road to the championship in New Orleans starts on Thursday against Georgia State.

(11) University of Notre Dame

Catholic affiliation: Congregation of the Holy Cross
Nickname: Fighting Irish
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
Star players: Paul Atkinson, Blake Wesley

Notre Dame Leprechaun logo.svg

Tournament outlook: Notre Dame is back in the tournament for the first time since 2017, and will be one of the teams in the “First Four” play-in round this week. The Irish snuck into the bracket by the skin of their teeth, but Coach Mike Brey said he was “honored” by the team’s inclusion in the field of 68. Notre Dame will tip off against Rutgers on Wednesday, and if with a win there, the team will face Alabama on Friday.

Maybe the luck of the Irish will show up for Notre Dame on St. Patrick’s Day eve? We’ll see.

East Region

(5) Saint Mary’s College of California

Catholic affiliation: De La Salle Brothers
Nickname: Gaels
Conference: West Coast Conference
Star players: Matthias Tass, Tommy Kuhse

A Timeline of the Gael Mascot: From the Galloping Gaels to Gideon
Gideon, the St. Mary’s College mascot. Courtesy photo.

Tournament outlook: The Gaels return to March Madness after missing it in 2021, and are in at a fifth seed–the best-ever in the school’s history. The team beat Gonzaga at home in late February to cap off a perfect home record, so the Gaels can certainly hang with the big teams (although the Gaels did fall to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference final). I don’t know what exactly it is, but my gut is telling me to like St. Mary’s this year.

We’ll see if I’m onto something, when the team plays the winner of the Wyoming/Indiana game on Thursday.

What’s a Gael? The Gaels are an ethnolinguistic group native to Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Many Gaels converted to Christianity in the fifth century, evangelized by St. Patrick, his contemporaries, and their successors.

(9) Marquette University

Catholic affiliation: Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
Nickname: Golden Eagles
Conference: Big East
Star players: Justyn Lewis, Darryl Morsell

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Tournament outlook: Marquette had a decent season, but had a relatively early exit in the Big East Tournament. As for March Madness, the Golden Eagles have their work cut out for them. The 8-seed/9-seed games are usually entertaining and somewhat close, but Marquette is up against a very solid UNC in the first round on March 17. That will be a tough one.

[Editors’ note: The Marquette method of natural family planning was developed at the Marquette University Institute for Natural Family Planning. In case you were curious.]

[Editors’ SECOND note: Chris Farley went to Marquette. We just thought you’d want to know.]

Chris Farley with his family at Marquette
Chris Farley and family after his Marquette graduation. Courtesy photo.

(10) University of San Francisco

Catholic affiliation: Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
Nickname: Dons
Conference: West Coast Conference
Star players: Jamaree Bouyea, Khalil Shabazz

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Tournament outlook: The last time San Francisco played basketball this late in the year, it was 1998, and the last time they won a game in the tournament, it was 1979. That being said, there’s something about the Dons that people are liking this year, and they are among the teams being discussed as potential bracket busters. While they are a mid-major school, they’re a mid-major school in a conference that includes Gonzaga and St. Mary’s, and they were no pushover in the conference playoffs.

San Francisco begins their hopeful Cinderella story on Thursday against Murray State.

What’s a Don, and does he look like the Hamburglar? The team is named for Don Francisco de Haro, the first mayor of San Francisco. The Dons were called the San Francisco Grey Fog until 1931, when everyone realized that name was lame. So they had a contest, and a committee voted for the Dons. As to why he wears a mask, well, we don’t really know. But as to whether he looks like a burger thief, you tell us.

hamburglar
McDonald’s Hamburglar.

(15) Saint Peter’s University

Catholic affiliation: Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
Nickname: Peacocks
Conference: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
Star players: KC Ndefo, Daryl Banks

A peacock. The mascot name was chosen because the land on which St. Peter’s University stands was owned in the 17th century by Michael Reyniersz Pauw, a Dutchman whose last name means “peacock.” In the 1960s, several peacocks roamed the St. Peter’s campus.

Tournament outlook: St. Peter’s punched their ticket to March Madness following their win in the MAAC Tournament on March 9. It’s the Peacocks’ first tournament appearance since 2011, when the team was also the MAAC’s auto-bid. In its three previous appearances, St. Peter’s has never won a tournament game. Perhaps this will be the year that changes? I mean, maybe…but probably not. St. Peter’s plays Kentucky on Thursday.

South Region

(2) Villanova University

Catholic affiliation: Order of St. Augustine (Augustinian)
Nickname: Wildcats
Conference: Big East
Star players: Collin Gillespie, Brandon Slater, Eric Dixon

Villanova University
Villanova’s Will D. Cat. Courtesy photo.

Tournament outlook: Villanova is coming off a big win in the Big East Tournament, and some are saying the team could go as high as the Elite Eight. I think that might be a bit optimistic, but Villanova has proven capable of winning when it counts. Villanova won the national championship in 2018, and made it to the Sweet 16 last year. Coach Jay Wright is a capable man and Villanova has potential. The team plays Delaware on Friday.

(8) Seton Hall University

Catholic affiliation: Archdiocese of Newark
Nickname: Pirates
Conference: Big East
Star players: Jared Rhoden, Alexis Yetna

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Tournament outlook: Seton Hall is in a good place going into the tournament, and the team had a pretty great run to end the regular season. The team is back in the tournament for the first time since 2019, although Seton Hall has not made it into the Sweet 16 since 2000. Look for the team to potentially steal a game or two.

The Pirates will face off against Texas Christian University on Friday.

(10) Loyola University Chicago

Catholic affiliation: Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
Nickname: Ramblers
Conference: Missouri Valley Conference
Star players: Sr. Jean (team chaplain), Lucas Williamson

Loyola Ramblers - Wikipedia

Tournament outlook: First things first: Sr. Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM, the 102-year-old chaplain of the Loyola Chicago Ramblers, is alive and well and is apparently still sharp as a tack.

Second things second: the Ramblers are pretty darn lucky to be here this year. The Cinderella story darlings of the 2018 tournament and last year’s Sweet 16 were sitting squarely on the bubble, until the team won the conference title and punched a ticket.

This year, Loyola Chicago could be a force to be reckoned with. The team starts this year off against Ohio State on Friday.

Midwest Region

(4) Providence College

Catholic affiliation: Order of Preachers (Dominicans)
Nickname: Friars
Conference: Big East
Star players: Nate Watson, Jared Bynum

Friar Dom
Friar Dom. Courtesy photo.

Tournament outlook: (Full disclosure: the author is an alumna of Providence College and has had her heart broken by the school’s athletic programs more times than she can count.)

Oh, Providence. This team can be so, so good, and also so, so bad. The Friars have been dubbed the “luckiest team in college basketball” this season, so let’s see if playing on St. Patrick’s Day is a good omen for the team after a disastrous outing during the Big East Tournament.

Providence opens up the tournament on Thursday against South Dakota State University.

(9) Creighton University

Catholic affiliation: Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
Nickname: Bluejays
Conference: Big East
Star players: Ryan Kalkbrenner, Ryan Hawkins

Creighton Bluejays Color Codes Hex, RGB, and CMYK - Team Color Codes

Tournament outlook: Oof. Creighton had a solid season, but disaster struck with the loss of starting point guard Ryan Nembhard due to a wrist injury in late February. Creighton’s defense is spectacular, but the team will need help in the offensive realm if the Bluejays want to make it past the first round.

Who knows? Perhaps the team will be motivated by Nembhard’s injury and emerge more motivated than ever. March does love an inspirational comeback story, after all.

The Bluejays will play San Diego State on Thursday.

[Editors’ note: The Creighton model of Natural Family Planning is not affiliated with Creighton University, but was developed by a clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Creighton’s medical school. In case you were curious.]

So will a Catholic team win it all?

Who will win the tournament? As my mother would say, “God only knows…and he’s not telling.”

I do think this could be the year for Gonzaga. Of course, saying that probably just jinxed them, but that’s the fun of March Madness — nobody knows what is going to happen, and anything is possible.

Cinderella stories like Loyola Chicago’s crazy 2018 run are what makes the tournament addicting content to even non-basketball fans.

And after the past two years of  seriously crazy Marches, I think America is more than ready for a Madness of the more traditional sort. Best of luck to all teams, but especially the Friars.

Editors note: This report initially omitted the University of San Francisco. The Pillar apologizes for the oversight, and expects the Dons will play well into the tournament. Or, at least, we do sincerely apologize.

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