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

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVDecember 20, 2022

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

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    Kansas' Jalen Wilson and Indiana's Race Thompson
    Kansas' Jalen Wilson and Indiana's Race ThompsonEd Zurga/Getty Images

    Slowly but surely, the 2023 men's NCAA tournament picture is starting to come into focus. Connecticut, Purdue, Kansas and Arizona are sitting atop the projected seed line as we hurtle toward the new year and nonstop conference play.

    Speaking of conferences, the Big Ten is leading the way with nine projected tournament teams, although the Big 12 (eight of 10 teams) has the highest percentage of its league in the current field. More notably, the ACC has only five teams in, the Big East has only four, and the Pac-12 is at a measly three bids. Luckily, the Mountain West Conference is picking up the slack.

    For each of the four regions, we will discuss one team in better shape than it was two weeks ago, and another that—though still in position to dance—perhaps isn't as safe as we thought.

    Before that, we will start with the bubble. After the region-by-region breakdowns, 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 seeds by conference as a handy reference guide.

    One quick "glossary" note: When we take deeper looks at specific teams' resumes, you'll see NET, RES and QUAL. NET is the NCAA Evaluation Tool, which is the primary sorting metric used by the selection committee and the metric from which quadrant records are derived. RES is the average of the team's resume metrics (Kevin Pauga Index and Strength of Record). QUAL is the average of the quality metrics (ESPN's BPI, KenPom.com and Sagarin).

    NET rankings are updated daily here. The others are masterfully aggregated by Bart Torvik. All data is current through the start of play on Monday, Dec. 19.

Last Five In

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    UCF's Darius Johnson and Missouri's Ronnie DeGray III
    UCF's Darius Johnson and Missouri's Ronnie DeGray IIIJoel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Last Team In: UCF Knights
    8-3, NET: 68, RES: 60.5, QUAL: 59.0

    UCF opened the season with a horrendous home loss to UNC Asheville, but the Knights have since added wins over Oklahoma State and Ole Miss that are both right on the border between Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2. They're going to need to win at least one of their four regular-season games against Houston or Memphis, though, the first of which is on New Year's Eve in Houston.

    Second-to-Last In: St. John's Red Storm
    11-1, NET: 73, RES: 48.5, QUAL: 53.0

    The Johnnies' record looks great, but they lost by 11 at Iowa State in their only game thus far against the top two Quadrants. We'll get a better sense of this team's NCAA tournament potential over the course of the next 15 days after games against Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall and Marquette.

    Third-to-Last In: Boise State Broncos
    10-2, NET: 39, RES: 42.0, QUAL: 46.3

    Last year, the possibility of a four-bid West Coast Conference kept me entertained well past my East Coast bedtime on a near nightly basis. This year, dreams of a four-bid Mountain West might do the same. San Diego State, Utah State and undefeated New Mexico are more comfortably in the projected field, but Boise State has been on quite the run since opening the season 1-2. The Broncos already have solid wins over Washington State, Colorado, Texas A&M and Saint Louis.

    Fourth-to-Last In: Penn State Nittany Lions
    8-3, NET: 41, RES: 50.0, QUAL: 38.7

    In what was one of the most surprising results thus far in December, Penn State won by 15 at Illinois on the 10th. The Nittany Lions are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation, and the deep ball (12-of-24) was their friend on that afternoon in Champaign. Can they shoot their way to what would be their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011?

    Fifth-to-Last In: Missouri Tigers
    10-1, NET: 64, RES: 40.0, QUAL: 70.0

    Missouri's resume is pretty similar to that of St. John's. The beating the Tigers took in their lone loss (95-67 vs. Kansas) was considerably more lopsided, but at least Mizzou has some Quadrant 2 wins over UCF and Wichita State. And like the Johnnies, the Tigers' tests will be coming fast and furious now. Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas are the next three opponents on their schedule. If they win even one of those games, it'd be a step in the right direction.

First Five Out

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    Texas Tech's Kevin Obanor
    Texas Tech's Kevin ObanorJohn E. Moore III/Getty Images

    First Team Out: Texas Tech Red Raiders
    8-2, NET: 65, RES: 82.5, QUAL: 34.3

    The Red Raiders are 3-0 since I had them projected for a No. 8 seed two weeks ago. However, they never should have been there in the first place, because they lost to Creighton and Ohio State in their only games thus far that don't fall into the Quadrant 4 bucket. This might be a tournament-caliber team, and it will have plenty of opportunities to prove it in Big 12 play. But, like, beat somebody. Please.

    Second Team Out: LSU Tigers
    10-1, NET: 82, RES: 57.0, QUAL: 69.7

    Same old, same old with LSU: Wake us up next week when SEC play begins. The Tigers did recently score a neutral-site victory over Wake Forest, but they've done nothing to warrant a spot in the projected field. It's only because LSU is a 10-win major-conference team that it is even remotely on the radar at the moment.

    Third Team Out: Utah Utes
    9-3, NET: 31, RES: 58.5, QUAL: 49.7

    The loss at BYU on Saturday night knocked the Utes out of the projected field, but they could hop right back in with a win over TCU on Wednesday. They already have a remarkable 15-point win over (spoiler alert) projected No. 1 seed Arizona, which will not be forgotten by the bracketology community any time soon.

    Fourth Team Out: Northwestern Wildcats
    8-2, NET: 62, RES: 42.0, QUAL: 55.7

    Losing by 29 at home to Pittsburgh in late November was a horrible look for Northwestern, but everything else about its resume is respectable. The Wildcats won their Big Ten opener at Michigan State, and they soundly defeated a decent Liberty team on a neutral floor. If they had landed on the winning side of that 43-42 rock fight against Auburn, we'd be talking about Northwestern as a possible single-digit seed.

    Fifth Team Out: Southern Miss Golden Eagles
    11-1, NET: 29, RES: 57.5, QUAL: 119.0

    Southern Miss is 29th in the NET and 140th on KenPom, which is one heck of a divide. But the Golden Eagles were 324th on KenPom before they scored solid road wins over Vanderbilt and Liberty, so they've gained a ton of ground from where they started. The Sun Belt was a two-bid league in both 2008 and 2013, and in Southern Miss and James Madison, there's a chance it happens again this year.

    Gone But Not Forgotten: Creighton Bluejays and Villanova Wildcats

    Villanova and Creighton each went 6-5 in nonconference play, with the Bluejays carrying a six-game losing streak into Thursday's game against Butler. Each of these Big East squads has been a massive disappointment. But much like Michigan and North Carolina last year, they're still very much on the tournament radar and could storm back into the conversation with a strong win or two.

East Region (New York City)

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    New Mexico's Jaelen House
    New Mexico's Jaelen HouseSam Wasson/Getty Images

    Albany, New York
    No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 16 Norfolk State
    No. 8 TCU vs. No. 9 San Diego State

    Albany, New York
    No. 4 West Virginia vs. No. 13 Yale
    No. 5 Illinois vs. No. 12 Kent State

    Orlando, Florida
    No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 14 Bradley
    No. 6 Memphis vs. No. 11 Boise State/Penn State

    Greensboro, North Carolina
    No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 15 Chattanooga
    No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 New Mexico

    Movin' On Up: New Mexico Lobos (New to the Field)
    11-0, NET: 21, RES: 12.5, QUAL: 70.0

    New Mexico won at Saint Mary's on Nov. 30 and was our Third Team Out in the subsequent projection. It was a fantastic win, but the Lobos' resume just wasn't quite good enough at the time.

    But now that they've added a neutral-site victory over San Francisco and a son-over-father quality win against Iona, it's time to give the undefeated Lobos their due.

    The frontcourt tandem of Morris Udeze and Josiah Allick has been stellar, combining for around 27 points and 15 rebounds per game. But the backcourt duo of Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. is what makes New Mexico feel like a team that could not only make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014, but actually go on a multiple-weekend run through the Big Dance.

    Fading Fast: Iowa Hawkeyes (Down One Seed Line)
    8-3, NET: 30, RES: 41.5, QUAL: 19.3

    The Hawkeyes have played their last three games without do-it-all star Kris Murray. That undoubtedly played a factor in their recent overtime loss to Wisconsin, which they also had to play without starting point guard Ahron Ulis.

    Frankly, we should be commending the Hawkeyes for even getting that game to overtime rather than penalizing them for losing it. But since our last projection, Iowa also went to New York City and lost by a dozen to Duke while playing at full strength.

    The Blue Devils were clearly focused on not letting Murray beat them, limiting him to only nine shots in 36 minutes of action. And with Murray neutralized, the offense never got going.

    We'll see how well this team holds up through the rigors of the 20-game Big Ten slate.

Midwest Region (Kansas City)

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    Miami's Isaiah Wong
    Miami's Isaiah WongSamuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Des Moines, Iowa
    No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Nicholls State/SIU-Edwardsville
    No. 8 Maryland vs. No. 9 Marquette

    Columbus, Ohio
    No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 James Madison
    No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 12 St. John's/UCF

    Birmingham, Alabama
    No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 14 UMass Lowell
    No. 6 Arizona State vs. No. 11 Missouri

    Birmingham, Alabama
    No. 2 Houston vs. No. 15 Colgate
    No. 7 Miami vs. No. 10 Oklahoma

    Movin' On Up: Miami Hurricanes (Up Two Seed Lines)
    11-1, NET: 60, RES: 19.5, QUAL: 46.3

    The predictive metrics still aren't buying what Miami is selling. That's in part because their lone loss was an 18-point blowout against Maryland (who we'll discuss shortly), but also in part because the recent 107-105 home win over Cornell did way more harm than good from an efficiency-based point of view.

    However, the Hurricanes are 11-1 overall with one Quad 1 win at UCF and a trio of Quad 2 victories to their credit. Their resume is getting impressive in a hurry, even if the results haven't been overwhelmingly convincing. They're already 2-0 in ACC play with wins over Louisville and NC State, and they have a huge resume-bolstering opportunity at home against Virginia on Tuesday night.

    Fading Fast: Maryland Terrapins (Down Five Seed Lines)
    8-3, NET: 35, RES: 35.0, QUAL: 27.0

    After an 8-0 start featuring three solid wins over Illinois, Miami and Saint Louis, the Terrapins have dropped three in a row.

    While there's no shame in losing by five at Wisconsin or by three on a neutral court against Tennessee, Maryland got destroyed 87-60 on its home floor by UCLA in its most recent game.

    The Terps are still somewhat comfortably in the projected field, but they've endured a fall from grace on par with when North Carolina lost four straight.

South Region (Louisville)

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    Kansas State's Keyontae Johnson
    Kansas State's Keyontae JohnsonAP Photo/Colin E. Braley

    Columbus, Ohio
    No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 Wagner/Southern
    No. 8 Auburn vs. No. 9 Utah State

    Orlando, Florida
    No. 4 Baylor vs. No. 13 Saint Louis
    No. 5 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Iona

    Sacramento, California
    No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 14 UC Irvine
    No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Florida Atlantic

    Des Moines, Iowa
    No. 2 Arkansas vs. No. 15 Youngstown State
    No. 7 Saint Mary's vs. No. 10 Kansas State

    Movin' On Up: Kansas State Wildcats (New to the Field)
    10-1, NET: 37, RES: 25.5, QUAL: 45.3

    We still aren't totally sold on the Wildcats as a tournament team. They have yet to face a NET Top 50 opponent. They lost by 12 at Butler in their only Quad 1 game. And they're going to need to go through probably the nation's most difficult gauntlet of a conference schedule.

    All the same, Kansas State is 10-1 with respectable wins over LSU, Nevada, Nebraska and Wichita State. Keyontae Johnson is having a sensational season after not playing in nearly two full calendar years. He had 23 points, 11 rebounds and four steals in the recent victory over the Cornhuskers.

    Fading Fast: Auburn Tigers (Down Four Seed Lines)
    9-2, NET: 57, RES: 34.5, QUAL: 28.0

    The Tigers were a perfect 8-0 and right on the cut line between a No. 3 and a No. 4 seed in our Dec. 6 bracket projection. But between their 82-73 loss to Memphis in Atlanta and the three-point loss at USC on Sunday night, we had to knock them down a few pegs.

    The Memphis loss wasn't terrible by any means, as the Tigers are currently projected for a No. 7 seed. Even the loss at USC wasn't a deal-breaker. But both were considerable missed opportunities in what otherwise has not been a daunting nonconference slate.

    A 43-42 neutral-site win over Northwestern (not quite projected to dance) is Auburn's most impressive result thus far. That makes it hard for the Tigers to make a case for a spot in the Top 25, no matter how good their defense usually is.

West Region (Las Vegas)

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    Wisconsin's Chucky Hepburn
    Wisconsin's Chucky HepburnJohn Fisher/Getty Images

    Denver, Colorado
    No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 16 Longwood
    No. 8 Iowa State vs. No. 9 Ohio State

    Greensboro, North Carolina
    No. 4 Duke vs. No. 13 Oral Roberts
    No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 Charleston

    Sacramento, California
    No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Liberty
    No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Sam Houston State

    Denver, Colorado
    No. 2 Texas vs. No. 15 Montana State
    No. 7 Xavier vs. No. 10 Michigan State

    Movin' On Up: Wisconsin Badgers (Up Six Seed Lines)
    9-2, NET: 44, RES: 11.5, QUAL: 35.7

    Thursday's 78-56 victory over Lehigh snapped a streak of seven consecutive Wisconsin games decided by five points or fewer. Even that one was intriguing for a while, as the Badgers trailed the Mountain Hawks by as many as five points in the second half before finally taking over.

    During that string of dramatic games, Wisconsin picked up high-quality road wins over Marquette and Iowa (both in overtime), as well as a strong home win over Maryland. The Badgers now have two wins against the top half of Quadrant 1 and are looking mighty fine in the results-based metrics.

    Fading Fast: Kentucky Wildcats (Down Three Seed Lines)
    7-3, NET: 32, RES: 53.0, QUAL: 10.0

    KenPom and BPI still view Kentucky as one of the top threats to win the national championship, but what have the Wildcats actually done this season?

    As far as the NET is concerned, their best win was at home against Yale. In reality, the best win was the Dec. 4 clash with Michigan in London. Either way, not exactly a gem.

    Moreover, the Wildcats have blown three opportunities away from home against Gonzaga, Michigan State and UCLA. They currently have a sub-.500 record against the top two Quadrants.

    We aren't panicking about Kentucky yet, but the resume metrics are rough. The Wildcats need to win their way back up to a seed line that is more in line with their talent/potential.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Connecticut's Adama Sanogo
    Connecticut's Adama SanogoJustin Casterline/Getty Images

    No. 4: Arizona Wildcats
    10-1, NET: 8, RES: 7.0, QUAL: 9.7

    Arizona was already knocking on the door of a No. 1 seed at the time of our last projection, and then the Wildcats went out and dominated Indiana in Las Vegas and scored a great home win over Tennessee on consecutive Saturday nights. The frontcourt duo of Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo went for 36 points and 19 rebounds in the former and 37 points and 17 rebounds in the latter.

    No. 3: Kansas Jayhawks
    10-1, NET: 6, RES: 3.0, QUAL: 6.3

    Losing the Battle 4 Atlantis championship against Tennessee awoke some sort of sleeping giant in Kansas. Since then, the Jayhawks have gone 4-0 against Texas Southern, Seton Hall, Missouri and Indiana by a combined margin of 108 points. Tallying 17 steals while beating the Hoosiers by 22 on Saturday was one heck of a statement. The Jayhawks are now 5-1 in Quadrant 1 games.

    No. 2: Purdue Boilermakers
    11-0, NET: 3, RES: 1.5, QUAL: 8.0

    Purdue has had some close calls lately. The Boilermakers needed overtime to prevail on the road against the second-worst team in the Big Ten (Nebraska) and did not lead by double digits at any point of a home win over a not-great Davidson squad. But they still have a zero in the loss column, and they still have consecutive blowout wins over West Virginia, Duke and Gonzaga in Portland, which is the gift that will keep on giving all season long.

    No. 1: Connecticut Huskies
    12-0, NET: 1, RES: 1.5, QUAL: 1.7

    Not only is Connecticut 12-0 with four Quadrant 1 wins and a total of seven wins against the top two Quadrants, but all 12 of those wins came by double figures. Since our last update, the Huskies won by 21 at Florida and won by 22 at Butler. Neither of those teams is in the projected field at the moment, but those are solid foes that Connecticut just demolished. It's still too early to start seriously thinking about an undefeated season, but it does feel plausible given the lack of other legitimate contenders in the Big East.

Seeding by Conference

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    Tennessee's Santiago Vescovi and Arizona's Kylan Boswell
    Tennessee's Santiago Vescovi and Arizona's Kylan BoswellChristopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    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 (3): 5. Houston; 23. Memphis; 45. UCF

    ACC (5): 6. Virginia; 13. Duke; 16. Virginia Tech; 24. North Carolina; 25. Miami

    Big 12 (8): 3. Kansas; 7. Texas; 14. Baylor; 15. West Virginia; 30. Iowa State; 32. TCU; 37. Kansas State; 40. Oklahoma; 69. Texas Tech

    Big East (4): 1. Connecticut; 27. Xavier; 33. Marquette; 44. St. John's

    Big Ten (9): 2. Purdue; 17. Indiana; 18. Wisconsin; 20. Illinois; 28. Iowa; 31. Maryland; 35. Ohio State; 39. Michigan State; 42. Penn State; 72. Northwestern

    Mountain West (4): 34. Utah State; 36. San Diego State; 38. New Mexico; 43. Boise State

    Pac-12 (3): 4. Arizona; 10. UCLA; 21. Arizona State; 71. Utah

    SEC (7): 8. Arkansas; 9. Tennessee; 12. Alabama; 19. Mississippi State; 22. Kentucky; 29. Auburn; 41. Missouri; 70. LSU

    West Coast (2): 11. Gonzaga; 26. Saint Mary's

    Other (23): 46. Florida Atlantic; 47. Sam Houston State; 48. Charleston; 49. Kent State; 50. Iona; 51. Saint Louis; 52. Yale; 53. James Madison; 54. Oral Robert; 55. UC Irvine; 56. UMass Lowell; 57. Bradley; 58. Liberty; 59. Chattanooga; 60. Montana State; 61. Youngstown State; 62. Colgate; 63. Norfolk State; 64. Longwood; 65. SIU-Edwardsville; 66. Nicholls State; 67. Southern; 68. Wagner; 73. Southern Miss

    Statistics courtesy of Sports Reference and KenPom unless otherwise noted.

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