2022 Men's NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystNovember 22, 2021

2022 Men's NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68

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    Kansas' Ochai Agbaji
    Kansas' Ochai AgbajiCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    There's still more than a week left in November, but we've always got March on the brain. And in our latest projection for the 2022 men's NCAA tournament field, Gonzaga, Kansas, UCLA and Purdue are positioned on the No. 1 seed line.

    Admittedly, a bracket projection just two weeks into the season is a little ridiculous. At least in the preseason, it's entirely 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 or four games and the first batch of NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings won't even come out until Dec. 6, 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, this isn't just some regurgitation of our preseason bracket. Virginia, Louisville and West Virginia each opened the season projected for a No. 10 seed or better, but those teams are already long gone after poor starts. Meanwhile, the Big East has three new teams projected to dance after an incredible start for that league, and 10 other teams have already moved up or down at least 10 spots on the overall seed list.

    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 thatthough still in position to danceisn'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 5 In

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    Saint Mary's Tommy Kuhse
    Saint Mary's Tommy KuhseYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    Last Team In: Colorado State Rams

    Let me first point out that all four teams projected for at-large play-in games hail from outside the six major conferences. By mid-March, we usually end up arguing about various 13-loss teams from the big leagues, but it sure would be cool to see more of these "small potatoes" get a chance to dance.

    Colorado State fell just shy of making last year's tournament, but with all seven of last year's leading scorers back, the Rams have gotten out to a promising start. David Roddy has been more assertive this year and is a star on both ends of the floor.

               

    Second-to-Last In: Wichita State Shockers

    Virtually no change from where the Shockers opened the season, and why should there be after a 3-0 start followed by an overtime loss to Arizona? They're going to need Tyson Etienne to be much more efficient moving forward, though. Scoring 47 points on 51 field-goal attempts is no way to lead a team long term.

    (Note: Wichita State's Sunday night game against UNLV was not included in this projection. That game didn't tip off until after midnight on the East Coast, and unlike Jon Rothstein, I enjoy occasionally sleeping before May. A close win over the Rebels is the assumption with this projection. A loss would knock the Shockers out of the field.)

             

    Third-to-Last In: Saint Mary's Gaels

    Fourth-to-Last In: San Francisco Dons

    We already have both Gonzaga and BYU much higher in the seeding, so this would be four teams out of the West Coast Conference. That's quite the lofty goal for a league that hasn't even sent three teams to a dance since 2012.

    However, those four teams are a combined 17-0 so far, and Santa Clara is also lurking at 4-0 with blowout wins over Stanford and Nevada.

    San Francisco already has wins over Davidson and Nevada, and Saint Mary's could make some serious noise in the Maui Invitational (in Las Vegas) this week. The Gaels get Notre Dame on Monday for a chance to face Oregon on Tuesday and maybe Houston on Wednesday. If they were to win that event, what a colossal resume boost that would be for the WCC as a whole.

              

    Fifth-to-Last In: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

    Notre Dame has merely played two home games against Cal St. Northridge and High Point thus far. But as just mentioned, the Fighting Irish have a huge chance in the Maui Invitational. While the winner of the Notre Dame-Saint Mary's opener could subsequently face Oregon and Houston, the loser will most likely draw Chaminade and either Butler or Texas A&M. Considering both are on the bubble, one could easily argue that Monday showdown is one of the most important games of the season thus far.

    Then again, even if Notre Dame loses to Saint Mary's, it still has nonconference games remaining against Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana. The Irish would at least have plenty of time and opportunity to make up for it if they lose to the Gaels.

First 5 Out

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    St. John's Julian Champagnie
    St. John's Julian ChampagnieDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    First Team Out: Mississippi State Bulldogs

    Mississippi State was one of many teams on the radar heading into the season, and that hasn't changed after double-digit wins over North Alabama, Montana and Detroit. Let's wait and see what happens against Louisville this Thursday before pushing the Bulldogs into the field, though.

             

    Second Team Out: St. John's Red Storm

    St. John's rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to darn near knock off Indiana in Assembly Hall, but the Hoosiers were able to escape with a 76-74 win. As a result, the Red Storm have no wins worth mentioning so far. But the combo of Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander is going to lead this team to a few big wins this year.

            

    Third Team Out: Syracuse Orange

    The 100-85 home loss to Colgate on Saturday was...not good. But Syracuse is no stranger to turning ugly starts to the season into Marches spent vying for a spot on the bubble. Also, Colgate (which took NC State to the wire in Raleigh already this year) might be good. If the Orange bounce back to win two games in the Battle 4 Atlantis later this week, would anyone be all that surprised? 

           

    Fourth Team Out: Northwestern Wildcats

    Wins by double digits over Eastern Illinois, High Point, New Orleans and Fairleigh Dickinson aren't exactly resume-boosters, but Northwestern is 4-0 for the first time since 2014-15, so that's something, right? The Wildcats will face Providence in the Legends Classic on Monday, followed by either Virginia or Georgia the next night. A win in either game would be nice.

           

    Fifth Team Out: Washington State Cougars

    Washington State hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since Tony Bennett was the head coach back in 2008. We're not talking about a program with a bunch of close calls, either. It has been more than a decade since the Cougars finished a season more than one game above .500. But they're 4-0 thus far with a relatively noteworthy win over UC Santa Barbara. Early Pac-12 games against Arizona State (Dec. 1) and USC (Dec. 4) will let us know whether we need to take Washington State seriously.

East Region (Philadelphia)

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    Creighton's Ryan Kalkbrenner
    Creighton's Ryan KalkbrennerMichael Hickey/Getty Images

    Indianapolis, Indiana

    No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 Campbell / Lipscomb
    No. 8 Oregon vs. No. 9 LSU

    San Diego, California

    No. 4 Texas Tech vs. No. 13 UC Santa Barbara
    No. 5 Florida vs. No. 12 Belmont

    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

    No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 14 Iona
    No. 6 St. Bonaventure vs. No. 11 Wichita State / San Francisco

    Greenville, South Carolina

    No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Yale
    No. 7 Indiana vs. No. 10 Creighton

             

    New to the Field: Creighton Blue Jays

    As a whole, the Big East could not have asked for a much better start to the season. Those 11 teams entered play Sunday with a combined record of 38-4 with quite a few impressive wins and just the one (Georgetown vs. Dartmouth) disappointing loss.

    The team most exceeding expectations within the Big East is probably Creighton.

    The Bluejays were a No. 5 seed in last year's dance, but replacing all five starters from that squad was supposed to be an uphill battlesomething that took a little while to come together, if it worked out at all. Instead, Ryan Hawkins, a sixth-year senior from Northwest Missouri State, has been an instant leader, racking up 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the road win over Nebraska in the Gavitt Games. Second-year big man Ryan Kalkbrenner has also been a force in the paint.

           

    Stock Up: Texas Tech Red Raiders

    Vaulting Texas Tech from a No. 6 seed to a No. 4 seed for beating up on North Florida, Grambling State, Prairie View A&M and Incarnate Word might be a bit premature, but this transfer-heavy bunch is looking good all the same. Davion Warren (from Hampton), Bryson Williams (from UTEP), Kevin Obanor (from Oral Roberts), Adonis Arms (from Winthrop) and Mylik Wilson (from Louisiana) have all made significant impacts as members of the primary eight-man rotation for a team that has scored at least 84 points in each game this season.

    The Red Raiders will face Providence on Dec. 1, Tennessee on Dec. 7 and Gonzaga on Dec. 18, all away from home, so we should get a much better sense of this team's tournament potential within the next four weeks.

           

    Stock Down: Oregon Ducks

    It's one thing to lose a "neutral-site" game to BYU in Portland, Oregon, but it's another thing entirely to never even put up a fight in an 81-49 shellacking. Per Sports Reference, it was Oregon's worst loss since a 96-61 disaster at Stanford in February 2018, and just its third loss by a margin of more than 28 points in at least a decade.

    Like both Creighton and Texas Tech, Oregon is breaking in a bunch of new pieces. However, early returns are that the Ducks are nowhere near as far along on that journey as the Bluejays and Red Raiders.

    They could flip the script considerably in the next 72 hours by winning the Maui Invitational, though. The Ducks will start with D-II Chaminade on Monday before potentially going through Notre Dame and Houston to win that event. Of course, they could also go 1-2 in the event to drop out of the NCAA tournament's early conversation altogether.

Midwest Region (Chicago)

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    Iowa's Keegan Murray
    Iowa's Keegan MurrayCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Nicholls State / Texas Southern
    No. 8 Xavier vs. No. 9 Maryland

    Buffalo, New York

    No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 13 Vermont
    No. 5 Connecticut vs. No. 12 Saint Mary's / Colorado State

    Indianapolis, Indiana

    No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 14 Chattanooga
    No. 6 Auburn vs. No. 11 Iowa

    Fort Worth, Texas

    No. 2 Houston vs. No. 15 Colgate
    No. 7 North Carolina vs. No. 10 Oklahoma

              

    New to the Field: Iowa Hawkeyes

    As with Texas Tech in the East Region, it's hard to get excited over Iowa's 4-0 start against not great competition. The Hawkeyes won their first four games (all at home) against Longwood, UMKC, North Carolina Central and Alabama State by a combined margin of 108 points. That trend will likely continue this week against Western Michigan and Portland State.

    Still, this new-look bunch is leading the nation in scoring at 97.2 points per game, despite losing Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp, CJ Fredrick and Jack NungeA.K.A. more than 60 percent of last year's scoring. And Keegan Murray's explosion is the biggest reason why.

    As a freshman, Murray's value was primarily on the defensive end, where he gave Iowa a solid 18 minutes per game of active hands and hustle. He did also contribute on offense, but his season high in scoring was merely 14 points. But he has put up at least 24 points in each of Iowa's first four games, including a ridiculous 27 points, 21 rebounds and four blocks against NC Central. And that was the only game thus far in which he had fewer points than minutes played. We'll see how it holds up in a couple of weeks when the Hawkeyes have to play three straight against Virginia, Purdue and Illinois, but it looks like they have another Wooden Award candidate on their hands.

            

    Stock Up: Oklahoma Sooners

    For two hours this past March, the college basketball world fell in love with Eastern Washington's Tanner Groves. He put up 35 points as the Eagles gave Kansas a run for their money in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

    Lest you think he was a one-hit wonder, the 6'10" lumberjack-looking center is already thriving in his new home with the Sooners, averaging 18.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists through his first four games—all wins for Oklahoma. Duke transfer Jordan Goldwire has also gotten out to a fine start in his new threads for a team that had to replace two critical guards (Austin Reaves and De'Vion Harmon).

            

    Stock Down: Maryland Terrapins

    It's not just the home loss to George Mason that hurts Maryland's early-season projection. The Terrapins also trailed George Washington at halftime before winning by seven, trailed Vermont at halftime before winning by 11 and had to rally from a late 67-63 deficit in the final 90 seconds against Hofstra to avoid yet another upset.

    Suffice it to say, they've done nothing to back up their spot in the preseason AP Top 25. While we're unwilling to drop Maryland out of this updated projection, it did plummet four full seed lines. A loss to any of Richmond, Louisville or Mississippi State this week in the Baha Mar Hoops tournament would likely be enough to push them out of the field heading into December.

South Region (San Antonio)

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    Providence's Nate Watson
    Providence's Nate WatsonStew Milne/Associated Press

    San Diego, California

    No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 16 Norfolk State
    No. 8 Loyola-Chicago vs. No. 9 Florida State

    Buffalo, New York

    No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 13 Georgia State
    No. 5 Texas vs. No. 12 UAB

    Greenville, South Carolina

    No. 3 Memphis vs. No. 14 Weber State
    No. 6 BYU vs. No. 11 Notre Dame

    Fort Worth, Texas

    No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 15 Milwaukee
    No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Providence

              

    New to the Field: Providence Friars

    Providence delivered one of the more surprising upsets of the first two weeks of the season when it went on the road and clipped Wisconsin by a score of 63-58. Friars not named Nate Watson shot just 3-of-17 from inside the arc in that game, but the big man cleaned up in the paint with 24 points and six rebounds.

    Aside from that, not much to report on Providence, but it is 4-0 in advance of games against Northwestern and either Georgia or Virginia on Monday and Tuesday. If the Friars are able to win either of those games, they're going to wind up with a much better nonconference resume than usual.

            

    Stock Up: BYU Cougars

    Bit of an equal but opposite reaction after the aforementioned desolation of Oregon, as the Cougars moved up nearly as many spots on the overall seed list (13) as the Ducks moved down it (16).

    In addition to that 81-49 blowout in Portland in which BYU (Alex Barcello, in particular) could not miss while Oregon couldn't buy a bucket, the Cougars also picked up an impressive 66-60 home win over San Diego State. Neither team led by more than six at any juncture of that one, but BYU ended up with a nice feather in its cap from that mid-major clash.

    Still to come in nonconference play are games against Utah, Utah State, Missouri State and Creighton, each of which the Cougars probably should win, but we shall see how those shake out. Those four games could play a key factor in determining how many WCC teams get to dance.

                

    Stock Down: Florida State Seminoles

    With 11 minutes remaining in the second half, Florida State had a 44-43 lead over Florida in that annual rivalry game. But a 13-0 Gators run in the span of fewer than three minutes quickly turned that game into a blowout loss for the 'Noles, snapping a seven-year winning streak that FSU had against Florida.

    Had the Seminoles bounced back with an impressive showing against Tulane a few days later, they wouldn't have slipped much in the projected seeding. However, they did not shoot well at all and just kept letting the Green Wave hang around before eking out a 59-54 win at home. The Seminoles have some work to do to prove they deserve a single-digit seed, and the Nov. 30 road game against Purdue is certainly a great opportunity to do that.

West Region (San Francisco)

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    Marquette's Darryl Morsell and Shaka Smart
    Marquette's Darryl Morsell and Shaka SmartMorry Gash/Associated Press

    Portland, Oregon

    No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Wagner
    No. 8 Seton Hall vs. No. 9 Virginia Tech

    Portland, Oregon

    No. 4 Arizona vs. No. 13 Buffalo
    No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 South Dakota State

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    No. 3 Illinois vs. No. 14 New Mexico State
    No. 6 USC vs. No. 11 San Diego State

    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

    No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Northeastern
    No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Marquette

             

    New to the Field: Marquette Golden Eagles

    After six mostly disappointing seasons at Texas, Shaka Smart has something fun brewing once again at his new home with Marquette.

    The Golden Eagles lost all five of the leading scorers from a team that went 13-14 last year, but you wouldn't know it after they started the season 5-0 with wins over Illinois, Ole Miss and West Virginia.

    Maryland transfer Darryl Morsell has been unexpectedly outstanding. After shooting 50-of-187 (26.7 percent) from three-point range in his four seasons with the Terrapins, he hit 12-of-21 (57.1 percent) in his first four games with Marquette. George Mason transfer Tyler Kolek has been great at point guard, and Oklahoma transfer Kur Kuath has been a defensive force in the paint.

    Little was expected from Marquette in Smart's first year at the helm, but this team really put the country on notice with that win over the Illini. (Though we're not penalizing Illinois in our seeding for that game played without potential first-team All-American Kofi Cockburn.)

           

    Stock Up: Arizona Wildcats

    Even before beating up on Michigan in the championship of the Roman Main Event on Sunday night, Arizona had gotten out to a great start to the season, thriving both on defense and with fast-paced ball movement on offense.

    The Wildcats destroyed Northern Arizona, UT Rio Grande Valley and North Dakota State to start the season, and I mean destroyed. The average score of those three games was 94-49. No big deal for the first two opponents, but beating North Dakota State by 52 was quite the statement. They proceeded to get a nice overtime win over Wichita State in Las Vegas, blowing a 16-point lead in the second half before righting the ship in the extra period.

    And then they simply embarrassed Michigan in basically every facet of the game, forcing us to both question the Wolverines' staying power in the AP Top 25 and wonder if the Wildcats might finally make it to a Final Four now that Sean Miller is no longer the coach.

    The next couple of weeks should be uneventful for the Wildcats, but upcoming road games against Illinois (Dec. 11), Tennessee (Dec. 22) and UCLA (Dec. 30) will be must-watch affairs.

           

    Stock Down: Ohio State Buckeyes

    Same as Maryland and Florida State, it's not just the loss, but also the poor showings in other games that cost Ohio State a few seed lines.

    Frankly, the 71-65 loss at Xavier was one of Ohio State's better performances in the early going. E.J. Liddell went for 17 points, eight blocks and seven rebounds, and freshman guard Meechie Johnson had 14 points off the bench. The Buckeyes simply started out slowly with two points in the opening five minutes and couldn't quite get all the way back into the game until it was too little, too late.

    That game came after they needed a last-second bucket to win their home opener against Akron, as well as a closer-than-expected game against Niagara, in which the Buckeyes never really pulled away despite averaging 1.22 points per possession.

    Great big nine days ahead for the Buckeyes, though. They'll face Seton Hall on Monday night and possibly Florida on Wednesday before the big showdown with Duke in the ACC-B1G Challenge next Tuesday. Win those three games and we'll forget all about those Akron and Niagara games in a hurry.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Gonzaga's Drew Timme
    Gonzaga's Drew TimmeYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    No. 4 Purdue Boilermakers

    There always seems to be one team that goes from "I could see them reaching the Final Four" in the preseason to "How in the world is anyone going to beat them?!" before we even reach Thanksgiving.

    Purdue is definitely that team after wins over Villanova and North Carolina over the weekend.

    The Boilermakers put up at least 92 points in each of their first four games before "only" getting to 80 against Villanova. And with Jaden Ivey, Zach Edey and Trevion Williams leading the way, it doesn't feel like a fluke at all. If anything, Purdue should only get better as Ivey and freshman Caleb Furst continue to develop on their paths to stardom.

               

    No. 3 UCLA Bruins

    In its five wins during last year's NCAA tournament, UCLA committed just 6.6 turnovers per game and held its competition to 24.7 percent three-point shooting. Quite the formula for success if you can actually maintain those numbers.

    Thus far this year, the Bruins are at 10.5 and 42.3, respectively, the latter of which ranks among the worst in the nation. But they've been so potent on offense that it hasn't mattered. They have three wins by 20-plus and a marquee overtime victory over Villanova in which they outscored the Wildcats 36-17 over the final 14 minutes.

             

    No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks

    How about the start to the season Ochai Agbaji has had? Kansas' fourth-year wing has scored at least 25 points in each game, shooting 57.7 percent from the field, 41.7 percent from downtown and 90 percent from the charity stripe. Save for perhaps Iowa's Keegan Murray, it'd be hard to argue that anyone has been more impressive to this early point in the season.

    And because Agbaji has been thriving, Kansas has scored at least 87 points in each game. The Jayhawks were uncharacteristically average on offense last year, ranking outside the top 50 in adjusted offensive efficiency for the first time since 2000. But they looked great in the Champions Classic victory over Michigan State.

           

    No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs

    The preseason favorite to win the national championship has lived up to that billing thus far. The Zags effortlessly dismissed Dixie State, Alcorn State and Bellarmine, and it did not take long for them to blow the game wide-open against Texas. The Longhorns did battle back a bit in the second half to make the final margin just 12 points, but Drew Timme (37 points) was unstoppable.

    That was the first of five major nonconference challenges for Gonzaga, and the next two are coming up in the next few days in Las Vegas. The Zags will face UCLA on Tuesday night, followed by a Friday night clash with Duke. If they're able to make those teams look as helpless as they made Texas look, we might as well pencil the Bulldogs in for another trip to the Final Four (if we haven't already done so).

Seeding by Conference

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    Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe
    Kentucky's Oscar TshiebweAndy Lyons/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 team's overall seed, broken down by conference. First five out teams are included in italics.

    American (3): 8. Houston; 9. Memphis; 46. Wichita State

    ACC (5): 5. Duke; 28. North Carolina; 33. Virginia Tech; 36. Florida State; 43. Notre Dame; 71. Syracuse

    Big 12 (5): 2. Kansas; 6. Baylor; 13. Texas Tech; 17. Texas; 37. Oklahoma

    Big East (7): 7. Villanova; 20. Connecticut; 29. Seton Hall; 30. Xavier; 38. Creighton; 39. Marquette; 40. Providence; 70. St. John's

    Big Ten (8): 4. Purdue; 10. Illinois; 12. Michigan; 25. Indiana; 26. Ohio State; 27. Michigan State; 35. Maryland; 41. Iowa; 72. Northwestern

    Mountain West (2): 42. San Diego State; 47. Colorado State

    Pac-12 (4): 3. UCLA; 14. Arizona; 24. USC; 32. Oregon; 73. Washington State

    SEC (7): 11. Alabama; 15. Kentucky; 16. Arkansas; 18. Florida; 19. Tennessee; 23. Auburn; 34. LSU; 69. Mississippi State

    West Coast (4): 1 Gonzaga; 22. BYU; 44. San Francisco; 45. Saint Mary's

    Other (23): 21. St. Bonaventure; 31. Loyola-Chicago; 48. UAB; 49. Belmont; 50. South Dakota State; 51. Buffalo; 52. UC Santa Barbara; 53. Vermont; 54. Georgia State; 55. Weber State; 56. New Mexico State; 57. Chattanooga; 58. Iona; 59. Colgate; 60. Northeastern; 61. Yale; 62. Milwaukee; 63. Norfolk State; 64. Wagner; 65. Campbell; 66. Lipscomb; 67. Nicholls State; 68. Texas Southern

                                         

    Statistics courtesy of Sports Reference and KenPom, unless otherwise noted.

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

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