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Bracket Watch: SI’s First Look at the 2022 Projected Men’s Field of 68

Gonzaga is in a familiar spot, but who joins it on the top line? There’s plenty of intrigue as we start looking ahead to March.

We’re less than eight weeks away from Selection Sunday! However hard that may be to believe, it’s officially time to start thinking about who will be in the men’s field of 68 come mid-March. With most teams having played 15-plus games already, there are enough data points out there to make educated guesses as to how the committee would put the field together. So who is in a good place with two months to go and who needs to put some more work in on their résumés? Let’s dive in. 

On the Bubble

Last Four Byes:

Saint Mary's
Wake Forest
Oregon
San Francisco

Last Four In:

Texas A&M
Wyoming
Belmont
Florida

First Four Out:

TCU
Mississippi State
Creighton
Cincinnati

Next Four Out:

Florida State
VCU
Michigan
Arkansas

Right now, the bubble is a relatively friendly one for the mid-majors with at-large hopes. Three Mountain West and three WCC teams earn at-larges, and those conferences are well represented on the bubble for now. Also on the right side looking in as of today is Belmont, which earns a second bid for the OVC in this scenario.

Will this last? That’s to be determined. Mid-majors generally have an edge in January when we start looking at brackets, but the high-major teams that get oodles of opportunities for quality wins slowly but surely build up the résumés that look nicer while mid-majors move through league play. That said, the WCC and Mountain West are in good positions right now because there’s enough quality at the top of each league for the bubble teams to build their résumés. They just have to avoid bad losses. It will be harder for a team like Belmont, whose conference is much weaker, to stick in the field given how few remaining opportunities it has to bolster its résumé. 

* = team is projected to win its conference's automatic bid

West Region

No. 1 Gonzaga* vs. No. 16 Texas A&M-CC*/UNC-Wilmington*
No. 8 Miami* vs. No. 9 Marquette
No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 12 Wyoming/Texas A&M
No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Ohio*
No. 6 UConn vs. No. 11 Murray State*
No. 3 Houston* vs. No. 14 Wagner*
No. 7. Seton Hall vs. No. 10 Wake Forest
No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 15 Princeton*

Right now, the bubble is a relatively friendly one for the mid-majors with at-large hopes. Three Mountain West and three WCC teams earn at-larges, and those conferences are well represented on the bubble for now. Also on the right side looking in as of today is Belmont, which earns a second bid for the OVC in this scenario.

Will this last? That’s to be determined. Mid-majors generally have an edge in January when we start looking at brackets, but the high-major teams that get oodles of opportunities for quality wins slowly but surely build up the résumés that look nicer while mid-majors move through league play. That said, the WCC and Mountain West are in good positions right now because there’s enough quality at the top of each league for the bubble teams to build their credentials. They just have to avoid bad losses. It will be harder for a team like Belmont, whose conference is much weaker, to stick in the field given how few remaining opportunities it has to bolster its résumé. 

Gonzaga guard Julian Strawther

Julian Strawther is one of four Gonzaga players averaging double-figure scoring.

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South Region

No. 1 Auburn* vs. No. 16 Alcorn State*/Norfolk State*
No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 West Virginia
No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Louisiana Tech*
No. 4 Texas Tech vs. No. 13 Oakland*
No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 11 San Francisco
No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 South Dakota State*
No. 7 Texas vs. No. 10 Saint Mary's
No. 2 Villanova* vs. No. 15 Navy*

Auburn claims the second No. 1 seed in a tight battle of résumés with Baylor. That will likely remain close until Selection Sunday, and it’s a significant decision for the committee because the higher seed gets to head to San Antonio for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rather than Chicago or Philadelphia. Both Baylor and Auburn were in the Battle 4 Atlantis, but the teams didn’t meet head to head, which could have been an important data point. For now, the two home losses from Baylor in the last week are enough to drop the Bears below Auburn despite the Tigers’ worse metrics.

This hypothetical region would be loaded, though. Whichever No. 1 (and potentially No. 2 or No. 3) seed gets stuck with Duke in its region will likely feel like it’s been given the hardest possible path. The Blue Devils are the most talented team in the sport, with five potential first-round NBA picks and a neutral-court win over the No. 1 overall team in the field in Gonzaga. But the ACC will provide few opportunities for needle-moving wins, and the Blue Devils already have two losses in conference play. Because of that, their path to a No. 1 seed feels very narrow at this point. 

Midwest Region

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Troy*
No. 8 Iowa vs. No. 9 San Diego State
No. 5 Providence vs. No. 12 Florida/Belmont
No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 13 Chattanooga*
No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 11 Oregon
No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 14 Liberty*
No. 7 BYU vs. No. 10 Davidson*
No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 15 Weber State*

No. 3 seed Kentucky is an interesting team to track in the brackets as we move through the next eight weeks. The Wildcats were between a No. 4 and No. 5 seed before blowing out Tennessee by 28 points this past weekend, which led to significant increases across the board in their predictive metrics. It’s a good reminder that style points matter in the NET era a lot more than they did with the RPI, and if the Wildcats can stack performances like that they can continue to rise in the seed lines between now and March.

Providence earned a No. 5 seed in these projections, which seems fair given what the Friars have on their résumé. A 7–2 record against Q1+Q2 is highly impressive. Critics will point to the fact that Wisconsin was without Johnny Davis and UConn was without Adama Sanogo in the Friars’ two best wins of the year, but I doubt the committee will value player absences all that much. With so many teams impacted by COVID-19 cases at times this year, it seems hard to parse through who is important enough to put an asterisk on a result for. 

East Region

No. 1 Arizona* vs. No. 16 Winthrop*
No. 8 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Colorado State
No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 12 Boise State*
No. 4 Illinois* vs. No. 13 New Mexico State*
No. 6 USC vs. No. 11 Iona*
No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Vermont*
No. 7 Loyola Chicago* vs. No. 10 North Carolina
No. 2 Kansas* vs. No. 15 Cal State Fullerton*

Perhaps the most appetizing part of how this region plays out is that it would set up a potential Mark Few–vs.–Tommy Lloyd Final Four matchup if both No. 1 seeds win their respective regionals. Arizona is right there for a No. 1, buoyed significantly by its No. 2 NET ranking. Can it hold onto that with a weaker conference slate? The Wildcats are overwhelmingly more talented than the bottom half of the Pac-12, but avoiding a letdown performance and a bad loss can be challenging in a long conference season.

Meanwhile, Alabama will continue to be a tricky team to seed all the way through Selection Sunday. A neutral-court win over Gonzaga and home win over Houston are great ways to top a résumé, and the good thing for the Crimson Tide is that losses to Iona and Davidson have aged nicely so far. The Tide’s worst defeat right now is a conference road game at Missouri that could eventually wind up in Quadrant 4, which tells you just how bad the Tigers are right now. Run up some wins in SEC play, and the Tide could wind up on the No. 2 or No. 3 line, thanks to their early nonconference work. 

SI's full projected field of 68 (as of Jan. 19):

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