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2022 Men’s NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: A Region-by-Region Guide

Everything you (and your bracket) need to know about the players, teams and games you can’t miss when the Big Dance tips off
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Here we go—the 2022 March Madness men’s field of 68 is set. As the greatest postseason in sports awaits, Sports Illustrated has all you need to know about each region (West, South, Midwest and East).

Our experts have broken down the teams to watch in each, from the outlook for the top seeds to the squads most likely to make a Cinderella run and much, much more. This year’s top bracket storylines include Duke trying to win it all in Coach K’s swan song, Gonzaga repeating as the No. 1 overall seed in the field and Baylor looking to become the first men’s repeat champ since Florida in 2006 and ’07.

NCAA Region-by-Region Breakdowns

West Region

1. Gonzaga
2. Duke
3. Texas Tech
4. Arkansas
5. UConn
6. Alabama
7. Michigan State
8. Boise State
9. Memphis
10. Davidson
11. Rutgers/Notre Dame
12. New Mexico State
13. Vermont
14. Montana State
15. Cal State Fullerton
16. Georgia State

Toughest draw: No. 1 Gonzaga

Despite being the overall No. 1 seed, Gonzaga got no great favors from the selection committee. There are numerous potential traps on the way to New Orleans, starting with a second-round game against either a very good Boise State team coached by former Few assistant Leon Rice, or the mercurial-but-athletic Memphis Tigers. A potential Sweet 16 matchup with Arkansas also would be a steep athletic challenge against an opponent that won 15 of its last 18 games. And the regional final could be against either Duke playing with the emotional freight of getting a retiring Mike Krzyzewski to one more Final Four, or a Texas Tech team that would supply the kind of vicious physical challenge Baylor did a year ago.

Click here for SI’s complete West Region breakdown

South Region

1. Arizona
2. Villanova
3. Tennessee
4. Illinois
5. Houston
6. Colorado State
7. Ohio State
8. Seton Hall
9. TCU
10. Loyola Chicago
11. Michigan
12. UAB
13. Chattanooga
14. Longwood
15. Delaware
16. Wright State/Bryant

Team that could bust your bracket: No. 10 Loyola Chicago

You knew this was coming, right? The Ramblers are a household name at this point after winning at least two games in each of their last two tournament appearances and have tournament-darling Sister Jean in their corner. First-year coach Drew Valentine’s squad is constructed of everything that makes March “mad,” with a host of blue-collar workers led by Lucas Williamson, one of the best two-way guards in the country. The Ramblers have the perfect setup game in the first round against an Ohio State team that has lost four of its last five games, including an upset loss to Penn State in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. Loyola doesn’t have great size, but it’s skilled and scrappy, a dangerous combination come March.

Click here for SI’s complete South Region breakdown

Midwest Region

1. Kansas
2. Auburn
3. Wisconsin
4. Providence
5. Iowa
6. LSU
7. USC
8. San Diego State
9. Creighton
10. Miami
11. Iowa State
12. Richmond
13. South Dakota State
14. Colgate
15. Jacksonville State
16. Texas Southern/Texas A&M-CC

Player to watch: Jabari Smith Jr., Auburn

This will be the only time SI’s projected No. 1 draft pick plays in the tournament, and the Tigers may need transcendent play from him in order to live up to their No. 2 seed. Following a scalding 22–1 start, Auburn has gone just 5–4 since its brief stint atop the national polls ended in early February, losing a few close games, then notably faltering in the SEC quarterfinals against Texas A&M. Bruce Pearl wants his teams to run and launch threes, but other than Smith (43% from distance), Auburn’s principles have struggled to make longballs consistently, and its guard play can be highly unreliable, both from a ball security and shot-selection perspective.

The Tigers could be sharper in all facets right now, but it will be pivotal that they get the ball to Smith when it matters most. His unblockable jumper and late-game confidence can give them a dimension no other team has. Auburn’s flaws are what they are, but Smith is capable of closing games and covering up the problems on his good days, which have come more frequently over the past six weeks.

Click here for SI’s complete Midwest Region breakdown

East Region

1. Baylor
2. Kentucky
3. Purdue
5. Saint Mary’s
6. Texas
7. Murray State
8. North Carolina
9. Marquette
10. San Francisco
11. Virginia Tech
12. Wyoming/Indiana
13. Akron
14. Yale
15. Saint Peter’s
16. Norfolk State

Regional finalists: UCLA and Kentucky

Is there another March run in this UCLA Bruins team after last season’s madness? Perhaps. This team has certainly been through the wars in the Big Dance, as all five starters from the team that went from the First Four to the Final Four returned for another season in Westwood. Jaime Jaquez Jr. looks healthy for the first time this season and has been tremendous of late, averaging 23 points per game in his last five. With him playing at a high level, this team can upset Baylor and get to the Elite Eight.

Kentucky’s path may not be easy, but the Wildcats are still the best team in this region. They’re so difficult to guard because of the presence of Tshiebwe, whose ability to rebound and run the floor opens up so many opportunities for the Wildcat guards in transition. Plus, this is an older Kentucky team than the clubs John Calipari has had in the past in Lexington, which could play in the Wildcats’ favor in this tournament. 

Click here for SI’s complete East Region breakdown