2022 Men's NCAA Tournament Bracket: February 8 Projection of the Field of 68
Kentucky has been on one heck of a tear over the past month, and its latest road win over Alabama (coupled with Kansas demolishing Baylor and then losing to Texas) pushed John Calipari's guys up to the projected No. 1 seed line for the 2022 men's NCAA tournament. The Wildcats are joined by Auburn, Gonzaga and Arizona atop the brackets.
Despite barely escaping with a 74-72 win at Georgia on Saturday, Auburn comfortably remains the No. 1 overall seed. Gonzaga, which has won its past 10 games by an average margin of 31.3 points, is a close second.
Further down the seed list, Creighton and Notre Dame rejoin the field, replacing San Diego State and Stanford. But with a little over a month remaining until Selection Sunday, a lot can and will still change.
Here's our best guess at what the brackets would look like if the season ended today.
For each of the four regions, we'll discuss one team in better shape than it was one week ago and another that—though 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 they are. At the end is a list of overall seeds by conference as a handy reference guide.
One quick "glossary" note before we dive in: 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 the 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).
Last 5 In
One disclaimer: I always award the projected auto bids to the team in each conference with the best predictive metrics, not necessarily the team with the best league record. That's primarily relevant in the leagues headed for just one bid, but it does impact Conference USA, where 8-2 UAB is our projected auto bid and 10-1 North Texas is on the bubble.
Last Team In: West Virginia Mountaineers
13-9, NET: 63, RES: 53.0, QUAL: 53.3
West Virginia has lost seven consecutive games, but the potential saving grace is that all seven came against projected tournament teams. The Mountaineers are 2-8 vs. Quadrant 1 (wins over UAB and Connecticut) and have suffered just one loss outside the top half of Q1 (vs. Oklahoma). At a certain point, though, you have to stop stockpiling "quality losses." They'll host Iowa State and play at both Oklahoma State and Kansas State before our next projection, and they'll need to win at least two of those to stay in the mix.
Second-to-Last In: Creighton Bluejays
13-8, NET: 74, RES: 53.0, QUAL: 74.3
Creighton was our first team out one week ago, moved into the field with a road win over Connecticut on Tuesday (its fourth Q1 win of the year) and then dropped right back to the cut line with a 19-point loss to Seton Hall on Friday. The Bluejays had better not slip up in the next 10 days, though. Anything less than a 4-0 record against Butler, Georgetown (twice) and DePaul would knock them out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Third-to-Last In: North Carolina Tar Heels
16-7, NET: 42, RES: 41.5, QUAL: 37.7
After getting trounced at home by Duke, it sure doesn't feel like the Tar Heels belong in the tournament. The 0-7 record against Quadrant 1 opponents does an awful lot to support that feeling. But North Carolina is top-50 in all six metrics and has yet to suffer a non-Q1 loss. It reminds me of Georgia's resume in 2014-15, when the Bulldogs went 0-6 vs. RPI top 50 yet still somehow got a No. 10 seed. Some years there just aren't 36 deserving at-large teams. But unless they plan to win the rematch at Duke to end the regular season, the Tar Heels likely need to win every remaining game until then to stay in the projected field.
Fourth-to-Last In: BYU Cougars
17-8, NET: 45, RES: 46.0, QUAL: 55.0
BYU has lost four straight games to plummet onto the bubble. Narrow road losses to Santa Clara and Pacific damaged the Cougars' resume, and home losses to San Francisco (by 14) and Gonzaga (by 33) hurt the eyes. But they still have four Quadrant 1 wins and nine wins against the top two Quadrants. Thus, if they win the remaining four games against Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine (two each) and don't completely embarrass themselves at Saint Mary's, they might be OK.
Fifth-to-Last In: Oklahoma Sooners
13-10, NET: 46, RES: 64.5, QUAL: 43.3
Following losses in eight of its past 10 games, Oklahoma has the dubious "honor" of being the first legitimate at-large candidate to reach double-digit losses. It's likely to get even darker before the dawn, as the Sooners' next five games are against Texas Tech (twice), Kansas, Texas and Iowa State. It's make-or-break time for a team that is 2-8 vs. Quadrant 1. Oklahoma probably needs to go at least 2-3 during that stretch to keep its at-large pulse.
First 5 Out
First Team Out: San Diego State Aztecs
13-6, NET: 54, RES: 51.5, QUAL: 40.7
The good news is a loss to Colorado State on Friday ended up not being a Quality metrics killer. The Aztecs trailed 47-27 midway through the second half before storming back for a one-point road loss to a projected tournament team. That was huge. But the bad news is they were my last team in that morning, they did still lose that game and they ended up getting leapfrogged by Notre Dame. SDSU absolutely must win its games against San Jose State and Air Force this week.
Second Team Out: Florida Gators
15-8, NET: 44, RES: 53.0, QUAL: 37.7
Hard to have a worse 2-0 week than the one Florida just had, winning by one at Missouri and needing overtime to win at home against Ole Miss. But a bad 2-0 week is still pretty good. The Gators still only have one quality win (Ohio State in November), a very bad loss (Texas Southern) and two not-great losses (Ole Miss and Maryland), but the overall resume is decent. Three massive opportunities remain before the SEC tournament: at Kentucky this Saturday, vs. Auburn next Saturday, vs. Kentucky on March 5.
Third Team Out: Saint Louis Billikens
16-6, NET: 53, RES: 52.5, QUAL: 45.0
Saturday's Dayton at Saint Louis clash was a "Winner moves into the First Five Out; Loser vanishes until further notice" game, and the Billikens won it by double digits. Saint Louis now has wins over Boise State, Iona, Richmond and Dayton to go along with close calls against Auburn (74-70), UAB (77-72) and Belmont (64-59). Back-to-back games against St. Bonaventure this Friday and Monday could vault SLU into next week's projected field.
Fourth Team Out: Belmont Bruins
20-5, NET: 41, RES: 54.5, QUAL: 50.7
Talk about survive and advance. Belmont stormed back from a 59-39 second-half deficit at Tennessee Tech to escape with an overtime win Saturday night. A loss there would have knocked the Bruins out of the conversation for good, but they still have a decent chance for an at-large bid. If they end up going 0-3 (including OVC championship) against Murray State, though, they'll be aggressively rooting against all potential bid thieves.
Fifth Team Out: North Texas Mean Green
17-4, NET: 50, RES: 51.0, QUAL: 71.0
North Texas has won 15 of its past 16 games. None of them were great victories, but winning at Wichita State, at Louisiana Tech and against Drake on a neutral court isn't too shabby. Similar to Belmont, if the Mean Green goes 0-3 against UAB (already 0-1; road game on Feb. 19), it might not be enough.
Also Considered (in alphabetical order): Florida State, Mississippi State, SMU, Stanford, VCU, Virginia
East Region (Philadelphia)
No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 16 Navy / Texas Southern
No. 8 Murray State vs. No. 9 TCU
No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 13 South Dakota State
No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 UAB
No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 14 Towson
No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 11 Oregon
No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 15 Liberty
No. 7 Colorado State vs. No. 10 Miami
On the Rise: Colorado State Rams (Up Two Seed Lines)
17-3, NET: 40, RES: 33.0, QUAL: 60.0
Colorado State improves from our top No. 9 seed to our bottom No. 7 seed, so it's not exactly a meteoric rise. And it's mostly a product of A) losses by Indiana, Miami and TCU, and B) correcting the slight overreaction of dropping the Rams a seed line for losing at Wyoming (in overtime) last Monday.
Still, beating San Diego State—less than a month after losing by 30 to the Aztecs—was a key win that kept Colorado State from back-sliding toward the bubble.
The Rams' work is nowhere near done, though. They still have two games against Boise State, home games against Wyoming and Fresno State and road games against Utah State, Nevada, UNLV and New Mexico. Not a single one of those eight games is a gimme, and it's reasonable to estimate that each loss would cost them a seed line.
Fading Fast: Miami Hurricanes (Down Two Seed Lines)
16-7, NET: 73, RES: 35.5, QUAL: 73.3
Whereas Colorado State's two-seed line move was only five spots on the overall seed list, Miami dropped 11 spots from our top No. 8 seed to our bottom No. 10 seed following a home loss to Notre Dame and a never-even-close loss at Virginia.
The Hurricanes now have five losses to teams not in the projected field, although none of the five are that far removed from the conversation. (A November home loss to UCF is easily the worst of the bunch.) They also have that fantastic road win over Duke, a blowout win over North Carolina and noteworthy victories over Wake Forest, North Texas and Virginia Tech.
That said, Miami is back on the bubble, and without much opportunity to change that. Its road game against Wake Forest this Saturday is massive, because the rest of the schedule consists of (based on current NET rankings) three Quadrant 2 games and four Quadrant 3 games. If they don't beat the Demon Deacons, they darn near must win all of the other seven games.
Midwest Region (Chicago)
Greenville, South Carolina
No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 16 Norfolk State / Nicholls State
No. 8 Davidson vs. No. 9 Wake Forest
Buffalo, New York
No. 4 Providence vs. No. 13 Chattanooga
No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Iona
No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Oakland
No. 6 Saint Mary's vs. No. 11 Arkansas
Fort Worth, Texas
No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 15 UC Irvine
No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 10 Wyoming
On the Rise: Wyoming Cowboys (Up Two Seed Lines)
19-3, NET: 30, RES: 26.0, QUAL: 66.3
Good luck finding a bubble team that had a better seven-day stretch than the Wyoming Cowboys.
Last Monday's home win over Colorado State pushed the Cowboys just barely into the projected field for the first time all season. But they didn't stop there. They also handed Boise State its first loss in more than two months and then picked up a Quadrant 1 road win over Fresno State.
At this point, Wyoming could afford to lose Tuesday's home game to Utah State and still be in a position to dance. It would, of course, be better if the Cowboys didn't let that one slip away, because they need to go at least 6-3, maybe even 7-2 the rest of the way in order to remain in great shape heading into the Mountain West tournament. But it's wild how quickly Wyoming went from the wrong side of the bubble to pretty comfortably in.
Fading Fast: Michigan State Spartans (Down Two Seed Lines)
17-5, NET: 23, RES: 14.5, QUAL: 21.0
Would the real Michigan State please stand up?
In the past few weeks, the Spartans lost at home to Northwestern, lost to an Illinois team playing without both Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo, got blown out at Rutgers and barely won at Maryland. They also smoked Wisconsin at the Kohl Center and beat Michigan by 16.
Similar to Alabama, Michigan State seems to oscillate between "could win it all" and "probably going to be upset in the first round," and it is finally catching up with this team's projected seed. It's one thing to lose at Rutgers, but losing by 21 is a tough pill to swallow. However, if they take care of business at home against both Wisconsin and Indiana this week, the Spartans will be right back in the mix for a No. 3 seed in a hurry.
South Region (San Antonio)
San Diego, California
No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 16 Longwood
No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 San Francisco
Buffalo, New York
No. 4 Marquette vs. No. 13 New Mexico State
No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 BYU / West Virginia
Greenville, South Carolina
No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 Vermont
No. 6 USC vs. No. 11 Oklahoma
No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 South Alabama
No. 7 LSU vs. No. 10 Iowa
On the Rise: San Francisco Dons (Up Three Seed Lines)
19-5, NET: 32, RES: 36.5, QUAL: 41.0
Admittedly, I jumped the gun in dropping San Francisco all the way into a play-in game in last week's projection. After the Dons melted down in that home loss to Saint Mary's two weeks ago, I started peeking ahead at the rest of their schedule to try to get an idea of whether they would ultimately make the tournament.
I may have seeded them in that light as opposed to just judging their resume at that moment.
But thanks to a 14-point road win over BYU this past week—and a whole bunch of losses by other bubble teams—San Francisco is back in a good position for a bid.
The Dons now have three Quadrant 1 wins, and their lone bad loss (by one against Grand Canyon on a "neutral" court in Phoenix) was still a relatively acceptable Quadrant 2 result.
They have seven regular-season games remaining, including a home game against Gonzaga and a road test at Saint Mary's. Even if they lose both of those, though, they should be dancing as long as they hold serve in the other five.
Fading Fast: LSU Tigers (Down Two Seed Lines)
16-7, NET: 16, RES: 21.5, QUAL: 16.3
This is our third consecutive week highlighting LSU as a team down on its luck. The Tigers have slid from a No. 1 seed to a No. 7 seed in less than a month's time, which is to be expected when you go 1-6 with a bunch of questionable missteps along the way.
LSU still has an impressive resume, which explains why it was a projected No. 1 seed not too long ago. The Tigers are top-25 in all six metrics with four Quadrant 1 wins. But losing at home to Ole Miss and at Vanderbilt in the span of seven days was...ill-advised.
If they don't bounce back soon, things are going to get bubbly for the Tigers. Their next four games are: at Texas A&M, vs. Mississippi State, vs. Georgia and at South Carolina—none of which are in the projected field.
West Region (San Francisco)
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Princeton
No. 8 Seton Hall vs. No. 9 Loyola-Chicago
No. 4 Illinois vs. No. 13 Toledo
No. 5 Texas vs. No. 12 North Carolina / Creighton
San Diego, California
No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 14 Wagner
No. 6 Alabama vs. No. 11 Notre Dame
Fort Worth, Texas
No. 2 Houston vs. No. 15 Weber State
No. 7 Xavier vs. No. 10 Boise State
On the Rise: Notre Dame Fighting Irish (New to the Field)
15-7, NET: 61, RES: 47.0, QUAL: 60.7
After a home loss against Duke last Monday, Notre Dame rallied impressively for road wins over both Miami and North Carolina State, surging back into the projected field for the first time since mid-November.
The Fighting Irish still don't have a great resume. They have as many wins against projected tournament teams (Kentucky, Miami and North Carolina) as they have losses to teams not currently in the field (Boston College, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech). They're actually in worse shape on KenPom now (64th) than they were before the Dec. 11 win over Kentucky (51st).
But when you're 13-3 in your past 16 games with all three of those losses coming in Quadrant 1 games, you're liable to find yourself in the mix for a bid.
Notre Dame should win all five of its remaining home games (Louisville, Boston College, Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh). How well it fares in its three road games (Clemson, Wake Forest and Florida State) will determine its dancing status.
Fading Fast: Xavier Musketeers (Down Two Seed Lines)
16-6, NET: 21, RES: 25.5, QUAL: 26.0
Xavier has just two wins over teams currently projected for a No. 11 seed or better: a nine-point home win over Marquette in December and a six-point home win over Ohio State in November. Neither one is a top half of Quadrant 1 result at the moment.
That was fine when the Musketeers also had zero losses to teams currently outside the top six seed lines, but they messed around this week and just barely won a home game against Butler before losing a home game to DePaul—which had lost nine of its previous 10 games.
As a result, Xavier's Resume metrics dropped about 10 spots, and it slid two seed lines in advance of a big week against Seton Hall (road) and Connecticut (home). Lose both of those games, and Xavier may start creeping toward the bubble.
The Race for the No. 1 Seeds
Normally we use this space to explain our ranking of Nos. 1-4 on the overall seed list. But with Auburn (22-1, NET: 7, RES: 1.5, QUAL: 9.0) clearly at No. 1 overall and Gonzaga (19-2, NET: 1, RES: 10.0, QUAL: 1.0) clearly at No. 2, trying to justify the order of Nos. 3-7 seems like a better use of this space.
So, here are the five teams currently duking it out for the final two spots on the top line.
No. 7 Baylor Bears (19-4, NET: 9, RES: 7.0, QUAL: 6.7)—Baylor has lost four of its past eight games, and getting blown out 83-59 at Kansas sure did sting. However, the Bears are still top-10 in all the metrics with a mighty impressive 7-3 record vs. Quadrant 1. The selection committee will likely take into consideration that they have been short-handed over the past month. If Baylor gets healthy and closes strong, a No. 1 seed is absolutely still on the table.
No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks (19-4, NET: 8, RES: 1.5, QUAL: 7.0)—After that blowout of Baylor, Kansas was going to climb to No. 3 overall if it had been able to win at Texas on Monday night. Instead, the Longhorns closed the game on a 7-0 run to bump the Jayhawks to the No. 2 seed line. Nonetheless, Kansas is still very much in the mix. They entered play on Monday with eight Quadrant 1 wins, plus a home win over Iowa State that's just barely on the wrong side of the Q1/Q2 cutline.
No. 5 Purdue Boilermakers (20-3, NET: 5, RES: 5.5, QUAL: 5.3)—Purdue has six Quadrant 1 wins and 10 victories over the top two Quadrants, which is better than either Arizona or Kentucky can claim. The Boilermakers also have the most efficient offense in the nation. But I'm waiting to see what happens in the rematch with Illinois on Tuesday before pushing them back up to the top line. Should they go 3-0 this week against Illinois, Michigan and Maryland, it's likely they leapfrog the two sets of Wildcats currently in front of them.
No. 4 Kentucky Wildcats (19-4, NET: 4, RES: 8.5, QUAL: 4.0)—We try to not let recency bias factor into the seeding, but how can it not with Kentucky? In the past 24 days, the Wildcats dismantled Tennessee at home, slaughtered Kansas in Lawrence, won by double digits at Alabama and arguably would have won at Auburn if TyTy Washington Jr. hadn't left with an ankle injury in the first half. They have skyrocketed into the top 10 in all the metrics and now have three wins by at least 11 points against the top half of Quadrant 1.
No. 3 Arizona Wildcats (20-2, NET: 3, RES: 5.5, QUAL: 3.0)—Arizona is the toughest nut to crack. We know the Wildcats' metrics are a bit inflated thanks to winning all of their Q3 and Q4 games by double digits, but that's also exactly how we expect the best teams to handle Q3/Q4 opponents. After home wins over UCLA and USC in the last week, the resume finally has a decent number of quality wins to go along with those great metrics. They should win every game left on their schedule to ultimately finish on the top line.
Seeding by Conference
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.
ACC (5): 11. Duke; 36. Wake Forest; 40. Miami; 43. Notre Dame; 46. North Carolina
Big 12 (8): 6. Kansas; 7. Baylor; 12. Texas Tech; 17. Texas; 24. Iowa State; 33. TCU; 44. Oklahoma; 48. West Virginia
Big East (7): 9. Villanova; 13. Providence; 15. Marquette; 26. Connecticut; 27. Xavier; 30. Seton Hall; 47. Creighton
Big Ten (7): 5. Purdue; 10. Wisconsin; 16. Illinois; 19. Michigan State; 20. Ohio State; 29. Indiana; 39. Iowa;
Mountain West (3): 28. Colorado State; 37. Wyoming; 38. Boise State; 69. San Diego State
Pac-12 (4): 3. Arizona; 14. UCLA; 23. USC; 42. Oregon
SEC (6): 1. Auburn; 4. Kentucky; 18. Tennessee; 21. Alabama; 25. LSU; 41. Arkansas; 70. Florida
West Coast (4): 2. Gonzaga; 22. Saint Mary's; 34. San Francisco; 45. BYU
Other (24): 8. Houston; 31. Davidson; 32. Murray State; 35. Loyola-Chicago; 49. UAB; 50. Iona; 51. Chattanooga; 52. South Dakota State; 53. New Mexico State; 54. Toledo; 55. Vermont; 56. Wagner; 57. Towson; 58. Oakland; 59. Liberty; 60. Weber State; 61. UC Irvine; 62. South Alabama; 63. Princeton; 64. Longwood; 65. Navy; 66. Texas Southern; 67. Norfolk State; 68. Nicholls State; 71. Saint Louis; 72. Belmont; 73. North Texas
Statistics courtesy of Sports Reference, KenPom and BartTorvik.com and are current through the start of play on Monday, Feb. 7, unless otherwise noted. Records current through the start of play on Tuesday, Feb. 8.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.