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

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystDecember 21, 2021

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

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    Duke's Trevor Keels and Gonzaga's Rasir Bolton
    Duke's Trevor Keels and Gonzaga's Rasir BoltonEllen Schmidt/Associated Press

    For the holiday season, our gift to you is an updated projection of the 2022 men's NCAA tournament field with Baylor, Duke, Gonzaga and Purdue as the current No. 1 seeds.

    No returns or refunds, but arguments are always welcome.

    As things currently stand, the Pac-12 is a three-bid league and the ACC is just barely projected for four, but the Big Ten is picking up that major-conference slack with 10 teams in the field. The West Coast Conference is also still in good shape to get four teams in, although BYU, Saint Mary's and San Francisco will need to get through the next two months either without any terrible losses or with a win over Gonzaga to make up for it. 

    For each of the four regions, we'll discuss one team in much better shape than it was two weeks ago 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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    Memphis' Jalen Duren
    Memphis' Jalen DurenThomas Graning/Associated Press

    Last Team In: Virginia Tech Hokies (8-4, NET: 28, KP: 22)

    Virginia Tech's resume leaves a lot to be desired. However, the metrics adore the Hokies, and, come on, the ACC isn't seriously going to be a three-bid league, right? (The only other ACC teams in this projection are Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest.) VT's 86-49 destruction of St. Bonaventure this past Friday both knocked the Bonnies out of the conversation and pushed the Hokies just over the cut line in advance of back-to-back road games against Duke and UNC.

           

    Second-to-Last In: Northwestern Wildcats (7-2, NET: 42, KP: 36)

    Since our last projection, Northwestern has merely played home games against NJIT and Illinois Springfield. But between all the losses by the likes of Marquette, Utah State and Wichita State and the fact that close November losses to Providence and Wake Forest look even better now than they did two weeks ago, welcome to the field, Wildcats. With Pete Nance leading the way, they should at least be respectable in Big Ten play after going 19-58 the past four seasons.

           

    Third-to-Last In: Memphis Tigers (6-4, NET: 55, KP: 31)

    It's a shame Memphis was unable to play its game against Tennessee this past Saturday because of COVID-19 issues. However, the Tigers did get a huge win over then AP No. 6 Alabama one week ago, putting an end to an embarrassing four-game losing skid. They'll need to be just about flawless in AAC play to hang onto this spot in the field, though, since there simply aren't any quality wins to be found outside of the two games against Houston. 

            

    Fourth-to-Last In: Saint Mary's Gaels (10-3, NET: 53, KP: 39)

    I'm rapidly losing faith in the possibility of a four-bid WCC, as the Saint Mary's resume is falling apart at the seems. Wins away from home over Notre Dame, Oregon and Utah State no longer look as impressive, and the 63-53 neutral-site loss to San Diego State this past Friday may well serve as a mid-major bubble tiebreaker of sorts. The home game against Missouri State this Wednesday is a must-win affair for the Gaels, and they'll probably need to go at least 12-4 in league play to have a case for an at-large bid.

            

    Fifth-to-Last In: San Diego State Aztecs (7-3, NET: 64, KP: 41)

    How's this for bizarre? The Aztecs shot 36.4 percent from inside the arc and 70.0 percent beyond it in the much-needed, aforementioned win over Saint Mary's. That was a huge one for a team that is 0-3 in Quadrant 1 games with losses away from home against BYU, Michigan and USC.

    As far as the NET is concerned, the Mountain West is in great shape to be a multi-bid league. Wyoming, Colorado State and Utah State are all in the top 50 with Fresno State, San Diego State and Boise State hovering in the 60-81 range. Should be quite a few Quadrant 1 opportunities in league play. It's really just a question of which member of that sextet will produce the best case for an at-large bid in a few months. For now, I like SDSU to do so.

First Five Out

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    TCU's Mike Miles
    TCU's Mike MilesTony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    First Team Out: Marquette Golden Eagles (8-4, NET: 65, KP: 74)

    Neither of the recent losses to UCLA and Xavier were bad, but those were major missed opportunities for a team that hasn't gotten much respect from the metrics. November wins over Illinois (home) and West Virginia (neutral) keep the Golden Eagles in the mix, though. Let's see how they fare in the next two weeks of that brutal 20-game Big East slate.

            

    Second Team Out: TCU Horned Frogs (9-1, NET: 61, KP: 62)

    Two weeks ago, TCU was 6-1 with no wins worth mentioning. Since then, victories over Utah, Texas A&M and Georgetown have given the Horned Frogs at least a glimmer of legitimacy. But we are going to find out in a hurry in Big 12 play if this team has any hope of a spot in the field. They play at Kansas and have home games against West Virginia and Baylor within the first eight days of January.

            

    Third Team Out: Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-3, NET: 47, KP: 43)

    Mississippi State has been a trendy "well, we've got to put someone in these play-in games" pick among the couple dozen of us weirdos who do bracketology within the first two months of the season, more so because of their metrics than their results. The Bulldogs are top 50 in both NET and KenPom, but their only Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 2 victory thus far was an overtime game against Richmond in which they blew a 10-point lead in the final five minutes. They'll need to really step up their game once SEC play begins in a week.

            

    Fourth Team Out: UCF Knights (7-2, NET: 45, KP: 48)

    UCF is pretty much the AAC version of Mississippi State: impressive metrics, but no impressive wins. The Knights won at Miami in the opening week of the season, and their best result since then was a three-point home loss to Oklahoma. However, they've got a massive opportunity coming up on Dec. 30 in the form of a home game against Michigan.

            

    Fifth Team Out: Murray State Racers (10-1, NET: 40, KP: 82)

    Could the Ohio Valley be a two-bid league? With both the ACC and Pac-12 struggling to produce viable candidates, maybe. And the odds would increase drastically if the Racers are able to win their road game against Auburn this coming Wednesday. Even without that game, though, they already have a road win over Memphis and just the one not-too-terrible loss to East Tennessee State.

East Region (Philadelphia)

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    Iowa State's Izaiah Brockington
    Iowa State's Izaiah BrockingtonCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Greenville, South Carolina

    No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Nicholls State / Howard
    No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 Oklahoma

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 13 Chattanooga
    No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 Davidson

    Indianapolis, Indiana

    No. 3 Houston vs. No. 14 Oakland
    No. 6 Villanova vs. No. 11 San Diego State

    Fort Worth, Texas

    No. 2 LSU vs. No. 15 Towson
    No. 7 Texas Tech vs. No. 10 Minnesota

              

    On the Rise: Iowa State Cyclones (Up Three Seed Lines)
    11-0, NET: 14, KP: 45

    Iowa State's defensive excellence has to be the biggest surprise in the country through the first six weeks of this season. The Cyclones ranked outside the top 130 in adjusted defensive efficiency in each of the past two years, as did UNLV for each of the past two years and South Dakota State for the three years before that with T.J. Otzelberger as the head coach. Yet, by some miracle, Otzelberger has Iowa State in the top 10 in the nation on defense.

    That elite D was on display in the 73-53 win over Iowa on Dec. 9. I mean, seriously, who holds Iowa to 53 points? Even Virginia allowed 75 to the high-octane Hawkeyes, who are well on their way to a second consecutive season ranking top five in the country in points per game. But the Cyclones shut them down and then held Jackson State to 37 points a few days later.

    Iowa State is still undefeated with wins over Xavier, Memphis, Creighton and Iowa, though KenPom hasn't fully bought in yet. That kept me from seriously considering the Cyclones for a spot in the overall top 10. But if they're able to win the home game against Baylor on New Year's Day, the Cyclones will most likely be a No. 1 seed in our next projection.

            

    Fading Fast: Villanova Wildcats (Down Four Seed Lines)
    7-4, NET: 17, KP: 12

    Within its first 10 games, Villanova played four contests away from home against teams currently in the KenPom top 10. The Wildcats took UCLA to overtime in Pauley Pavilion before losing that one, beat Tennessee and almost beat Purdue on back-to-back days in Connecticut.

    But that early gauntlet appears to have been too much for their short rotation, because they could not buy a bucket in the 57-36 loss at Baylor, nor the subsequent 79-59 loss at Creighton. They shot a combined 10-of-50 from three-point range in those blowout losses.

    There's still plenty of time to turn things around, but it's unusual to see Villanova beaten that soundly twice in a single season, let alone twice in the span of five days.

Midwest Region (Chicago)

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    Xavier's Jack Nunge (24) and Zach Freemantle (32)
    Xavier's Jack Nunge (24) and Zach Freemantle (32)Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Indianapolis, Indiana

    No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 Princeton
    No. 8 West Virginia vs. No. 9 North Carolina

    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

    No. 4 Xavier vs. No. 13 Buffalo
    No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Belmont

    Portland, Oregon

    No. 3 USC vs. No. 14 South Dakota State
    No. 6 Colorado State vs. No. 11 Saint Mary's / Memphis

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 Wagner
    No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 Florida

            

    On the Rise: Xavier Musketeers (Up Four Seed Lines)
    11-1, NET: 11, KP: 23

    I undersold Xavier as a No. 8 seed two weeks ago, but the Musketeers have also been on some kind of a rampage since then.

    The most noteworthy of their blowout victories was the 83-63 game against Cincinnati. Normally one of the better annual rivalries in college basketball, the X-men turned that into a laugher in a hurry, led by Jack Nunge's 31 points and 15 rebounds.

    Also helping Xavier's cause is that the neutral-site loss to Iowa State continues to look more forgivable by the day. At the time, the Cyclones were ranked 111th on KenPom. Now, they're one of six remaining undefeated teams, seeded just barely ahead of Xavier.

    Who could have guessed on Nov. 24 that those two teams would be a combined 22-1 right now?

           

    Fading Fast: North Carolina Tar Heels (Down Three Seed Lines)
    8-3, NET: 49, KP: 37

    Preparing to face UCLA before pivoting to square off with Kentucky instead... well it didn't turn out so great for the Tar Heels, as they were destroyed every which way by the Wildcats in a 98-69 blowout.

    It was UNC's worst margin of defeat since a 90-57 loss to Florida State in January 2012. And it was actually a 35-point game with less than a minute remaining, which would have been UNC's worst loss since a 96-56 beatdown at the hands of Maryland in 2003.

    In the end, it's still just one Quadrant 1 loss, but it was a major missed opportunity for a team whose second-best nonconference win was a home game against Furman. (Though at least the Tar Heels won that game. Louisville did not.) North Carolina might need to go at least 14-6 in ACC play to secure a tournament bid, given how disappointing the league has been aside from Duke.

South Region (San Antonio)

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    Michigan State's Max Christie (5) and Marcus Binhgam (30)
    Michigan State's Max Christie (5) and Marcus Binhgam (30)Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Fort Worth, Texas

    No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Campbell / Texas Southern
    No. 8 BYU vs. No. 9 Michigan

    Buffalo, New York

    No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 UC Irvine
    No. 5 Seton Hall vs. No. 12 Iona

    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

    No. 3 Auburn vs. No. 14 Vermont
    No. 6 Illinois vs. No. 11 Creighton

    San Diego, California

    No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 15 Texas State
    No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 San Francisco

            

    On the Rise: Michigan State Spartans (Up Two Seed Lines)
    9-2, NET: 13, KP: 20

    The Spartans' jump up the seed list was more a product of losses by the teams previously seeded directly ahead of them than it was anything in particular that they did.

    All the same, they held serve by opening Big Ten play with back-to-back, no-drama-necessary wins over Minnesota and Penn State. The road win over the otherwise undefeated Golden Gophers was a nice early feather in the cap for Sparty, considering it lost that game by 25 points last December.

    And what you love to see in both games was a long list of contributors. No Spartan scored more than 15 points in either game, and they currently have nine players averaging at least 5.0 points per game. Michigan State could mess around and win the Big Ten without putting a single player on the all-conference first team.

            

    Fading Fast: San Francisco Dons (Down Three Seed Lines)
    11-1, NET: 36, KP: 34

    Here's the good news: San Francisco is still somewhat comfortably projected to make the NCAA tournament for what would be the first time since 1998. Despite a brutal performance from star guard Jamaree Bouyea (2-of-11 from the field for four points with six turnovers), the Dons were able to eke out a come-from-behind road win over Arizona State on Sunday night to improve to 11-1

    The bad news is they lost to Grand Canyon the previous day, ending their quest to carry an undefeated record into WCC play and removing some of the shine from their resume.

    The Dons do have a nice collection of respectable wins (Davidson, Nevada, UAB, Fresno State and now Arizona State), however, none of those teams currently ranks in the KenPom top 50. They'll need to avoid the potential landmine losses in conference play and also pick up at least one win (probably multiple wins) over the trio of BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Mary's. But that's doable.

West Region (San Francisco)

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    Providence's Nate Watson
    Providence's Nate WatsonFrank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Portland, Oregon

    No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Weber State
    No. 8 Loyola-Chicago vs. No. 9 Arkansas

    Buffalo, New York

    No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 13 New Mexico State
    No. 5 Providence vs. No. 12 UAB

    Greenville, South Carolina

    No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 14 Navy
    No. 6 Texas vs. No. 11 Northwestern / Virginia Tech

    San Diego, California

    No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Liberty
    No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 10 Wake Forest

           

    On the Rise: Providence Friars (Up Four Seed Lines)
    11-1, NET: 31, KP: 48

    As of Sunday morning, Providence was the only team in the country with at least four Quadrant 1 winsa factoid that blew my mind and made me question whether four seed lines was enough of a boost for the Friars.

    The home win over Texas Tech (NET: 30) barely qualifies, and the neutral-site win over Northwestern (NET: 41) isn't much of a resume booster. It's also worth mentioning that Wisconsin was without Johnny Davis and Connecticut was without Adama Sanogo when Providence narrowly won those road games.

    Still, 11-1 with four Quadrant 1 wins is a whole heck of a lot better than anyone was expecting from this team this year. Arizona's Tommy Lloyd and Iowa State's T.J. Otzelberger are the current front-runners for national coach of the year, but Providence's Ed Cooley has officially entered the chat.

             

    Fading Fast: Arkansas Razorbacks (Down Six Seed Lines)
    9-2, NET: 91, KP: 40

    Six seed lines might seem harsh, but Arkansas has plummeted 47 spots in the NET rankings and 17 spots in the KenPom rankings after a 22-point loss to Oklahoma and an eight-point home loss to Hofstra.

    Up until that point, Arkansas was a perfect 9-0, albeit with nothing other than a couple neutral-site victories over Kansas State and Cincinnati to its credit. But considering the Razorbacks were ranked 16th in the preseason AP poll and won those first nine games by an average margin of 16.1 points, it felt like they were a good team that had not yet gotten a chance to prove it.

    Instead, when they finally faced a tournament-caliber opponent, they allowed the Sooners to blow the game wide open with a 25-3 run late in the second half. Then they turned around and allowed 89 points in a loss to Hofstra, which, in fairness, almost beat both Houston and Maryland earlier this season and might be a serious Cinderella candidate if it wins the CAA's auto bid.

    Now, Arkansas has work to do to regain our trust. Even if it wins each of its next five games against Elon, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Missouri, it won't do much to improve this resume.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Baylor's Adam Flagler
    Baylor's Adam FlaglerRay Carlin/Associated Press

    No. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs (9-2, NET: 6, KP: 1)

    It's a tough call between Arizona and Gonzaga for the final No. 1 seed. For now, we're going with Gonzaga, which has faced five KenPom Top 25 teams, beating three of them (Texas, UCLA and Texas Tech) by double digits. But if Arizona wins its Wednesday road game against Tennessee, that would be enough to push the Wildcats ahead of the Bulldogs in the race for the top spot in the West Region.

    Will Gonzaga lose again before the NCAA tournament, though? Even though the WCC is considerably stronger than usual, the Zags should at least win every game between now and early February, when things might finally start to get interesting on the road against BYU (Feb. 5), San Francisco (Feb. 24) and Saint Mary's (Feb. 26).

             

    No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers (10-1, NET: 4, KP: 3)

    The loss to Rutgers and the frantic second-half comeback against NC State led to some major questions about Purdue. Starters Caleb Furst and Isaiah Thompson were both held scoreless in both games, making the Boilermakers mortal even with Trevion Williams, Jaden Ivey and Zach Edey all playing at a high level.

    But things got back to normal for the former No. 1 team in the AP poll when they destroyed Butler 77-48 this past weekend. At one point, Purdue was doubling Butler 72-36 and was averaging 1.53 points per possession. When this offense gets into a groove, it is downright terrifying.

             

    No. 2 Duke Blue Devils (10-1, NET: 8, KP: 6)

    Duke had two weeks off to let the loss to Ohio State fester, and then the Blue Devils destroyed poor South Carolina State, Appalachian State and Elon by a combined margin of 97 points.

    Not a whole lot to take away from games against that level of competition, but the play of AJ Griffin surely bears mentioning. The highly touted freshman suffered a knee injury in October and played sparingly throughout November. However, he averaged 20.0 minutes and 11.7 points in those three mid-December games and might be gearing up to live up to the preseason hype as a possible lottery pick. Keep an eye on how much he plays in Wednesday's game against Virginia Tech.

             

    No. 1 Baylor Bears (10-0, NET: 2, KP: 2)

    In the aftermath of Purdue's loss to Rutgers, all Baylor needed was a one-point win over Villanova to ascend to the projected No. 1 overall seed. Instead, the Bears smoked Villanova by 21, becoming the unanimous No. 1 team in the AP poll and the no-questions-asked No. 1 overall seed.

    The Bears did get a good scare from Oregon late Saturday night, but they went on a tear in the second half with one of those patented Baylor runs full of steals, offensive rebounds and triples.

    That New Year's Day game at Iowa State is going to be one heck of a battle.

Seeding by Conference

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    Arizona's Bennedict Mathurin
    Arizona's Bennedict MathurinRick Scuteri/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): 10. Houston; 44. Memphis; 72. UCF

    ACC (4): 2. Duke; 35. North Carolina; 40. Wake Forest; 46. Virginia Tech

    Big 12 (7): 1. Baylor; 7. Kansas; 13. Iowa State; 22. Texas; 25. Texas Tech; 31. West Virginia; 34. Oklahoma; 70. TCU

    Big East (6): 15. Xavier; 19. Seton Hall; 20. Providence; 21. Villanova; 27. Connecticut; 41. Creighton; 69. Marquette

    Big Ten (10): 3. Purdue; 14. Michigan State; 16. Ohio State; 23. Illinois; 26. Wisconsin; 28. Iowa; 30. Indiana; 33. Michigan; 39. Minnesota; 45. Northwestern

    Mountain West (2): 24. Colorado State; 42. San Diego State

    Pac-12 (3): 5. Arizona; 6. UCLA; 11. USC

    SEC (7): 8. LSU; 9. Alabama; 12. Auburn; 17. Tennessee; 18. Kentucky; 36. Arkansas; 38. Florida; 71. Mississippi State

    West Coast (4): 4. Gonzaga; 29. BYU; 37. San Francisco; 43. Saint Mary's

    Other (23): 32. Loyola-Chicago; 47. Belmont; 48. Davidson; 49. UAB; 50. Iona; 51. Chattanooga; 52. New Mexico State; 53. Buffalo; 54. UC Irvine; 55. South Dakota State; 56. Vermont; 57. Oakland; 58. Navy; 59. Wagner; 60. Towson; 61. Texas State; 62. Liberty; 63. Weber State; 64. Princeton; 65. Campbell; 66. Texas Southern; 67. Nicholls State; 68. Howard; 73. Murray State

                                         

    Statistics courtesy of Sports Reference and KenPom and are current through the start of play on Monday, Dec. 20, 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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