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

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 24, 2023

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

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    Head coach Dusty May and the Florida Atlantic Owls climb yet another seed line in this week's projection for the 2023 men's NCAA tournament.
    Head coach Dusty May and the Florida Atlantic Owls climb yet another seed line in this week's projection for the 2023 men's NCAA tournament.AP Photo/Andrés Leighton

    With less than eight weeks remaining until Selection Sunday for the 2023 men's NCAA tournament, we're going to break from the tradition of highlighting the projected No. 1 seeds in this portion of our latest projected bracket by instead shouting out 19-1 Florida Atlantic and 21-1 Charleston.

    Not since Memphis' final season in Conference USA (2012-13) has that league produced a single-digit seed in the dance, but FAU is all the way up to a projected No. 6 seed after extending its winning streak to 18 games. A No. 5 seed might be the Owls' realistic ceiling even if they win out, but here's hoping they do keep winning and we're still debating that on Selection Sunday.

    Not far behind Florida Atlantic are the Cougars of Charleston, up to a projected No. 9 seed. It would be the Colonial Athletic Association's first single-digit seed since George Mason and Old Dominion earned No. 8 and No. 9 seeds, respectively, in 2011. Charleston's only loss of the season was to then-Associated Press No. 1 North Carolina in the first week of the regular season.

    Those are probably the only teams from outside the 10 typical multi-bid conferences—American, ACC, A-10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-12, SEC and WCC—with any hope for an at-large bid this season, but those are two of the best mid-majors in recent history.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

    For each of the four regions, we will discuss one team in better shape than it was one week 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 Five In

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    Ohio State's Brice Sensabaugh and Iowa's Ahron Ulis
    Ohio State's Brice Sensabaugh and Iowa's Ahron UlisGraham Stokes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Last Team In: USC Trojans
    14-6, NET: 61, RES: 39.0, QUAL: 49.7

    Last week, we had Oregon as the last team in. That turned out to be a kiss of death for the Ducks, who suffered a bad loss at Stanford this past weekend. But a new Pac-12 team enters the fray after USC's road win over Arizona State. The Trojans don't have any fantastic wins, but they are 6-5 against the top two Quadrants, with only one bad loss to Florida Gulf Coast on the first day of the regular season. And with freshman Vince Iwuchukwu—who missed the first 16 games after suffering cardiac arrest over the summer—starting to round into game shape, USC could quickly cement itself as the third-best team in the Pac-12.

    Second-to-Last In: Ohio State Buckeyes
    11-8, NET: 24, RES: 71.5, QUAL: 18.0

    The Buckeyes ended a five-game losing skid with a 93-77 home win over Iowa, but they've plummeted to the bubble by picking up losses to Minnesota and Nebraska during that rough patch. Bit of a good news/bad news situation with their remaining schedule, as all 12 games are against teams in the KenPom top 65. That's plenty of opportunity to build up a tournament resume, but they do need to win at least half of those challenges.

    Third-to-Last In: Kentucky Wildcats
    13-6, NET: 39, RES: 45.0, QUAL: 27.7

    The big win at Tennessee on Jan. 14 brought Kentucky back to within shouting distance of the field. The subsequent wins over Georgia and Texas A&M—while the vast majority of bubble teams suffered at least one loss in the past week—bumped the Wildcats back into the bracket. There's still a lot of work to be done, though, as Kentucky's resume basically boils down to the victory over Tennessee and the horrific home loss to South Carolina. Beating Kansas at Rupp Arena in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday would be massive.

    Fourth-to-Last In: West Virginia Mountaineers
    11-8, NET: 30, RES: 56.5, QUAL: 32.0

    West Virginia entered Big 12 play in great shape for a bid, sitting at 10-2 with no bad losses and a top 20 rating on KenPom. But the Mountaineers have gone 1-6 in league play, slip-sliding down to the bubble. They still have nothing close to a bad loss and they do have three Quadrant 1 wins (vs. TCU, at Pitt, Florida in Portland). However, a 4-8 record against the top 3 Quadrants is quite the eyesore. They almost have to sweep this week's games (at Texas Tech, vs. Auburn) just to get that record up to snuff.

    Fifth-to-Last In: Iowa Hawkeyes
    12-7, NET: 38, RES: 44.0, QUAL: 29.7

    Despite the aforementioned loss at Ohio State, the Hawkeyes remain slightly ahead of the Buckeyes, thanks in large part to a 2-2 record against the top half of Quadrant 1. (Ohio State is 0-3 in such games.) The Hawkeyes are 6-6 overall against the top two Quadrants, but that no-good, very-bad home loss to Eastern Illinois is still weighing them down.

First Five Out

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    Memphis' Kendric Davis
    Memphis' Kendric DavisCharles Brock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    First Team Out: Nevada Wolf Pack
    16-5, NET: 33, RES: 32.5, QUAL: 61.3

    Nevada picked up a critical home win over AP No. 25 New Mexico on Monday night, but only after getting routed at Boise State on Tuesday. The net result is pretty much a wash, as Nevada slid from our second-to-last team in down to our first team out.

    What we need to see from the Wolf Pack is a respectable win outside of Reno. They've beaten Boise State, Utah State, Sam Houston State and now New Mexico at home, which is great. But they're winless in five tries away from home against NET top 100 opponents. A win at UNLV on Saturday night would be huge.

    Second Team Out: Memphis Tigers
    15-5, NET: 37, RES: 21.0, QUAL: 35.7

    The metrics are solid, and Memphis gets a serious "atta boy" for playing 10 nonconference games (winning seven of them) against KenPom top 100 teams. But boil the resume down to wins against the projected field and losses to teams not in the projected field and the Tigers are sitting at 1-4, respectively. While the one win (vs. Auburn in Atlanta) was great, that ratio is not. Unless they win one of their two games against Houston, they might need to win every other game left on the docket.

    Third Team Out: Penn State Nittany Lions
    13-6, NET: 48, RES: 47.5, QUAL: 44.3

    Ranked roughly 50th in all the metrics, Jalen Pickett and Co. just keep hanging around the projected cut line. The Nittany Lions haven't suffered any bad losses, but they also didn't do anything worth mentioning in nonconference play. They're 4-4 in the Big Ten and figure to remain smack dab on the bubble for as long as they're within a game of .500 (in either direction) in league play.

    Fourth Team Out: Pittsburgh Panthers
    13-7, NET: 65, RES: 56.0, QUAL: 65.0

    There were a bunch of tough losses by bubble teams over the weekend, but none worse than Pittsburgh losing at home to Florida State, who is otherwise 0-11 this season against the KenPom top 150. The Panthers still have a nice collection of solid wins, including four victories over projected tournament teams. But they also have four losses to teams projected to miss the dance, as well as a pair of home losses to bubble teams (Clemson and West Virginia). The upcoming three-game stretch (vs. Wake Forest, vs. Miami, at North Carolina) is gigantic for Pitt.

    Fifth Team Out: Oklahoma State Cowboys
    11-8, NET: 42, RES: 57.5, QUAL: 33.3

    Following home wins over Oklahoma and Iowa State, the Pokes are right back in the hunt for an at-large bid. But they hadn't beaten a surefire NCAA tournament team prior to Saturday's victory over the Cyclones, and they have suffered three losses to teams that would not be in the field if the tournament started today (Southern Illinois, UCF and Virginia Tech). They might need to go 7-5 the rest of the way, which isn't very likely in the loaded Big 12.

East Region (New York City)

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    Creighton's Arthur Kaluma
    Creighton's Arthur KalumaZach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Des Moines, Iowa
    No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Norfolk State
    No. 8 New Mexico vs. No. 9 Arizona State

    Albany, New York
    No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Iona
    No. 5 Saint Mary's vs. No. 12 Kent State

    Columbus, Ohio
    No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 14 Yale
    No. 6 Rutgers vs. No. 11 Kentucky/West Virginia

    Greensboro, North Carolina
    No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 15 Youngstown State
    No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Creighton

    Movin' On Up: Creighton Bluejays (Up One Seed Line)
    11-8, NET: 20, RES: 54.5, QUAL: 15.7

    Creighton remains the nation's most befuddling team for bracketology purposes. The predictive metrics say this is a Sweet 16 team, while the results-based metrics say this is a team that perhaps belongs on the wrong side of the bubble.

    In their only game over the past seven days, the Bluejays drilled Butler by 21 in Indianapolis. Meanwhile, they benefitted from teams like Ohio State and Pittsburgh plummeting down the projected seed list, which pushed them beyond the play-in range up to a No. 10 seed.

    That's really all Creighton needs to do the rest of the way: take care of business in the games where it should. The Bluejays have one game remaining against each of Connecticut, Marquette, Providence and Xavier, with all but the one against the Friars coming at home. Even if they happened to lose all four of those games, they'll be in excellent shape for a bid so long as they win the other eight games left against the litany of Big East teams outside the KenPom top 60.

    Fading Fast: Arizona State Sun Devils (Down One Seed Line)
    15-5, NET: 54, RES: 40.0, QUAL: 55.7

    It looked like Arizona State was going to pick up a massive win over UCLA this past Thursday, but then Jaime Jaquez Jr. and the Bruins finally woke up, finishing the game on a 16-2 run for a 74-62 road victory that looks a whole lot more convincing than it was.

    The problem is that the Sun Devils turned around and no-showed in a home loss to USC. Once again, the closing few minutes made the final score deceptive. The Trojans were up by 24 late before ASU rattled off a 16-0 run to get the final margin down to eight points.

    All told, that wasn't a horrendous two-game skid. The Sun Devils dropped only one seed line. But they were substantial missed opportunities for a team that doesn't play another game against a projected tournament team until closing out the regular season on the road against Arizona, UCLA and USC.

    The Sun Devils are looking OK for now with a 6-4 record against the top two Quadrants, but they'd better avoid bad losses for the next five weeks.

Midwest Region (Kansas City)

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    North Carolina's Armando Bacot
    North Carolina's Armando BacotGrant Halverson/Getty Images

    Birmingham, Alabama
    No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 SIU-Edwardsville/Northwestern State
    No. 8 Illinois vs. No. 9 Clemson

    Orlando, Florida
    No. 4 TCU vs. No. 13 Marshall
    No. 5 Connecticut vs. No. 12 Ohio State/USC

    Sacramento, California
    No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Furman
    No. 6 Providence vs. No. 11 Iowa

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

    Movin' On Up: North Carolina Tar Heels (Up Two Seed Lines)
    14-6, NET: 32, RES: 32.0, QUAL: 24.3

    Slowly but surely, here comes the team that opened the season at No. 1 in the AP poll.

    The Tar Heels are still searching for a signature win, which won't be easy to find in this year's ACC. But they have won nine of their last 11 games, including an 11-point victory over NC State over the weekend in which Armando Bacot became the program's all-time leader in both double-doubles and career rebounds.

    UNC has yet to suffer a loss outside of Quadrant 1. It should remain in the projected Nos. 6-8 seed range if it can continue to avoid big missteps.

    Fading Fast: Connecticut Huskies (Down Two Seed Lines)
    16-5, NET: 7, RES: 16.0, QUAL: 5.7

    Maybe Sunday's 30-point shellacking of Butler was the beginning of a return to normalcy for UConn. But after opening the season 14-0, the Huskies lost five out of six games, punctuated by not-great losses to St. John's (home) and Seton Hall (road) in the past 10 days.

    The overall metrics are still mighty impressive, though, as Connecticut built up quite the cushion during that strong start. However, a lot of teams have equal or better marks than Connecticut's 4-4 record vs. Quadrant 1 and 7-4 record against the top two Quadrants. Most of them don't also have a Quadrant 3 loss weighing them down a bit.

    A home win over Xavier on Wednesday should be enough to bump the Huskies back up to a No. 4 seed, maybe even a No. 3 seed. Conversely, a loss the Musketeers would drop UConn to 5-6 in Big East play and possibly down another seed line.

South Region (Louisville)

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    Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis
    Indiana's Trayce Jackson-DavisBrian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Columbus, Ohio
    No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 Southern/Wagner
    No. 8 NC State vs. No. 9 Charleston

    Orlando, Florida
    No. 4 Baylor vs. No. 13 Oral Roberts
    No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 12 Liberty

    Des Moines, Iowa
    No. 3 Kansas State vs. No. 14 UC Santa Barbara
    No. 6 Duke vs. No. 11 Northwestern

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

    Movin' On Up: Indiana Hoosiers (Returns to the Field)
    13-6, NET: 19, RES: 32.5, QUAL: 16.3

    Indiana was our second team out one week ago. The Hoosiers were 1-5 vs. Quadrant 1, 3-6 against the top two Quadrants and 2-4 in Big Ten play.

    But after a 15-point road win over Illinois and a 13-point home win over Michigan State, Indiana is back with a vengeance, vaulting into the projected field as our top No. 10 seed.

    Trayce Jackson-Davis has been great all season long, but he was especially dominant in those two wins, posting a combined line of 66 points, 24 rebounds, nine assists and eight blocks. Tamar Bates hitting 5-of-6 three-point attempts off the bench against the Spartans was also huge.

    Fading Fast: None

    As luck would have it, Indiana was the only team in this region to move more than three spots on the overall seed list in either direction in the past week.

    Upon making that revelation, I contemplated moving Illinois to this region, as the Illini dropped from a No. 6 seed to a No. 8 seed and—since they will only meet once during the regular season—technically could get matched up with Purdue as early as the second round.

    However, the selection committee will attempt to avoid second-round conference matchups unless it has no other choice—which is certainly possible, as we presently have nine Big Ten teams in the Nos. 6-12 seed range.

West Region (Las Vegas)

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    Boise State's Max Rice
    Boise State's Max RiceEthan Miller/Getty Images

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

    Albany, New York
    No. 4 Marquette vs. No. 13 Dayton
    No. 5 Miami vs. No. 12 Sam Houston State

    Greensboro, North Carolina
    No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 14 Bradley
    No. 6 Florida Atlantic vs. No. 11 Maryland

    Denver, Colorado
    No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 UMass Lowell
    No. 7 Boise State vs. No. 10 Oklahoma

    Movin' On Up: Boise State Broncos (Up Four Seed Lines)
    15-5, NET: 21, RES: 31.0, QUAL: 29.7

    Boise State is right up there with Creighton atop the "What the heck is the selection committee going to do with this resume?" list of head-scratchers.

    The Broncos are 0-2 against Quadrant 1, and they had a terrible home loss to South Dakota State to open the regular season. But they have great metrics and are one of only 12 teams with at least eight wins against the top two Quadrants, most of them by double digits.

    One of their best wins of the season came one week ago against Nevada, as Max Rice had 29 points in the 15-point victory over the Wolf Pack.

    Maybe we're being generous in bumping the Broncos up to a No. 7 seed, but it does look like they could withstand a bad loss this week against Fresno State or Colorado State and still be a projected tournament team next week. But it'd be far better if they didn't lose either of those games.

    Fading Fast: Arkansas Razorbacks (Down Four Seed Lines)
    13-6, NET: 27, RES: 32.0, QUAL: 24.3

    Arkansas didn't actually have a bad week. Blowing a 10-point lead in the final five minutes against Missouri was painful, but that three-point road loss was still a Quadrant 1 result. The Hogs then responded with a 12-point home win over Ole Miss.

    But did you know that Arkansas is only 3-6 against the top two Quadrants? Or that its only win over a projected single-digit seed was the overtime game against San Diego State in Maui?

    The Hogs had been an AP Top 15 team until two Mondays ago. That not-so-minor detail somehow slipped through the cracks until now.

    The only other teams who entered play on Monday with three or fewer victories against the top two Quadrants and who are currently in the top 43 on our overall seed list were Florida Atlantic and Charleston. They've each gone 3-1 in their limited opportunities against that level of competition.

    The Razorbacks don't necessarily need to win at Baylor on Saturday to remain in the projected field, but it sure would be a good idea.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Purdue's Zach Edey
    Purdue's Zach EdeyAP Photo/Michael Conroy

    No. 4: Houston Cougars
    18-2, NET: 1, RES: 8.0, QUAL: 1.0

    The Cougars' home loss to Temple on Sunday might keep them from ever fully getting back into the mix for the No. 1 overall seed. But even with that stunning loss, Houston remains No. 1 in the NET, and it is still unanimously No. 1 in the three QUAL metrics (KenPom, BPI and Sagarin). So, a spot on the top line is still very much in play.

    The argument against Houston is that it doesn't have enough top-tier victories. You could easily make a case for Arizona (6-2 vs. Q1; 8-3 vs. Q1/Q2), Texas (6-3; 7-3) or UCLA (4-3; 10-3) in this spot instead of the Cougars (3-1; 8-1). But we're sticking with Houston for now. We'll wait to see if one (or more) of those major-conference teams can do enough against better schedules down the stretch to overtake the Cougars.

    No. 3: Kansas Jayhawks
    16-4, NET: 8, RES: 3.0, QUAL: 10.3

    It sure didn't feel like we were watching a No. 1 seed when Kansas got ruthlessly drilled by 23 at home against TCU this past Saturday, or when its losing streak extended to three games Monday night at Baylor. But take recency bias out of the equation, and the Jayhawks still belong on the No. 1 seed line. They're tied with Purdue for the most Quadrant 1 wins (seven), they lead the nation with 11 wins against the top two Quadrants, and they have yet to suffer a loss outside of Quadrant 1.

    No. 2: Alabama Crimson Tide
    17-2, NET: 3, RES: 1.5, QUAL: 1.5

    The run that Alabama has been on over the past five weeks is just absurd. The Crimson Tide have won eight straight by a combined margin of 167 points, scoring at least 78 points in each game while also holding each opponent below 69. Basically, they are doing to the SEC what Gonzaga usually does to the WCC. If the NCAA tournament started today, there's little question that Alabama would be the most popular pick to win it all. In basketball. Let that sink in for a minute.

    No. 1: Purdue Boilermakers
    19-1, NET: 4, RES: 1.5. QUAL: 5.7

    Save for the two games against lowly Minnesota and the home game against Nebraska, Purdue has not been particularly dominant in league play. The Boilermakers lost at home to Rutgers. They barely survived games against Ohio State, Michigan State and Maryland, and they needed overtime to win the road game against Nebraska. Even in the 13-point win over Penn State in Philadelphia, Purdue was down six at the half before taking advantage of its 7'4" cheat code in the paint.

    But with that one-point Scarlet Knights exception, the Boilermakers just keep winning, and they have become the clear-cut No. 1 overall seed following Kansas' recent losses. With all four Minnesota and Nebraska games now in the rearview mirror, though, let's see how Purdue handles closing out the regular season with 11 consecutive games against teams with at-large aspirations.

Seeding by Conference

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    Arizona's Pelle Larsson and UCLA's Tyger Campbell
    Arizona's Pelle Larsson and UCLA's Tyger CampbellChristian Petersen/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. Projected automatic bids for each conference are based on QUAL metrics as opposed to conference record.

    American (1): 4. Houston; 70. Memphis

    ACC (6): 14. Virginia; 20. Miami; 24. Duke; 25. North Carolina; 30. NC State; 34. Clemson; 72. Pittsburgh

    Big 12 (8): 3. Kansas; 6. Texas; 9. Kansas State; 11. Iowa State; 13. TCU; 15. Baylor; 39. Oklahoma; 44. West Virginia; 73. Oklahoma State

    Big East (5): 10. Xavier; 16. Marquette; 17. Connecticut; 22. Providence; 40. Creighton

    Big Ten (10): 1. Purdue; 21. Rutgers; 27. Michigan State; 31. Illinois; 32. Wisconsin; 37. Indiana; 41. Northwestern; 42. Maryland; 43. Iowa; 46. Ohio State; 71. Penn State

    Mountain West (3): 26. San Diego State; 28. Boise State; 29. New Mexico; 69. Nevada

    Pac-12 (4): 5. Arizona; 7. UCLA; 33. Arizona State; 47. USC

    SEC (6): 2. Alabama; 8. Tennessee; 18. Auburn; 36. Arkansas; 38. Missouri; 45. Kentucky

    West Coast (2): 12. Gonzaga; 19. Saint Mary's

    Other (23): 23. Florida Atlantic; 35. Charleston; 48. Kent State; 49. Liberty; 50. Sam Houston State; 51. Dayton; 52. Oral Roberts; 53. Marshall; 54. Iona; 55. Bradley; 56. UC Santa Barbara; 57. Yale; 58. Furman; 59. Youngstown State; 60. Montana State; 61. Colgate; 62. UMass Lowell; 63. Longwood; 64. Norfolk State; 65. SIU-Edwardsville; 66. Northwestern State; 67. Southern; 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.