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

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 17, 2023

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

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    Kansas' K.J. Adams Jr.
    Kansas' K.J. Adams Jr.AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann

    Not since the 2006-07 Florida Gators has there been a repeat champion in men's college basketball, but the reigning champion Kansas Jayhawks remain the projected No. 1 overall seed with less than two months remaining until Selection Sunday for the 2023 NCAA tournament.

    For the other teams in last year's Final Four, though, yikes. Duke has fallen to a projected No. 6 seed after a rough couple of weeks, North Carolina is barely clinging to a single-digit seed, and sub-.500 Villanova is pretty much "Auto Bid or Bust" at this point.

    Now that we are knee-deep into conference play, it's time to ramp up the frequency of these projections. Once every two weeks is fine early in the season, but there are so many major results just about every day in January and February that I'll be doing full bracket projections every Tuesday morning up until the final week before Selection Sunday—when we shift gears to the live-updating projection throughout the conference tournament chaos.

    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—has fallen on hard times as of late.

    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. Records are current through the start of play on Tuesday. All other data is current through the start of play Monday, unless otherwise noted.

Last 5 In

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    Oregon's N'Faly Dante
    Oregon's N'Faly DanteAP Photo/Andy Nelson

    Last Team In: Oregon Ducks
    10-8, NET: 66, RES: 67.5, QUAL: 55.7

    Because of the not-great home losses to UC Irvine and Utah Valley amid the eight total losses, putting Oregon in the projected field feels a little...icky. But after the recent quality road win over Utah and the even better 19-point blowout of Arizona, the Ducks are one of 29 teams with at least three Quadrant 1 wins, and the other 28 are in the field. They better win each of the next four against Cal, Stanford, Colorado and Utah if they want to remain in the mix for a bid, though.

    Second-to-Last In: Boise State Broncos
    14-4, NET: 20, RES: 29.0, QUAL: 32.3

    Third-to-Last In: Nevada Wolf Pack
    15-4, NET: 28, RES: 24.0, QUAL: 58.0

    The NET sure does love the Mountain West this year. Not only are Boise State and Nevada in the top 35, but so are San Diego State, New Mexico and Utah State. It'll probably be a three-bid league when things actually matter on Selection Sunday, but it looks good for four right now.

    Save for the head-to-head game that Nevada won in Reno a couple weeks ago, neither the Broncos nor the Wolf Pack currently has a win over a projected at-large team. But Boise State does have six Quadrant 2 wins, while Nevada is 5-4 against the top two Quadrants with no bad losses.

    These teams square off in Boise on Tuesday night. Winner stays in the projected field; loser drops out. But either team could turn around and beat New Mexico—Boise at UNM on Friday; Nevada vs. UNM on Monday—to further enhance already solid resumes.

    Fourth-to-Last In: Iowa Hawkeyes
    12-6, NET: 35, RES: 39.5, QUAL: 26.0

    Iowa plummeted from a No. 7 seed to all the way out of the projected field two weeks ago after consecutive losses to Eastern Illinois, Nebraska and Penn State. And, yes, that home loss to EIU—even though they had neither Kris Murray nor Connor McCaffery available—is still downright horrific. But the Hawkeyes are back after wins over Indiana, Rutgers, Michigan and Maryland, adding to a resume that already had solid wins over Iowa State, Clemson and Seton Hall. Two more big games this week against Northwestern and Ohio State.

    Fifth-to-Last In: Creighton Bluejays
    10-8, NET: 24, RES: 60.0, QUAL: 17.3

    Creighton looks like a Sweet 16-caliber team, but it simply doesn't have the resume to match. The home win over Providence on Saturday was huge. However, it was only the Bluejays' second win in eight tries against projected tournament teams. Granted, all six of those losses were away from home, and they were without big man Ryan Kalkbrenner for the losses to Arizona State and BYU. Still, Creighton might need to go 10-3 the rest of the way, both to avoid bad losses to the bottom half of the Big East and to actually add a quality win or two to a mediocre resume.

First 5 Out

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    Penn State's Jalen Pickett
    Penn State's Jalen PickettAaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

    First Team Out: Penn State Nittany Lions
    12-5, NET: 51, RES: 44.5, QUAL: 45.7

    Up by six at halftime against Purdue two weekends ago, Penn State was on the cusp of a colossal victory. But then Zach Edey did his thing, completely took over in the second half and handed the Nittany Lions their second consecutive loss by double digits. The good news for Penn State is the road win over Illinois still looks strong, and there haven't been any awful losses. But one Q1 win and a 3-5 record against the top two Quadrants just isn't enough right now. Big opportunity at Wisconsin on Tuesday night, though.

    Second Team Out: Indiana Hoosiers
    11-6, NET: 32, RES: 51.5, QUAL: 23.7

    Once a 7-0 team with great wins over Xavier and North Carolina, Indiana has gone 4-6 since the beginning of December, with Saturday's home win over Wisconsin the only remotely noteworthy W of the bunch. The Hoosiers are now 1-5 vs. Quadrant 1, 3-6 against the top two Quadrants and 2-4 in Big Ten play. The latter data point doesn't matter, but it is shocking how disappointing the league's preseason favorite has been.

    Third Team Out: Kentucky Wildcats
    11-6, NET: 41, RES: 58.5, QUAL: 28.7

    Winning at Tennessee this past Saturday was, of course, massive. However, it doesn't undo the terrible home loss to South Carolina, and it was only Kentucky's second win of the season against the top two Quadrants, with the other being the win over Michigan in London. It was a game the Wildcats needed to win to get back into the conversation for a bid, but they had better win their next five SEC games—vs. UGA, vs. TA&M, at Vandy, at Ole Miss, vs. Florida. (There's also a home game against Kansas on Jan. 28 that would be every bit as massive as the win over Tennessee if UK can get it.)

    Fourth Team Out: UCF Knights
    13-5, NET: 43, RES: 52.0, QUAL: 46.3

    Fifth Team Out: Memphis Tigers
    13-5, NET: 46, RES: 34.0, QUAL: 42.0

    It took two overtimes in Orlando, but UCF picked up a key head-to-head victory over Memphis this past week in a battle for second-best in the AAC. It likely would have been enough for the Knights to sneak into the field if they hadn't turned around and lost to Tulane—a loss that Memphis also suffered on New Year's Day.

    UCF lost by six at Houston in its only Q1 game of the season, but the Knights have solid wins over Oklahoma State, Santa Clara and Ole Miss in addition to the W over Memphis. The Tigers have the best win of the pair, though, knocking off Auburn on a neutral court. They also almost won at Alabama.

    Can these teams avoid disaster, though? They'll square off again on Feb. 16. UCF hosts Houston on Jan. 25. Memphis gets the Cougars on Feb. 19 and on March 5. But any other losses between now and the AAC tournament would be bad. (Losing at Cincinnati wouldn't be terrible, but it's a semi-quality win both teams almost need to get unless they plan on upsetting Houston at some point.)

    Worth Mentioning: St. John's Red Storm

    The Johnnies put a hurtin' on UConn in Storrs on Sunday afternoon, but they entered that game with an 0-6 record against the top two Quadrants. Big step in the right direction for a team that notably has no bad losses. But as Jon Rothstein often says, the win merely put St. John's "in position to be in position." Win at Creighton on Jan. 25 and we'll talk.

East Region (New York City)

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    Kansas State's Markquis Nowell
    Kansas State's Markquis NowellPeter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    Birmingham, Alabama
    No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Longwood
    No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 9 Pittsburgh

    Greensboro, North Carolina
    No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Oral Roberts
    No. 5 TCU vs. No. 12 Dayton

    Des Moines, Iowa
    No. 3 Kansas State vs. No. 14 UC Irvine
    No. 6 Saint Mary's vs. No. 11 Creighton

    Columbus, Ohio
    No. 2 Xavier vs. No. 15 UMass Lowell
    No. 7 Florida Atlantic vs. No. 10 Charleston

    Movin' On Up: Kansas State Wildcats (Up Three Seed Lines)
    15-2, NET: 14, RES: 8.0, QUAL: 29.3

    Getting blown out at TCU over the weekend kept Kansas State from climbing all the way into the mix for a No. 1 seed. Still, the Wildcats have scored road wins over Texas and Baylor as well as a home win over Oklahoma State since our last projection. They are very much on the rise, and they could further that ascension by winning the Tuesday night home game against Kansas.

    They'll enter that massive showdown with a 4-1 record in Quadrant 1 games.

    It's worth keeping in mind, though, that Kansas State entered Big 12 play looking like a bubble team. The Wildcats were 11-1 with a rough loss at Butler and nothing better than neutral-court victories over Nevada and LSU to their credit. Things are looking great now, but they could free-fall to an extent if they were to hit an extended rough patch in the nation's toughest conference.

    Fading Fast: Wisconsin Badgers (Down Three Seed Lines)
    11-5, NET: 67, RES: 34.0, QUAL: 61.0

    When the Badgers climbed all the way into the AP Top 15 a few weeks ago, they sure felt like the most overrated team in the nation, as they had spent just about the entire season hovering in the high 30s/low 40s range on KenPom. And now it seems the wheels have fallen all the way off, as Wisconsin has lost three straight against Illinois, Michigan State and Indiana by a combined 32 points.

    None of the individual losses was terrible, and they do still have solid wins away from home over Marquette, Iowa, Dayton and USC, plus a home win over Maryland. That's enough to keep Wisconsin from plummeting all the way to the bubble, even though the NET and QUAL metrics have gotten pretty ugly.

    Not having Tyler Wahl (ankle) for any of those three losses is noteworthy, but the Badgers need to find a way to rally, because they have two games against Penn State, two against Northwestern and one each against Maryland (road), Illinois (home) and Ohio State (road) within the next 23 days. This three-game losing streak could devolve into a 10-game disaster if they're not careful.

Midwest Region (Kansas City)

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    Clemson's PJ Hall
    Clemson's PJ HallRyan Hunt/Getty Images

    Des Moines, Iowa
    No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Wagner/Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
    No. 8 Clemson vs. No. 9 Ohio State

    Orlando, Florida
    No. 4 Miami vs. No. 13 Liberty
    No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 12 Sam Houston State

    Sacramento, California
    No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Bradley
    No. 6 Illinois vs. No. 11 West Virginia

    Denver, Colorado
    No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Furman
    No. 7 NC State vs. No. 10 Northwestern

    Movin' on Up: Clemson Tigers and NC State Wolfpack (Both New to the Field)
    Clemson: 15-3, NET: 49, RES: 22.5, QUAL: 48.0
    NC State: 14-4, NET: 29, RES: 27.0, QUAL: 40.3

    Throw Pittsburgh (No. 9 seed in East Region) into this mix, too, as the ACC's "second tier," if you will, has taken a massive step forward in the past few weeks.

    NC State entered 2023 as a complete afterthought, in part because its losses to Pitt and Clemson looked worse than they do today. But while those results have become more forgivable, the Wolfpack have also been on one heck of a tear, destroying Duke by 24, winning at Virginia Tech and clipping Miami in overtime.

    Out of nowhere, NC State is a clear-cut single-digit seed, and one that could further cement its spot in the field with a road win over UNC this coming Saturday.

    Meanwhile, Clemson is shockingly 7-0 in ACC play, culminating in an eight-point win over Duke a few days ago.

    The Tigers' nonconference slate was dreadful. We're talking bad losses to Loyola-Chicago and South Carolina with only one remotely good win (vs. Penn State). Because of that, they need 14, maybe even 15 ACC wins to have a legitimate case for an at-large bid. But they're halfway there with a forgiving remaining slate. (Clemson could get to 15-5 in ACC play without winning another game against a KenPom top 70 team.)

    Fading Fast: Arizona Wildcats (Down One Seed Line)
    15-3, NET: 12, RES: 12.0, QUAL: 20.0

    It's only one seed line, but Arizona went from "neck-and-neck with Kansas for the No. 1 overall seed" to "lucky to hang onto a No. 2 seed thanks to Connecticut, Tennessee, Kansas State and Iowa State all losing this weekend." So, it at least feels like a pretty big fall from grace.

    The Wildcats have lost two of their last three games by double digits, falling by 13 at home against 9-10 Washington State and by 19 at 10-8 Oregon.

    In the former, it was woeful offense. Azuolas Tubelis (29 points, 14 rebounds) did his darnedest to put the team on his back, but the rest of the Wildcats shot 11-of-43 from the field.

    In the latter, defense was the issue, as Oregon shot 71.9 percent from inside the arc. Arizona did have 10 steals, but when it didn't force a turnover, it didn't force a tough shot, either.

    Home games against USC and UCLA this week could either stop the bleeding or really make us start to question whether formerly 14-1 Arizona even deserves a spot in the top four seed lines.

South Region (Louisville)

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    Rutgers' Cam Spencer
    Rutgers' Cam SpencerMichael Reaves/Getty Images

    Columbus, Ohio
    No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 Norfolk State/Southern
    No. 8 New Mexico vs. No. 9 North Carolina

    Albany, New York
    No. 4 Marquette vs. No. 13 Marshall
    No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 12 Kent State

    Greensboro, North Carolina
    No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 14 Youngstown State
    No. 6 Rutgers vs. No. 11 Oklahoma

    Denver, Colorado
    No. 2 Texas vs. No. 15 Montana State
    No. 7 Providence vs. No. 10 Missouri

    Movin' on Up: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Up Five Seed Lines)
    13-5, NET: 16, RES: 31.0, QUAL: 13.0

    Rutgers probably should've been a projected No. 9 seed after its road win over Purdue on Jan. 2, but we were using data from that morning for our Jan. 3 projection, and the Scarlet Knights entered that game against the Boilermakers with four losses (two of them questionable at best) and only one quality win (vs. Indiana).

    Even if they had been a No. 9 instead of a No. 11, though, the Scarlet Knights would still be one of the biggest risers in the past two weeks, climbing comfortably up to the No. 6 seed line with post-Purdue victories over Maryland, Northwestern and Ohio State.

    The resume metrics are still a bit lacking, which will happen when your best nonconference win was a home game against Wake Forest after suffering losses to Temple (neutral) and Seton Hall (home). But the predictive metrics adore what looks like the second-best team in the Big Ten.

    Fading Fast: Missouri Tigers (Down Five Seed Lines)
    13-4, NET: 53, RES: 33.5, QUAL: 62.0

    Careful you don't get whiplash trying to keep tabs on Missouri's tournament outlook this season.

    The Tigers crept onto the bubble with a 9-0 start, got written off after a 28-point home loss to Kansas and then skyrocketed into the field after blowing out both Illinois and Kentucky. But after losing at Arkansas, barely winning at home against Vanderbilt and losing by a combined 27 points at Texas A&M and Florida, Missouri is stumbling back toward the bubble in a hurry.

    If the Tigers have another 180-degree pivot in them, though, better hope it happens now. Home games against Arkansas, Alabama and Iowa State in the next 12 days could be a darn-near bid-clinching stretch for the Tigers if they were to win all three. Winning at least one of those games (and the road game against Ole Miss along the way) is a must.

West Region (Las Vegas)

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    Iowa State's Gabe Kalscheur
    Iowa State's Gabe KalscheurAP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

    Birmingham, Alabama
    No. 1 Houston vs. No. 16 SIU-Edwardsville
    No. 8 Arizona State vs. No. 9 Michigan State

    Orlando, Florida
    No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 13 Iona
    No. 5 Arkansas vs. No. 12 Oregon/Boise State

    Albany, New York
    No. 3 Connecticut vs. No. 14 Yale
    No. 6 Duke vs. No. 11 Iowa/Nevada

    Sacramento, California
    No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 15 Colgate
    No. 7 San Diego State vs. No. 10 Maryland

    Movin' on Up: Iowa State Cyclones (Up Two Seed Lines)
    13-3, NET: 10, RES: 11.5, QUAL: 14.0

    At the start of Big 12 play on New Year's Eve, Iowa State was ranked 50th on KenPom, good for ninth-best in the Big 12, only two spots ahead of No. 52 Kansas State for last place.

    Less than three weeks later—after home wins over Baylor and Texas Tech by a combined 49 points, close road wins over Oklahoma and TCU and a last-second loss at Kansas—the Cyclones have vaulted all the way up to 13th on KenPom and 13th on our overall seed list.

    Leveraging the power of one of the best turnover-forcing defense in decades, Iowa State now has four Quadrant 1 wins with nothing close to a bad loss on the ledger. If the Cyclones manage to score a home win over Texas on Tuesday night, they'll be knocking on the door of a No. 2 seed.

    Fading Fast: Duke Blue Devils (Down Two Seed Lines)
    13-5, NET: 25, RES: 31.5, QUAL: 28.3

    Duke had a strong nonconference slate, beating both Xavier and Iowa on neutral courts and winning at home against Ohio State. The only games it lost were on neutral floors against the projected No. 1 and No. 2 overall seeds, Kansas and Purdue.

    But the Blue Devils have gone 3-3 in their last six games, losing by 11 at Wake Forest, by 24 at NC State and by eight at Clemson. At least the latter game was a nail-biter until the final two minutes. Wake Forest was in control for the entire second half, and the NC State game was effectively over within 10 minutes of tipoff.

    Duke also just barely survived on the road against a sub-.500 Boston College team and had to rally from a 12-point second-half deficit to avoid a home loss to Pittsburgh.

    Jeremy Roach has been out/limited by a toe injury and we're still trying to figure out if Dereck Lively II is going to amount to anything this season, but year No. 1 under Jon Scheyer is starting to unravel.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Alabama's Brandon Miller
    Alabama's Brandon MillerAP Photo/Vasha Hunt

    No. 4: Houston Cougars
    17-1, NET: 1, RES: 4.5, QUAL: 1.0

    No. 3: Alabama Crimson Tide
    15-2, NET: 3, RES: 2.0, QUAL: 3.3

    At least 19 times out of 20, head-to-head results simply aren't an important factor in bracketology. Like, don't get me wrong. Every result matters. But one game is only a portion of the resume.

    For instance, Miami beat Virginia by two earlier this season, but the Hurricanes check in two spots behind the Cavaliers on our new overall seed list. Just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

    In this case, however, the fact that Alabama was the only team to beat Houston thus far this season—doing so in Houston, no less—is a rather large deal.

    The overall strengths of schedule is also a big deal here, as the Crimson Tide have four wins away from home against teams projected for single-digit seeds, while more than half of Houston's 17 wins have been of the Quadrant 4 variety.

    That said, if Houston doesn't lose again this season, it should eventually climb to the No. 1 overall seed, as Alabama, Purdue and Kansas are likely to each lose a few more times.

    No. 2: Purdue Boilermakers
    17-1, NET: 4, RES: 3.0, QUAL: 6.7

    No. 1: Kansas Jayhawks
    16-1, NET: 6, RES: 1.0, QUAL: 6.3

    Both Kansas and Purdue entered play on Monday at 16-1 overall with a 6-1 record in Quadrant 1 games.

    But it's the quality of the respective losses (Kansas against Tennessee in Bahamas; Purdue vs. Rutgers) and the Quadrant 2 records (Kansas is 5-0; Purdue needed OT to win its only Q2 game at Nebraska) giving the Jayhawks a pretty clear leg up in the battle for the No. 1 seed.

    It bears mentioning that if it's still these two teams duking it out for No. 1 two months from now, the order doesn't really matter. Kansas would prefer to be in the Midwest Region and Purdue would prefer to be in the South Region. It's only if (of the current top nine teams) Houston (closest to MW), Alabama (closest to South) or Texas (closest to MW) gets into the mix for the top two that it becomes a potential issue.

    However, unless Kansas ends the season with at least three more losses than Purdue, got to assume the Jayhawks will have the stronger resume, considering they'll be playing at least 20 Quadrant 1 games by Selection Sunday.

Seeding by Conference

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    Gonzaga's Drew Timme
    Gonzaga's Drew TimmeAP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez

    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. Projected automatic bids for each conference are based on QUAL metrics as opposed to conference record.

    American (1): 3. Houston; 72. UCF; 73. Memphis

    ACC (7): 14. Virginia; 16. Miami; 23. Duke; 27. NC State; 32. Clemson; 33. Pittsburgh; 34. North Carolina

    Big 12 (8): 1. Kansas; 6. Texas; 12. Kansas State; 13. Iowa State; 18. TCU; 19. Baylor; 41. Oklahoma; 42. West Virginia

    Big East (5): 7. Xavier; 11. Connecticut; 15. Marquette; 25. Providence; 43. Creighton

    Big Ten (9): 2. Purdue; 22. Rutgers; 24. Illinois; 31. Wisconsin; 35. Michigan State; 36. Ohio State; 39. Maryland; 40. Northwestern; 43. Iowa; 69. Penn State; 70. Indiana

    Mountain West (4): 26. San Diego State; 30. New Mexico; 45. Nevada; 46. Boise State

    Pac-12 (4): 5. UCLA; 8. Arizona; 29. Arizona State; 47. Oregon

    SEC (5): 3. Alabama; 10. Tennessee; 17. Auburn; 20. Arkansas; 37. Missouri; 71. Kentucky

    West Coast (2): 9. Gonzaga; 21. Saint Mary's

    Other (23): 28. Florida Atlantic; 38. Charleston; 48. Kent State; 49. Dayton; 50. Sam Houston State; 51. Iona; 52. Marshall; 53. Oral Roberts; 54. Liberty; 55. Bradley; 56. UC Irvine; 57. Yale; 58. Youngstown State; 59. Montana State; 60. Furman; 61. Colgate; 62. UMass Lowell; 63. Longwood; 64. SIU-Edwardsville; 65. Norfolk State; 66. Southern; 67. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi; 68. Wagner

    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.