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

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 31, 2023

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

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    Purdue's Zach Edey
    Purdue's Zach EdeyMichael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    With only 40 days remaining until Selection Sunday, the Purdue Boilermakers are the projected No. 1 overall seed for the 2023 NCAA men's basketball tournament, and by a very wide margin.

    But if you're picking one conference to win it all, the Big 12 is the way to go.

    The reigning national champion Kansas Jayhawks are also a projected No. 1 seed, with Kansas State (No. 2 seed), Baylor (No. 3 seed), Texas (No. 3 seed), Iowa State (No. 3 seed) and TCU (No. 4 seed) not far behind them as we prepare to enter February. Given the way that Oklahoma destroyed Alabama in the SEC/B12 Challenge this past weekend, even the Sooners are feeling like a threat to do some serious damage in the Big Dance.

    What would the full tournament picture look like if today was Selection Sunday?

    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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    Kentucky's Cason Wallace (22), Jacob Toppin (0) and Oscar Tshiebwe (34)
    Kentucky's Cason Wallace (22), Jacob Toppin (0) and Oscar Tshiebwe (34)Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Last Team In: Arkansas Razorbacks
    14-7, NET: 28, RES: 33.5, QUAL: 22.7

    With a RES rank of 33.5 and strong predictive metrics, I can't justify leaving Arkansas out of the field. But I also cannot fathom what KPI and SOR are seeing to still have the Hogs comfortably within the consensus top 50. They've lost six of their last nine games and have scored only one Quadrant 1 win all season, in overtime, on a neutral floor against San Diego State. They also have only two Quadrant 2 wins. They likely need to go at least 6-4 the rest of the way to seal up an at-large spot.

    Second-to-Last In: Kentucky Wildcats
    14-7, NET: 36, RES: 47.5, QUAL: 28.7

    After a comfortable win over Vanderbilt and a close loss to Kansas, nothing has changed for Kentucky. The Wildcats still have a fantastic road win over Tennessee, a horrific home loss to South Carolina and not a whole lot else worth mentioning. They'll need wins in these next two weeks against Ole Miss, Florida, Arkansas and Georgia to maintain the status quo.

    Third-to-Last In: Wisconsin Badgers
    12-8, NET: 74, RES: 43.0, QUAL: 66.7

    The Badgers are officially in the danger zone after three consecutive losses to Northwestern, Maryland and Illinois. The game at Ohio State this coming Thursday almost feels like an elimination game for the loser. But if Wisconsin loses that game and bounces back with consecutive wins over Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan, that could salvage the Badgers' at-large case. Still, it feels like a lifetime ago that this team was ranked in the AP Top 15.

    Fourth-to-Last In: Pittsburgh Panthers
    15-7, NET: 62, RES: 49.0, QUAL: 65.0

    What a massive, heart-stopping week for the Panthers. In the first game at Pitt, Wake Forest missed four of its final six free throws—two of which were the front end of one-and-one opportunities—before Tyree Appleby missed a great look at a would-be game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer. Three days later against Miami, Pitt trailed 68-60 before ending the game on an 11-0 run. As a result, the Panthers upgrade from "Fourth Team Out" to "Fourth-to-Last In" in advance of a big game at North Carolina this Wednesday.

    Fifth-to-Last In: Memphis Tigers
    17-5, NET: 41, RES: 25.0, QUAL: 39.3

    Memphis just missed the cut a week ago, but double-digit wins against SMU and Tulsa—even though both were Quadrant 4 results—was enough for the Tigers to leapfrog the likes of Arkansas, Wisconsin, Arizona State and Ohio State. The two big games against Houston aren't for another few weeks, but Memphis might get a bid if it wins its other seven remaining regular-season games.

First Five Out

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    Arizona State's Bobby Hurley
    Arizona State's Bobby HurleyEthan Miller/Getty Images

    First Team Out: Arizona State Sun Devils
    15-7, NET: 64, RES: 54.0, QUAL: 64.0

    When the Sun Devils were 15-3, they were in good (albeit perilous) shape. Their only great win was a nail-biter against Creighton sans Ryan Kalkbrenner, and they had a pair of bad losses to Texas Southern (in OT) and San Francisco (by 37). As such, we knew they could go from "comfortably in" to "on the outside looking in" if things turned sour, which they very much have. ASU has lost four in a row, most recently getting swept at Washington and Washington State. Bobby Hurley is back on the bubble and back on the hot seat.

    Second Team Out: Penn State Nittany Lions
    14-7, NET: 52, RES: 50.5, QUAL: 44.7

    Between the 20-point loss at Rutgers and the 22-point home win over Michigan, it was yet another break-even week for the Nittany Lions. And with the way the schedule is shaping up, they're probably going to go 1-1 in each of the next five weeks to just perpetually loiter in this First Five Out / Last Five In range until further notice. Penn State has a colossal opportunity to flip the script Wednesday should it win at Purdue, though.

    Third Team Out: Nevada Wolf Pack
    16-6, NET: 37, RES: 31.5, QUAL: 63.3

    Five days after a pivotal, double-OT victory over New Mexico, Nevada took a hard-luck loss at UNLV on a night where it shot 34.2 percent from inside the arc. The Wolf Pack now need to play their way back into the projected field, but they have a big chance to do so Tuesday night at home against San Diego State.

    Fourth Team Out: Oklahoma State Cowboys
    12-9, NET: 43, RES: 60.0, QUAL: 34.3

    The 22-point shellacking of Ole Miss in the SEC/B12 Challenge was nice, but that home win didn't do much to actually help the Cowboys' resume. They'll need to go at least 5-5 the rest of the way in Big 12 play, which will be tough sledding. They did already play the brutal road games against Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Texas, so that might be doable.

    Fifth Team Out: Ohio State Buckeyes
    11-10, NET: 29, RES: 76.5, QUAL: 26.0

    The NET and predictive metrics still believe in Ohio State, but after losses in seven of the last eight games, the Buckeyes are 5-10 overall if you take out the six nonconference Quadrant 4 home games. And really, they should be 4-11, since the home win over Rutgers shouldn't have counted. They probably need to go 7-3 the rest of the way, which means winning the next four—vs. Wisconsin, at Michigan, vs. Northwestern, vs. Michigan State—is almost non-negotiable.

East Region (New York City)

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    Illinois' Terrence Shannon Jr.
    Illinois' Terrence Shannon Jr.Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Des Moines, Iowa
    No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Norfolk State
    No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Boise State

    Albany, New York
    No. 4 Xavier vs. No. 13 Liberty
    No. 5 Rutgers vs. No. 12 Oral Roberts

    Sacramento, California
    No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Iona
    No. 6 Illinois vs. No. 11 Pittsburgh/Kentucky

    Sacramento, California
    No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 15 Montana State
    No. 7 Auburn vs. No. 10 Maryland

    Movin' On Up: Illinois Fighting Illini (Up Two Seed Lines)
    15-6, NET: 26, RES: 30.5, QUAL: 21.0

    Illinois might have already locked up No. 1 on this year's "I have no earthly idea how far to take this team when the bracket comes out" list.

    Bad Illinois got smashed in each of its last four losses against Penn State, Missouri, Northwestern and Indiana. But Bad Illinois has shown up only once in the past few weeks.

    Meanwhile, Good Illinois took care of business this past week against both Ohio State (home) and Wisconsin (road). It took a nice trip up the overall seed list as a result.

    The Illini now have four Quadrant 1 wins and no bad losses, looking good for a No. 6 seed. Which, unfortunately for us, is prime real estate for getting burned by one of these *shrug emoji* teams. They could lose to the play-in game winner, or they might put a hurting on both Kentucky and Gonzaga. Who knows?

    Fading Fast: Auburn Tigers (Down Two Seed Lines)
    16-5, NET: 31, RES: 20.0, QUAL: 28.7

    Auburn laid one of the biggest eggs of the past week, losing at home to Texas A&M by 16 points. That put the Aggies back into the bubble mix with easily their best win of the season.

    The Tigers then turned around and gave West Virginia a key W, although that was a close game on the road, at least. The loss to the Mountaineers didn't hurt anywhere near as badly as the loss to Texas A&M.

    The combined impact of those losses was that we now have a greater appreciation for the lack of quality wins on Auburn's resume. The Tigers have two Q1 wins, but neither the home win over Arkansas nor the neutral-site victory over Northwestern is exactly a "hang your hat on it" type of statement.

    Their metrics are great, and they don't have any terrible losses. But if they end up going 0-4 in their remaining games against Alabama and Tennessee, they better at least take care of business elsewhere, lest things get bubble-y.

Midwest Region (Kansas City)

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    USC's Boogie Ellis
    USC's Boogie EllisBrian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Birmingham, Alabama
    No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Grambling State/Radford
    No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 9 Oklahoma

    Albany, New York
    No. 4 Marquette vs. No. 13 Dayton
    No. 5 Saint Mary's vs. No. 12 Charleston

    Greensboro, North Carolina
    No. 3 Virginia vs. No. 14 Marshall
    No. 6 Florida Atlantic vs. No. 11 West Virginia

    Des Moines, Iowa
    No. 2 Kansas State vs. No. 15 Colgate
    No. 7 Providence vs. No. 10 USC

    Movin' On Up: USC Trojans (Up Two Seed Lines)
    15-6, NET: 55, RES: 35.0, QUAL: 44.7

    USC crept into our projected field one week ago as the Last Team In after a strong road win over Arizona State. While that win quickly lost some value in the aftermath of ASU's back-to-back losses to the Washington schools, the Trojans solidified their spot in the field with a 77-64 Thursday night victory over UCLA.

    Boogie Ellis picked a fantastic time to go off for a career-high 31 points, not to mention six assists, four rebounds and no turnovers. That was a massive Quadrant 1 victory over a team that entered the game in the mix for a possible No. 1 seed.

    However, USC's resume 10 days ago was little more than a good home win over Auburn and a bad home loss to Florida Gulf Coast. The Trojans still need to take care of business over the next three weeks against the Washington schools, the Oregon schools, Cal and Stanford.

    Fading Fast: Charleston Cougars (Down Three Seed Lines)
    21-2, NET: 61, RES: 39.0, QUAL: 77.0

    During their 20-game winning streak, the Cougars gradually worked their way into legitimate at-large territory. But they didn't build up much of a cushion, what with 14 Quadrant 4 wins and nary a victory over a foe in the NET top 50.

    If they had to suffer a loss in conference play, the home game against Hofstra was at least a somewhat acceptable one to drop. Still, that's a Quadrant 3 loss for a team with no Quadrant 1 victories and middling metrics. It's much harder to make the at-large case for Charleston at this point.

    If Charleston wins out, including the CAA tournament, it might still end up in the No. 9-10 seed range. It would be hard to put a 32-2 league champion as a No. 12 seed, especially considering one of the losses came on the road against North Carolina.

    But perhaps the Cougars' only path to an at-large bid is winning every remaining game prior to a loss to one of Hofstra, Towson or UNC-Wilmington in the conference championship game. Even with that, it would still be a photo finish.

South Region (Louisville)

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    Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis
    Indiana's Trayce Jackson-DavisAP Photo/Darron Cummings

    Columbus, Ohio
    No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 SIU-Edwardsville/Wagner
    No. 8 New Mexico vs. No. 9 Clemson

    Orlando, Florida
    No. 4 TCU vs. No. 13 UC Santa Barbara
    No. 5 Connecticut vs. No. 12 Kent State

    Denver, Colorado
    No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 14 Furman
    No. 6 Miami vs. No. 11 Memphis

    Greensboro, North Carolina
    No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 15 Vermont
    No. 7 Indiana vs. No. 10 Creighton

    Movin' On Up: Indiana Hoosiers (Up Three Seed Lines)
    15-6, NET: 20, RES: 24.5, QUAL: 15.7

    Indiana did not belong in the NCAA tournament field five games ago. The Hoosiers were 10-6 and had only two remotely noteworthy wins (at Xavier, vs. North Carolina). Every other win at that point fell into Quadrant 3 or Quadrant 4.

    But the Hoosiers sure have turned a corner with five consecutive wins, beating each of Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State by at least 13 points. The blowout of the Buckeyes came most recently, with freshmen Malik Reneau and Kaleb Banks each playing a big role off the bench, while freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino led all players with 24 points.

    When at least two players other than Trayce Jackson-Davis show up (TJD always shows up), Indiana has been mighty difficult to beat this season. And if the Hoosiers continue their winning streak this week against Maryland (road) and Purdue (home), they might climb another three seed lines in our next projection.

    Fading Fast: Miami Hurricanes (Down One Seed Line)
    16-5, NET: 45, RES: 29.5, QUAL: 39.0

    Miami isn't exactly fading fast compared to one week ago. The 'Canes only dropped from our bottom No. 5 seed to our bottom No. 6 seed.

    But it has been a steady fall from grace as of late for what was a 13-1 projected No. 3 seed four weeks ago.

    During that time, Miami has gone 3-4 overall. And while that might be a pretty good stretch in the Big 12 or Big Ten, 3-4 is a certified slump in this year's ACC.

    At least the losses at NC State, Duke and Pitt were all Quadrant 1 results. But the loss at Georgia Tech in early January was a bad one, and all the 'Canes have added along the way were wins over Boston College, Florida State and Syracuse that aren't worth a whole lot.

    They're still well clear of the bubble, but if they drop at least two of the next three (vs. Virginia Tech, at Clemson, vs. Duke), things could start to get dicey.

West Region (Las Vegas)

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    Missouri's Kobe Brown
    Missouri's Kobe BrownJay Biggerstaff/Getty Images

    Birmingham, Alabama
    No. 1 Houston vs. No. 16 Northwestern State
    No. 8 North Carolina State vs. No. 9 Northwestern

    Columbus, Ohio
    No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 13 Drake
    No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 12 Sam Houston State

    Orlando, Florida
    No. 3 Texas vs. No. 14 Yale
    No. 6 Duke vs. No. 11 Arkansas/Wisconsin

    Denver, Colorado
    No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Youngstown State
    No. 7 Missouri vs. No. 10 Iowa

    Movin' On Up: Missouri Tigers (Up Three Seed Lines)
    16-5, NET: 44, RES: 22.5, QUAL: 52.0

    Oklahoma's blowout of Alabama was the biggest win of the week, but Missouri's 17-point drubbing of Iowa State in the SEC/B12 Challenge sure was a dandy.

    The NET and QUAL metrics have been reluctant to believe in the Tigers, but they now have three Quadrant 1 wins with no losses yet this season outside of that group, giving them a very Duke-like resume.

    If they can maintain that "no bad losses" profile for another five weeks, the Tigers are going to end up with at least 23 wins. Because of their 10 remaining games, only two (at Tennessee; at Auburn) are against teams currently projected for the NCAA tournament.

    They do have three bubble-y games left against Mississippi State (two) and Texas A&M (home), but they should stack up wins the rest of the way.

    Fading Fast: Arkansas Razorbacks and Wisconsin Badgers

    We already discussed both of these teams back in the "Last Five In" section, but it bears mentioning—since no one else in the region is on a significant decline—just how far and how fast they've both fallen.

    In our Jan. 3 projection of the field, Arkansas was at No. 11 overall (a No. 3 seed) and Wisconsin was at No. 17 overall (a No. 5 seed). Since then, they've gone a combined 2-11 overall against the top two Quadrants, each picking up a Quadrant 2 home win—Wisconsin's against Penn State; Arkansas' against Missouri.

    At least the Badgers got those road wins over Marquette and Iowa in early December. Arkansas' only saving graces at this point are the overtime victory against San Diego State in Maui and the strong NET and QUAL metrics.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Kansas' Jalen Wilson
    Kansas' Jalen WilsonAP Photo/James Crisp

    No. 4: Houston Cougars
    20-2, NET: 1, RES: 5.5, QUAL: 1.7

    Houston bounced back nicely from the embarrassing home loss to Temple by winning at UCF and surviving a slow start against Cincinnati in which the Bearcats seemingly could not miss a shot. As such, they maintain the last spot on the No. 1 line.

    There has been a lot of clamoring lately for Tennessee to move up to the No. 1 line, and the Volunteers definitely moved closer with their 11-point win over Texas on Saturday night. They're now up to No. 1 overall on KenPom as a result. Even after that win, though, they do not have a better resume than Houston.

    Frankly, if anyone deserves to replace the Cougars on the top line, it's Arizona. But let's see whether Houston or Arizona more successfully navigates a February schedule consisting entirely of games against teams that are either on the bubble or just plain bad.

    No. 3: Kansas Jayhawks
    17-4, NET: 8, RES: 3.0, QUAL: 8.3

    It was a close game throughout, but Kansas snapped its three-game losing streak with an impressive road win over Kentucky. The reigning national champions remain alone in first place in the nation in both Quadrant 1 wins (eight) and wins against the top two Quadrants (12). A lot of bracketologists couldn't ignore recency bias in dropping Kansas down to a No. 2 seed at some point in the past 10 days, but the Jayhawks still clearly have one of the nation's four best resumes.

    No. 2: Alabama Crimson Tide
    18-3, NET: 4, RES: 1.5, QUAL: 4.0

    After winning eight consecutive games by double digits, Alabama had an uncharacteristically rough week. The Crimson Tide had to come from behind to eke out a home win over Mississippi State and then got drilled at Oklahoma. But that was the first legitimate blemish for a team with 11 Quadrant 1/Quadrant 2 victories, one which previously had only lost to Connecticut and Gonzaga. If the Tide lose to Vanderbilt or LSU this week, though, they might start to slip.

    No. 1: Purdue Boilermakers
    21-1, NET: 3, RES: 1.5, QUAL: 4.7

    There's a lot of season left to potentially lose the stranglehold on the No. 1 overall seed. But as we prepare to flip the calendar to February, Purdue is head and shoulders ahead of the field, just like Zach Edey is towering head and shoulders ahead of all challengers for National Player of the Year. With a 5-0 record against the top half of Quadrant 1, the Boilermakers could lose both of their games this week (vs. Penn State; at Indiana) and still be No. 1 overall in our next projection.

Seeding by Conference

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    Marquette's Kam Jones and Xavier's Colby Jones
    Marquette's Kam Jones and Xavier's Colby JonesDylan Buell/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 (2): 4. Houston; 42. Memphis

    ACC (7): 9. Virginia; 22. Duke; 24. Miami; 30. North Carolina; 31. NC State; 35. Clemson; 43. Pittsburgh

    Big 12 (8): 3. Kansas; 8. Kansas State; 10. Texas; 11. Baylor; 14. Iowa State; 16. TCU; 33. Oklahoma; 41. West Virginia; 72. Oklahoma State

    Big East (5): 13. Xavier; 15. Marquette; 17. Connecticut; 25. Providence; 37. Creighton

    Big Ten (9): 1. Purdue; 19. Rutgers; 21. Illinois; 26. Indiana; 29. Michigan State; 36. Northwestern; 38. Iowa; 40. Maryland; 44. Wisconsin; 70. Penn State; 73. Ohio State

    Mountain West (3): 20. San Diego State; 32. New Mexico; 34. Boise State; 71. Nevada

    Pac-12 (3): 5. Arizona; 7. UCLA; 39. USC; 69. Arizona State

    SEC (6): 2. Alabama; 6. Tennessee; 27. Missouri; 28. Auburn; 45. Kentucky; 46. Arkansas

    West Coast (2): 12. Gonzaga; 18. Saint Mary's

    Other (23): 23. Florida Atlantic; 47. Charleston; 48. Sam Houston State; 49. Kent State; 50. Oral Roberts; 51. Liberty; 52. UC Santa Barbara; 53. Drake; 54. Dayton; 55. Marshall; 56. Iona; 57. Yale; 58. Furman; 59. Colgate; 60. Montana State; 61. Vermont; 62. Youngstown State; 63. Northwestern State; 64. Norfolk State; 65. Grambling State; 66. Radford; 67. SIU-Edwardsville; 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.