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

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystDecember 7, 2021

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

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    Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Paolo Banchero
    Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Paolo BancheroEllen Schmidt/Associated Press

    To match its first-ever AP No. 1 ranking in men's college basketball history, Purdue is the No. 1 overall seed in our latest projection of the 2022 NCAA tournament field. Joining the Boilermakers on the top seed line are Baylor, Duke and—in spite of two recent losses—Gonzaga.

    It still feels very early to be thinking about brackets. However, most teams are more than 25 percent of the way through their schedule, and the first NET rankings of the season came out on Monday. And, of course, it is never too early to be thinking about brackets.

    Though there will be a fair amount of discussion about KenPom and NET rankings within, this early December projection of the field of 68 is still more of a gut feeling than a deep data dive. We'll probably wait until the new year before we start really digging into quadrant records, strengths of schedule and the like.

    But if the season did end today, here's what the bracket might look like.

    For each of the four regions, we'll discuss one team new to the field since two weeks ago, one team in much better shape and another thatthough still in position to dance—perhaps isn't as good as we once thought.

    Before that, 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 that they are. At the end is a list of overall seeds by conference as a handy reference guide.

Last Five In

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    Wichita State's Tyson Etienne
    Wichita State's Tyson EtienneDavid Becker/Associated Press

    Last Team In: Wichita State Shockers (6-2, KenPom: 56, NET: 66)

    Sunday's home loss to Kansas State was a tough one. The Shockers blew a double-digit lead in the first half, sputtered through a scoreless drought of nearly eight minutes in the second half and still had a reasonable chance to win in the closing moments. It wasn't meant to be, but prior road wins over UNLV, Missouri and Oklahoma State bolstered this resume enough for the Shockers to withstand that loss.

    Wichita State should win its remaining five games in December before opening January with back-to-back matchups with Memphis and Houston. That will be a key set of games, to say the least.

           

    Second-to-Last In: Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-0, KenPom: 90, NET: 36)

    Take the 7-0 start with a grain of salt, since the Golden Gophers went 5-14 after starting 9-1 last year. However, Sunday's road win over Mississippi State was enough to at least temporarily move Minnesota into the projected field. Games against Michigan State and Michigan this week could change that in a hurry, but three cheers to one of the 12 remaining undefeated teams as we approach the one-month mark of the season.

           

    Third-to-Last In: Utah State Aggies (6-2, KenPom: 60, NET: 52)

    After going through Penn, New Mexico State and Oklahoma to win the Myrtle Beach Invitational, Utah State had another golden opportunity to enhance its resume against Saint Mary's this past Thursday. Unfortunately, the Aggies ended up on the wrong end of a highly entertaining back-and-forth second half. They hang onto a spot in the projected field for now, but they likely need to win one of the upcoming games against BYU (Dec. 8) or Iowa (Dec. 18) to have any hope of an at-large bid in March.

             

    Fourth-to-Last In: West Virginia Mountaineers (7-1, KenPom: 48, NET: 73)

    It's been a few years since West Virginia was a turnover-forcing juggernaut, but early returns suggest Press Virginia is back, baby. The Mountaineers have averaged 19.9 forced turnovers and 5.5 blocks per game during their 7-1 start, although they lost to Marquette and had to stage a second-half comeback to beat Clemson in their only two games of note. Wednesday's home game against Connecticut looms large.

            

    Fifth-to-Last In: Marquette Golden Eagles (7-2, KenPom: 77, NET: 78)

    During Marquette's 5-0 start, Maryland transfer Darryl Morsell was red-hot. He has since tapered off considerably, and so have the Golden Eagles, losing by 16 to St. Bonaventure and by 13 to Wisconsin. Those early wins over Illinois, Ole Miss and West Virginia still carry quite a bit of water, though. They'll face Kansas State, UCLA, Xavier and Connecticut within the next 15 days, so we should have a much better sense of this team's potential soon.

First Five Out

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    Virginia Tech's Keve Aluma
    Virginia Tech's Keve AlumaSarah Stier/Getty Images

    First Team Out: Virginia Tech Hokies (6-3, KenPom: 33, NET: 40)

    On the one hand, Virginia Tech's road win over Maryland on Dec. 1 was the final straw that led to a coaching change for the Terrapins. On the other hand, the Hokies lost each of the other three games they have played in the past two weeks, including getting blown out at home by Wake Forest.

    While they slide out of our projected field for now, they'll dive back into ACC play with quite the opportunistic two-game stretch: at Duke on Dec. 22; at North Carolina on Dec. 29. They also have an intriguing game against St. Bonaventure on the 17th.

           

    Second Team Out: Washington State Cougars (6-2, KenPom: 47, NET: 61)

    The Nov. 27 home loss to Eastern Washington was a brutal one, but the Cougars followed it up with a 51-29 (yes, in basketball) road win over Arizona State before darn near upsetting USC. They have several noteworthy games against mid-majors coming up, all at home against undefeated Weber State (Dec. 8), South Dakota State (Dec. 11), New Mexico State (Dec. 15) and Boise State (Dec. 22). Win at least three of those four and they'll be in business.

            

    Third Team Out: Florida State Seminoles (5-3, KenPom: 36, NET: 77)

    While I believe Florida State will eventually be a tournament team, there's just not much of an argument for the Seminoles to be in the field right now. They lost by 16 to Florida, got destroyed by 28 at Purdue and then lost their ACC home opener to Syracuse. They better turn a corner soon, because there aren't many quality wins to be found in the ACC this year.

           

    Fourth Team Out: Memphis Tigers (5-3, KenPom: 35, NET: 65)

    Memphis was our No. 9 overall seed two weeks ago, but the Tigers have looked just plain bad in consecutive losses to Iowa State, Georgia and Ole Miss. They have enough NBA talent on the roster to compete for a title, but only if they start playing together, unselfishly and less sloppily. The lack of a point guard may well keep Emoni Bates, Jalen Duren, Penny Hardaway, Larry Brown and Rasheed Wallace out of the dance.

            

    Fifth Team Out: Wyoming Cowboys (8-0, KenPom: 108, NET: 12)

    Did I actually consider Wyoming for an at-large spot? No. But there are 12 remaining undefeated teams, and the other 11 are in the projected field. It would be malpractice to not at least mention the Cowboys. And if they happen to win at Arizona on Wednesday and/or win the Diamond Head Classic later this month, we'll talk.

East Region (Philadelphia)

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    Wisconsin's Johnny Davis
    Wisconsin's Johnny DavisHakim Wright Sr./Associated Press

    Greenville, South Carolina

    No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Princeton/Norfolk State
    No. 8 Seton Hall vs. No. 9 Oklahoma

    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

    No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 13 Ohio
    No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 UAB

    San Diego, California

    No. 3 Arizona vs. No. 14 New Mexico State
    No. 6 Michigan State vs. No. 11 Texas A&M

    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

    No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Navy
    No. 7 San Francisco vs. No. 10 Michigan

           

    New to the Field: Wisconsin Badgers (7-1, KenPom: 27, NET: 18)

    At the time of our first in-season bracket projection, Wisconsin was 2-1 with wins over lowly St. Francis (NY) and Green Bay.

    Since then, the Badgers have won the Maui Invitational (in Las Vegas) for neutral-site victories against Texas A&M, Houston and Saint Mary's, they won at Georgia Tech in the ACC-B1G Challenge and they exploded for 89 points in an impressive win over Marquette.

    Yeah, I'd say that's a fine way to go from "not in the field" to "projected No. 5 seed" in the matter of 15 days. Breakout sophomore Johnny Davis is a strong early candidate for first-team All-American, and the veteran leadership of fifth-year senior Brad Davison has proved invaluable for the otherwise young Badgers.

    Two big games against Indiana (home) and Ohio State (away) this week to potentially soar even higher up the overall seed list.

              

    On the Rise: San Francisco Dons (9-0, KenPom: 34, NET: 32)

    San Francisco has not been to the NCAA tournament since 1998, and it has not gotten there as a single-digit seed since earning a No. 9 in 1982.

    If you're skeptical about this hot start, that's understandable.

    But the Dons sure look like the real deal, already boasting wins over UAB, Davidson and Nevada, plus a 21-point shellacking of UNLV over the weekend. They have three fifth-year seniors and a sixth-year senior in the starting lineup, the most noteworthy of whom is point guard Jamaree Bouyea. He hit eight triples against UNLV and has done a sensational job of leading a team that really took advantage of the blanket extra year of eligibility.

    (Because you are, no doubt, wondering: San Francisco at Gonzaga on Jan. 6; Gonzaga at San Francisco on Feb. 24.)

             

    Fading Fast: Michigan Wolverines (5-3, KenPom: 17, NET: 63)

    When Michigan lost by two to Seton Hall, it was an off shooting night and a late collapse against a respectable foe, right?

    When Michigan lost by 18 to Arizona, that just cemented Arizona as being back as a contender, right?

    But when Michigan was held to 51 points in a blowout loss to a North Carolina team that had been awful on defense through the first three weeks of the season, that was a major red flag that something's not right with the Wolverines.

    DeVante' Jones hasn't been anywhere near the transfer portal blessing at point guard that Mike Smith was last year. Freshman Caleb Houstan hasn't come close to living up to the hype as a possible top-10 pick in the 2022 NBA draft. And scoring, in general, has been much more of a struggle than we're used to seeing from Michigan.

    There's plenty of time to right the ship, but this hasn't been the start anyone was expecting.

Midwest Region (Chicago)

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    Colorado State's David Roddy
    Colorado State's David RoddyTony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Indianapolis, Indiana

    No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 Nicholls State/Texas Southern
    No. 8 Florida vs. No. 9 Providence

    Buffalo, New York

    No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 Weber State
    No. 5 Connecticut vs. No. 12 Belmont

    Portland, Oregon

    No. 3 USC vs. No. 14 Oakland
    No. 6 Iowa vs. No. 11 West Virginia

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 Hofstra
    No. 7 Colorado State vs. No. 10 Wake Forest

           

    New to the Field: Wake Forest Demon Deacons (8-1, KenPom: 59, NET: 31)

    There have been considerably more shocking results this season, but Wake Forest's 80-61 road win over Virginia Tech this past Saturday was a major developmentespecially considering it came on an afternoon when leading scorer Alondes Williams managed just 10 points and committed six turnovers.

    In Williams' stead, veteran transfers Jake LaRavia, Dallas Walton and Khadim Sy were huge in leading Wake Forest to its first 8-1 start since 2008-09.

    The Demon Deacons also picked up an overtime win over Northwestern in the ACC-B1G Challenge. That's not a particularly impressive outcome for most teams, but hey, Northwestern is in the KenPom Top 40 and Wake Forest entered this season with just one such victory in the past three seasons. Steve Forbes might have something brewing in Winston-Salem.

            

    On the Rise: Colorado State Rams (9-0, KenPom: 41, NET: 27)

    You're not going to find many better one-two punches in this college basketball season than Colorado State's Isaiah Stevens and David Roddy.

    In the 14-point win over Creighton in the Paradise Jam, Stevens had 17 points and 11 assists while Roddy went off for 36 points. In the 16-point victory over Saint Mary's on Saturday, they combined for 33 points, nine rebounds, six assists and five steals.

    The quest for perfection is likely to come to an end either this coming weekend against Mississippi State or on Dec. 21 when the Rams face Alabama in Birmingham. But with Stevens and Roddy leading the way, they should be headed for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013.

             

    Fading Fast: Florida Gators (6-2, KenPom: 19, NET: 22)

    All Florida had to do Monday night was win a home game against 0-7 Texas Southern and the Gators would have been straddling the No. 4/No. 5 seed lines in this projection.

    Considering they were 23.5-point favorites, we weren't asking for much.

    Instead, they got pummeled 69-54 by the Tigers on a night when the Gators could buy neither a bucket nor a rebound, and they drop all the way down to our bottom No. 8 seed.

    Even that feels generous after what has to be the most embarrassing loss this program has suffered at least since the home game against Jacksonville in December 2010. That team rallied for a No. 2 seed and a trip to the Elite Eight, but let's see how this one responds.

South Region (San Antonio)

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    Iowa State's Gabe Kalscheur
    Iowa State's Gabe KalscheurCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Fort Worth, Texas

    No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Campbell
    No. 8 BYU vs. No. 9 St. Bonaventure

    Buffalo, New York

    No. 4 Illinois vs. No. 13 Iona
    No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 12 South Dakota State

    Fort Worth, Texas

    No. 3 Houston vs. No. 14 Vermont
    No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Marquette/Utah State

    Greenville, South Carolina

    No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 15 Liberty
    No. 7 Iowa State vs. No. 10 Saint Mary's

            

    New to the Field: Iowa State Cyclones (8-0, KenPom: 65, NET: 20)

    Two weeks ago, we had no idea what to make of Iowa State's 4-0 start. The Cyclones were expected to be the worst team in the Big 12 this season, and it was a little difficult to get excited about home wins over Kennesaw State, Alabama State and Grambling State.

    But then they went to Brooklyn for the NIT Season Tip-Off and rather shockingly came away with victories over Xavier and Memphis, both by double digits. Penn State transfer Izaiah Brockington scored 30 in the former; Minnesota transfer Gabe Kalscheur went for 30 in the latter. They also picked up an impressive road win over Creighton this past weekend to improve to 8-0.

    KenPom hasn't fully bought into the Cyclones yet, largely because there are still preseason projections baked into those metrics and Iowa State was a 2-22 disaster last year. But if they can win the home game against Iowa this Thursday, they will very likely enter Big 12 play with a zero in the loss column.

            

    On the Rise: North Carolina Tar Heels (6-2, KenPom: 29, NET: 26)

    At the time of our previous bracket projection, North Carolina had just lost back-to-back games to Purdue and Tennessee, and the latter got out of hand for a 17-point Volunteers blowout. It was UNC's fourth consecutive game allowing at least 83 points, which made it feel like the Heels could be headed for the bubble in a hurry.

    In the three games since then, though, they've allowed just 55.3 points and had an average scoring margin of 19.0 points over UNC Asheville, Michigan and Georgia Tech.

    Have they actually improved on defense or did they just run into a few teams at the right time? The Dec. 18 showdown with UCLA in Las Vegas should help answer that one. But with the way they've been shooting from the perimeter this season (43.3 percent), they're well equipped to win some shootouts if the D does regress.

            

    Fading Fast: St. Bonaventure Bonnies (7-1, KenPom: 42, NET: 88)

    The Bonnies had been playing with fire through the first few weeks of the season in come-from-behind wins over Siena, Canisius, Boise State and Clemson, and they finally got burned in a home loss to Northern Iowa.

    They also blew an 11-point lead in the final three minutes of Saturday's game against Buffalo, though they were able to win that one on a last-second triple by Jalen Adaway.

    St. Bonaventure is probably still the best team from the A-10, but all these close calls against mediocre foes have done little to instill confidence. Those results also make us wonder if the Bonnies are going to get smoked in their upcoming neutral-site games against Connecticut and Virginia Tech.

West Region (San Francisco)

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    Louisville's Malik Williams
    Louisville's Malik WilliamsIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Portland, Oregon

    No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Wagner
    No. 8 Xavier vs. No. 9 Indiana

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    No. 4 Texas vs. No. 13 UC Irvine
    No. 5 LSU vs. No. 12 Minnesota/Wichita State

    Indianapolis, Indiana

    No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 14 Chattanooga
    No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Louisville

    San Diego, California

    No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 15 Texas State
    No. 7 Texas Tech vs. No. 10 Loyola-Chicago

            

    New to the Field: Louisville Cardinals (6-2, KenPom: 39, NET: 53)

    After suffering a bad home loss to Furman in the first week of the season, Louisville has rebounded nicely in recent weeksboth literally and figuratively. The Cardinals won neutral-site games against Mississippi State and Maryland, as well as a road game against NC State. And between those three games, they were plus-51 on the glass with senior big man Malik Williams leading that charge.

    Louisville did also lose at Michigan State in the ACC-B1G Challenge, but there's no shame in that result. Overall, a major step in the right direction over the past two weeks, as the Cardinals are perhaps starting to emerge as one of the top challengers to Duke in the ACC. The big annual showdown with Kentucky will be in Lexington on Dec. 22.

            

    On the Rise: LSU Tigers (8-0, KenPom: 15, NET: 2)

    The jury's still out on LSU, which has not yet faced a KenPom Top 50 opponent and needed overtime to survive its Emerald Coast Classic opening-round game against Penn State. But the Tigers are 8-0, and it looks as though Will Wade finally transplanted some of that VCU HAVOC down to the bayou.

    Per KenPom, the Tigers lead the nation in steal percentage and rank fourth in block percentage, averaging 12.5 per game of the former and 5.6 of the latter. Cincinnati transfer Tari Eason and sophomore Mwani Wilkinson have been the leaders of that defensive intensity for a Tigers team allowing just 53.8 points per game.

    We won't need to wait long into SEC play to find out how legitimate this team is, though. LSU's first seven league games are: at Auburn, vs. Kentucky, vs. Tennessee, at Florida, vs. Arkansas, at Alabama, at Tennessee. Yikes.

            

    Fading Fast: Texas Tech Red Raiders (6-1, KenPom: 20, NET: 38)

    Perhaps "fading fast" isn't a fair assessment of the Red Raiders. They've only suffered one loss and they're still comfortably in the KenPom Top 25. But that one loss (at Providence) was the only game they've played against a top-200 opponent, so, essentially, they've failed their only litmus test thus far.

    Texas Tech has two massive opportunities coming up in the next two weeks, though. It'll face Tennessee at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night and Gonzaga in Phoenix on Dec. 18. Winning either would be huge. Losing both would lead to season-long questions about this nonconference strength of schedule.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Purdue's Jaden Ivey
    Purdue's Jaden IveyMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    No. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs (7-2, KenPom: 1, NET: 8)

    Gonzaga remaining on the No. 1 seed line with two losses might be a bit controversial. However, the Zags are still No. 1 on KenPom and, frankly, there aren't any other great candidates for this spot right now.

    UCLA is our No. 5 overall seed, and the Bruins got smoked by Gonzaga. Alabama is at No. 6 and did just beat Gonzaga, but the Crimson Tide also lost to Iona and their second-best win was against Drake. At least Gonzaga has two quality wins (UCLA and Texas) and no bad losses.

    The SEC does incredibly have six teams in our top 18 right now, though, as well as nine total teams in the projected field. If anyone manages to go 14-4 or better in that league, it is going to have a nearly undeniable argument for a spot on the top seed line.

             

    No. 3 Duke Blue Devils (7-1, KenPom: 7, NET: 10)

    The last time we saw Duke, it went ice cold in the second half of a meltdown loss at Ohio State. Hard to believe a team with this much talent could be held to 13 points for more than 16 minutes by a team that needed a last-second miracle to win its season opener against Akron, but that's precisely what happened thanks to a combination of foul trouble and sub-par shooting.

    But a road loss to a projected No. 6 seed isn't a big deal when it's your only loss and you already have neutral-site victories over Gonzaga and Kentucky. If the Blue Devils drop more than a couple of games against an ACC slate in which they are the only team currently in the KenPom Top 25, though, that'll be another story.

             

    No. 2 Baylor Bears (8-0, KenPom: 3, NET: 6)

    The reigning national champions thrived in the Battle 4 Atlantis, defeating Arizona State, VCU and Michigan State on consecutive days. The Bears then came home and destroyed poor Arkansas-Pine Bluff by a 45-point margintheir fifth win by at least 27 points already this season.

    Up next is a big Sunday showdown with Villanova, followed the next weekend by a road trip to "struggling mightily thus far but capable of pulling off the upset" Oregon. If the Bears can get through those two games, they'll carry an undefeated record into January once again.

            

    No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers (8-0, KenPom: 2, NET: 1)

    Purdue was our No. 4 overall seed two weeks ago, but it has since blown out Florida State and took care of business against Iowa while our previous top three teams (Gonzaga, Kansas and UCLA) each suffered at least one loss.

    While I can hardly imagine anyone going 20-0 against a Big Ten gauntlet, this offense does feel borderline unstoppable. Perhaps Iowa exposed some issues with its full-court pressure in the second half against a Boilermakers team that doesn't have a true/conventional point guard, or maybe Purdue was just taken aback by Iowa's playing with some give-a-darn on defense for a change. Something to keep an eye on over the next couple of weeks against Rutgers, NC State and Butler.

Seeding by Conference

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    San Francisco's Jamaree Bouyea
    San Francisco's Jamaree BouyeaYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    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 (2): 9. Houston; 47. Wichita State; 72. Memphis

    ACC (4): 3. Duke; 24. North Carolina; 40. Wake Forest; 41. Louisville; 69. Virginia Tech; 71. Florida State

    Big 12 (7): 2. Baylor; 7. Kansas; 14. Texas; 25. Texas Tech; 27. Iowa State; 33. Oklahoma; 43. West Virginia

    Big East (6): 8. Villanova; 20. Connecticut; 29. Seton Hall; 30. Xavier; 36. Providence; 44. Marquette

    Big Ten (9): 1. Purdue; 15. Illinois; 19. Wisconsin; 21. Michigan State; 22. Iowa; 23. Ohio State; 35. Indiana; 38. Michigan; 46. Minnesota

    Mountain West (2): 26. Colorado State; 45. Utah State; 73. Wyoming

    Pac-12 (3): 5. UCLA; 10. Arizona; 12. USC; 70. Washington State

    SEC (8): 6. Alabama; 11. Arkansas; 13. Kentucky; 16. Tennessee; 17. LSU; 18. Auburn; 32. Florida; 42. Texas A&M

    West Coast (4): 4. Gonzaga; 28. San Francisco; 31. BYU; 37. Saint Mary's

    Other (23): 34. St. Bonaventure; 39. Loyola-Chicago; 48. UAB; 49. Belmont; 50. South Dakota State; 51. UC Irvine; 52. Ohio; 53. Iona; 54. Weber State; 55. Chattanooga; 56. New Mexico State; 57. Vermont; 58. Oakland; 59. Navy; 60. Liberty; 61. Texas State; 62. Hofstra; 63. Wagner; 64. Campbell; 65. Princeton; 66. Norfolk State; 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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