2023 Men's NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVNovember 22, 2022

2023 Men's NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68

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    Houston's Marcus Sasser
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    The 2022-23 men's college basketball season is only two weeks old, but it's never too early to start thinking about March Madness. And with this year's Final Four being held in Houston, it sure is something that Texas and Houston are currently the No. 1 and No. 2 overall seeds in our projected NCAA tournament field.

    Admittedly, a bracket projection this early in the season is a little ridiculous. At least in the preseason, it's a predictive exercise. And at least a few weeks from now, we can make the transition to solely focusing on results from this season, disregarding preseason assumptions about various players, teams and conferences.

    But most teams have played just three-to-five games, and the first batch of NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings won't even come out until Dec. 5. So it's a delicate balance between preseason projections and in-season results, with the former generally counting for more than the latter.

    That said, we do have constantly updated 363-team rankings from KenPom.com, Haslametrics and TeamRankings with which we can put together a consensus way-too-early bracket of sorts.

    Because, no, this isn't just some regurgitation of our preseason bracket. There are six new teams in the projected field—including Maryland catapulting in as a No. 6 seed—and 13 other projected tournament teams who either moved up or down at least 10 spots on the overall seed list.

    Notably, the Big Ten has gotten out to a strong start and has 10 teams in the projected field. Also notable: the Pac-12 has been a hot mess outside of Arizona and only has three teams in right now. But it's still super early, and Feast Week will shake things up drastically before we get those initial NET rankings.

    For each of the four regions, we'll discuss one team in the field that wasn't in our preseason projection, one in much better shape than two weeks ago and another that—though still in position to dance—isn't sitting quite so pretty anymore.

    We'll start with the bubble, like we always do. And after the region-by-region breakdown, there will be an explanation of why the No. 1 seeds are ranked in the order they are. At the end is a list of overall seeds by conference as a handy reference guide.

Last Five In

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    Michigan's Hunter Dickinson
    Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Last Team In: Oregon Ducks (2-2)

    We simply cannot write off a team that we had projected as a No. 6 seed just two weeks ago. But Oregon lost by double digits at home against UC Irvine and then got pushed around by Houston on Sunday night. If the Ducks proceed to lose their way into the seventh-place game of the Phil Knight Invitational this week, then it'll be time to make them win their way back into the projected field.

    Second-to-Last In: Michigan Wolverines (4-1)

    Similar to Oregon, Michigan was a No. 7 seed in our preseason projection, which is the Wolverines' only saving grace at the moment. They got annihilated by Arizona State in the championship game of the Legends Classic and barely survived home games against the MAC's Eastern Michigan and Ohio. Upcoming games against Virginia (Nov. 29) and Kentucky (Dec. 4 in London) loom large.

    Third-to-Last In: Miami Hurricanes (4-1)

    Miami got blown out by a good Maryland team in the championship of the HOF Tip-Off tournament on Sunday afternoon, but the Hurricanes have looked solid with transfers Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier making a big impact in the starting lineup. As was the case in last year's surprise run to the Elite Eight, turnover margin is going to be a big X-factor for this team.

    Fourth-to-Last In: Utah State Aggies (4-0)

    Utah State has been red-hot from three-point range (43.7 percent) while stockpiling decent early wins against Utah Valley, Bradley, Santa Clara and San Diego. The Mountain West has been a multi-bid league for each of the past four NCAA tournaments, and it looks like a good early bet that the Aggies will join San Diego State in this year's field.

    Fifth-to-Last In: Saint Louis Billikens (4-1)

    Like Miami, Saint Louis took an absolute shellacking (95-67) courtesy of Maryland in Connecticut this past weekend, but at least the Billikens bookended that beatdown with impressive victories over Memphis and Providence. When veteran point guard Yuri Collins gets into a groove, this team is going to be a problem. He's averaging 15.0 points and 9.8 assists per game thus far.

First Five Out

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    Iowa State's T.J. Otzelberger and Aljaz Kunc (5)
    AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

    First Team Out: Oklahoma State Cowboys (3-2)

    Early losses to Southern Illinois and UCF plus a close call against DePaul were enough to knock Oklahoma State (our No. 32 overall seed in the preseason) out of the projected field for now. But in the loaded Big 12, the Cowboys won't be lacking for opportunities to prove they belong in the tournament.

    Second Team Out: Iowa State Cyclones (3-0)

    Two big takeaways from early games against a trio of teams going nowhere fast: Iowa State is still exceptional on defense, and it still can't shoot threes worth a darn. But by adding St. Bonaventure transfer Osun Osunniyi, the Cyclones should have better rim protection and rebounding than last year. This is a super intriguing team to keep an eye on this week in the Phil Knight Invitational.

    Third Team Out: LSU Tigers (4-0)

    Aside from the game against Texas Tech in late January, LSU's nonconference schedule is a joke. So it's going to be a while before we have anything close to an accurate read on this transfer-heavy team. But early returns are that an offense led by Justice Hill, Adam Miller and KJ Williams could be a lot of fun to watch.

    Fourth Team Out: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-1)

    The metrics love Rutgers, which is absolutely getting after it on the defensive end of the court. The Scarlet Knights have double-digit steals in each of their first four games, and opponents have shot 21.8 percent from three-point range. But let's see how it goes against the likes of Miami and Indiana within the next two weeks before we vault them into the field.

    Fifth Team Out: Colorado Buffaloes (3-3)

    Colorado has the most fascinating early resume of all time. The Buffaloes have one of the most impressive wins of the entire season, by 12 in a de facto road game against Tennessee in Nashville, as well as a 28-point beatdown of Texas A&M on a neutral court. But they also lost to Boise State, Massachusetts and Grambling State. Bet on games involving this team at your own peril.

East Region (New York City)

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    Seton Hall's Dre Davis and Iowa's Kris Murray
    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Greensboro, North Carolina
    No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Norfolk State
    No. 8 Villanova vs. No. 9 Florida

    Des Moines, Iowa
    No. 4 Iowa vs. No. 13 Liberty
    No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 12 Toledo

    Birmingham, Alabama
    No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 14 Grand Canyon
    No. 6 Michigan State vs. No. 11 Utah State/Miami

    Des Moines, Iowa
    No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 UMass Lowell
    No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Seton Hall

    New to the Field: Seton Hall Pirates (3-1)

    Head coach Shaheen Holloway's Pirates ran into an Iowa-sized buzzsaw last week, but they have otherwise been a force on defense, holding their other three opponents to 46.7 points per game. We'll find out soon just how legitimate this team is, though. The Pirates might need to go through Memphis, Oklahoma and Ole Miss to win the ESPN Events Invitational (Nov. 24-27), followed by a massive road game against Kansas (Dec. 1).

    Noteworthy Riser: Iowa Hawkeyes (4-0) [Up five seed lines]

    Iowa was a "Noteworthy Slider" in our preseason field (a projected No. 9 seed after earning a No. 5 seed in the 2022 dance), but the Hawkeyes look just plain relentless on offense, per usual. They've gone from Luka Garza to Keegan Murray to now Kris Murray without missing a beat. The younger Murray had 29 points and 11 rebounds in the win at Seton Hall.

    Noteworthy Slider: Villanova Wildcats (2-2) [Down three seed lines]

    They haven't had star freshman Cam Whitmore (thumb) or veteran leader Justin Moore (Achilles) thus far, so we're trying to not overreact to the early losses to Temple and Michigan State. But the games still count, so we've got to drop the Wildcats a bit. They've got Iowa State on Thursday and a possible matchup with North Carolina on Friday to try to right the ship before it begins to capsize.

Midwest Region (Kansas City)

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    Maryland's Julian Reese
    Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    Birmingham, Alabama
    No. 1 Houston vs. No. 16 Wagner/Prairie View A&M
    No. 8 Virginia Tech vs. No. 9 Dayton

    Albany, New York
    No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 13 Iona
    No. 5 Connecticut vs. No. 12 Drake

    Orlando, Florida
    No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 Oral Roberts
    No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 11 Saint Louis

    Denver, Colorado
    No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 15 Northern Kentucky
    No. 7 Purdue vs. No. 10 Memphis

    New to the Field: Maryland Terrapins (5-0)

    Kevin Willard's old team was the "New to the Field" squad in the East Region, but his new team has been even more impressive. Maryland is straight-up kicking ass and taking names, winning each of its first five games—including aforementioned neutral site tilts with Saint Louis and Miami—by at least 18 points. Big man Julian Reese is making an early bid for Breakout Player of the Year, shooting almost 80 percent from the field and impacting the game on both ends of the floor.

    Noteworthy Riser: Connecticut Huskies (5-0) [Up two seed lines]

    Speaking of teams doling out blowouts left and right, Connecticut has won each of its first five games by at least 20 points. Granted, the competition hasn't been anything worth mentioning, but the Adama Sanogo Show has been something else all the same. The big man is even 4-of-7 from three-point range after attempting just one triple in his first two seasons combined.

    Noteworthy Slider: Kentucky Wildcats (3-2) [Down three seed lines]

    It's only three seed lines, but plummeting from No. 1 overall to No. 16 overall is a pretty big deal. Oscar Tshiebwe's foul trouble/conditioning as he works his way back from offseason knee surgery was certainly a factor in the losses to Michigan State and Gonzaga, but Big O also often looked like the only Wildcat playing with any sort of intensity or purpose. And unlike years past, we can't just chalk up the early struggles to youth. This is an unusually old Kentucky team with a long hill to climb to reach its ceiling.

South Region (Louisville)

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    Penn State's Myles Dread
    Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Denver, Colorado
    No. 1 Texas vs. No. 16 SIU-Edwardsville/Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
    No. 8 Notre Dame vs. No. 9 Penn State

    Albany, New York
    No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 13 James Madison
    No. 5 Saint Mary's vs. No. 12 Furman

    Columbus, Ohio
    No. 3 Indiana vs. No. 14 Colgate
    No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 11 St. John's

    Greensboro, North Carolina
    No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 15 Yale
    No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 10 TCU

    New to the Field: Penn State Nittany Lions (5-1)

    The three-point shooting has already started to come back to earth a bit, but the Nittany Lions have made 42.6 percent of their nearly 30 attempts per game in the early going. That perimeter prowess—combined with turnover-averse offense and a defense doing a fine job of limiting both second chances and free-throw attempts—has resulted in wins over Butler, Furman and Colorado State. Penn State was going to make the NCAA tournament in 2020, but perhaps this will be the year that drought comes to an end.

    Noteworthy Riser: Saint Mary's Gaels (5-0) [Up six seed lines]

    Saint Mary's earned a No. 5 seed in last year's tournament—the highest seed in program history—and might be even better this year. Randy Bennett just keeps churning out contenders, and this one has a freshman shooting guard to watch in Aidan Mahaney. He drilled five triples in the opener against Oral Roberts, and the Gaels have cruised to four straight convincing victories since then. Buckle up for big games against Houston (Dec. 3) and San Diego State (Dec. 10) in the next couple of weeks.

    Noteworthy Slider: TCU Horned Frogs (3-1) [Down five seed lines]

    TCU had to claw back from a 20-point deficit to win its opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, struggled a bit with Lamar a few nights later and then lost to Northwestern State. It was just about the worst opening week imaginable for what looked like a fringe Final Four contender heading into the season. A possible meeting with Iowa on Saturday in the championship of the Emerald Coast Classic could either reintroduce the Horned Frogs as a contender...or it could get really ugly in favor of the high-octane Hawkeyes.

West Region (Las Vegas)

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    Illinois' Dain Dainja
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Sacramento, California
    No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Montana State
    No. 8 Xavier vs. No. 9 West Virginia

    Orlando, Florida
    No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 Charleston
    No. 5 Creighton vs. No. 12 UAB

    Columbus, Ohio
    No. 3 Illinois vs. No. 14 UC Irvine
    No. 6 Auburn vs. No. 11 Michigan/Oregon

    Sacramento, California
    No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Campbell
    No. 7 Texas Tech vs. No. 10 Wisconsin

    New to the Field: West Virginia Mountaineers (4-0)

    West Virginia had to replace eight of the nine leading scorers from a team that went 16-17 last season, but so far, so good. Though nowhere near the Press Virginia of yore, the Mountaineers have forced at least 16 turnovers while holding each of their first four opponents below 60 points. They could be a spoiler in this weekend's Phil Knight Legacy tournament. They'll get Purdue in the opener before a possible path of Gonzaga and Duke in the latter rounds.

    Noteworthy Riser: Illinois Fighting Illini (4-1) [Up three seed lines]

    Speaking of teams who have adequately replaced a ton of last year's production, Illinois has been darn impressive for a team that lost six-sevenths of its primary 2021-22 rotation. Big 12 transfers Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech) and Dain Dainja (Baylor) have been stars for the Illini, as have freshmen Skyy Clark and Jayden Epps. All four (Shannon, in particular) played a huge role in Friday's victory over UCLA, as well as in the near-victory over Virginia two days later. Thought it might take some time for the Illini to jell, but they look like an early Final Four threat.

    Noteworthy Slider: Tennessee Volunteers (2-1) [Down two seed lines]

    In the 12-point semi-home (in Nashville) loss to Colorado, Tennessee shot 25.4 percent from the field. Per Sports Reference, it was just the second time in the past 13 seasons that the Volunteers had a night that dismal. But struggling to put the ball through the hoop isn't a new issue here, as Tennessee ranked 140th or worse in the nation in effective field-goal percentage in six of head coach Rick Barnes' first seven years. Let's see if the Volunteers can turn things around in the Battle 4 Atlantis beginning Wednesday.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Texas' Marcus Carr
    Icon Sportswire

    No. 4: North Carolina Tar Heels (4-0)

    The metrics hate UNC. KenPom, Haslametrics and TeamRankings each slot the preseason AP No. 1 team at 14th or worse, in large part because of that six-point win over Gardner-Webb. But we're still buying what the undefeated Tar Heels were selling all offseason. They can validate it over the course of the next two weeks in the Phil Knight Invitational and in the road games against Indiana and Virginia Tech.

    No. 3: Gonzaga Bulldogs (3-1)

    Point guard play has quickly become a colossal concern for Gonzaga, which has had 10 or fewer assists and 17 or more turnovers in each of its last three games against Michigan State, Texas and Kentucky. What's impressive, though, is that the Zags won two of those games anyway, including blowing out Kentucky. If highly touted sophomore Nolan Hickman can figure out how to run an offense over the course of the next four months, Gonzaga might not lose again.

    No. 2: Houston Cougars (5-0)

    The Cougars don't have a win on par with Gonzaga's blowout of Kentucky or Texas' blowout of Gonzaga, but goodness gracious is this team good on defense. Opponents have shot 30.4 percent from the field en route to Houston's average margin of victory of 31.2 points. The Cougars' (in)ability to defend the interior against a dominant big man is a little concerning—Oregon's N'Faly Dante did just about whatever he wanted on Sunday night—but it does seem like they can always make up for it with fast-break buckets.

    No. 1: Texas Longhorns (4-0)

    Texas was our top No. 2 seed in the preseason, but the Longhorns vault to No. 1 overall after their evisceration of Gonzaga. Granted, the last time the Zags were beaten that soundly in the regular season was by Michigan in November 2019, and the Wolverines turned around and lost eight of their next 12 games. We'll see if Texas can avoid a similar fate. But that backcourt of Marcus Carr and Tyrese Hunter could be special, as is this team's ability to go nine deep without much of a dip in production.

Seeding by Conference

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    Alabama's Brandon Miller
    AP Photo/Vasha Hunt

    In case seeded regions aren't enough and you want to know where the "top" 68 teams stand in relation to one another, here is a list of each squad's overall seed, broken down by conference. "First Five Out" are listed in italics.

    American (2): 2. Houston; 39. Memphis

    Atlantic 10 (2): 33. Dayton; 42. Saint Louis

    ACC (6): 4. North Carolina; 5. Virginia; 11. Duke; 29. Virginia Tech; 31. Notre Dame; 44. Miami

    Big 12 (6): 1. Texas; 7. Kansas; 8. Baylor; 26. Texas Tech; 34. West Virginia; 37. TCU; 69. Oklahoma State; 70. Iowa State

    Big East (6): 18. Connecticut; 19. Creighton; 30. Xavier; 32. Villanova; 38. Seton Hall; 41. St. John's

    Big Ten (10): 9. Indiana; 12. Illinois; 13. Iowa; 23. Maryland; 24. Michigan State; 25. Ohio State; 27. Purdue; 35. Penn State; 40. Wisconsin; 45. Michigan; 72. Rutgers

    Mountain West (2): 17. San Diego State; 43. Utah State

    Pac-12 (3): 6. Arizona; 21. UCLA; 46. Oregon; 73. Colorado

    SEC (7): 10. Alabama; 14. Arkansas; 15. Tennessee; 16. Kentucky; 22. Auburn; 28. Mississippi State; 36. Florida; 71. LSU

    West Coast (2): 3. Gonzaga; 20. Saint Mary's

    Other (22): 47. UAB; 48. Furman; 49. Toledo; 50. Drake; 51. Iona; 52. James Madison; 53. Charleston; 54. Liberty; 55. Colgate; 56. Grand Canyon; 57. Oral Roberts; 58. UC Irvine; 59. Yale; 60. UMass Lowell; 61. Northern Kentucky; 62. Campbell; 63. Montana State; 64. Norfolk State; 65. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi; 66. SIU-Edwardsville; 67. Wagner; 68. Prairie View A&M

    Statistics courtesy of Sports Reference and KenPom unless otherwise noted. Recruit rankings via 247Sports' composite list.

    Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.