CBS Sports graphic

The greatest event in sports has returned, and returned to the format we all know and love. A year after the NCAAs were held in the confines of a quasi-bubble in Indianapolis, we know return to 68 teams spread across the country at 14 sites over three weeks. 

A big ol' bracket, the possibilities splitting out in a thousand directions over the horizon. 

It's glorious. 

Brackets are here! Get back in your pools and join our Men's and Women's Challenges for the chance to win a new truck and a college basketball dream trip!

So ... who should you be considering to pick into the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four and title game? We've got just the thing for you. As always, I have ranked all 68 teams in the men's field. Each team capsule contains information and perspective on why these teams got here and who they are. I am not ranking off seeding or team résumés. This is a listing based off of team quality, talent, depth, coaching and where teams fall in multiple metrics. 

Here's the 2022 men's NCAA Tournament, ranked from No. 1-68.

The No. 1 overall seed again, and with good reason. The Bulldogs have been sitting at No. 1 in every predictive metric for more than a month. This team isn't quite as good as last year's that entered the Big Dance with an undefeated record, but it's just as much of a threat to win it all thanks to the arrival of 7-foot-1 freshman Chet Holmgren. There is no one in the sport like him. Gonzaga is an elite offensive machine. It returns Drew Timme and Andrew Nembhard as starters from last year's Final Four team. The Zags run, they shoot at a 61% clip from 2-point range and they are the best they've been defensively since the team that made the 2017 national championship game. There are a lot of viable national title contenders in this year's bracket — more than last year for sure — but Gonzaga's floor is higher than any other team, while its ceiling is as good as any other team, too.
The Wildcats are having a dream first season under Tommy Lloyd, who has brought Arizona to a No. 1 seed — just the third coach to achieve the feat in his first year as a head coach. The Wildcats might be the most entertaining team to watch in this tournament. How far Arizona can go will probably depend on the health of point guard Kerr Kriisa's ankle. He twisted it badly in the Pac-12 semifinals. He's scheduled to play this week, however. Either way, Dalen Terry immediately proved he's capable of stepping in for Kriisa. Then there's Bennedict Mathurin, a lottery-level talent who takes on all comers. This team shares the ball exquisitely, has a 6-11 workhorse in Azuolas Tubelis, and per KenPom.com , is the second tallest squad in the country. Arizona hasn't made a Final Four since 2001. There's a better-than-decent chance that drought ends here.
Even though the Wildcats aren't a No. 1 seed, that doesn't mean this isn't one of the three best teams in the country. John Calipari's never built a roster like this at Kentucky. National Player of the Year frontrunner Oscar Tshiebwe: transfer. Ever-valuable 3-point sharpshooter Kellan Grady: transfer. Shifty, constructive point guard Sahvir Wheeler: transfer. Ultra-athletic energy guy Jacob Toppin: transfer. And then there's TyTy Washington, a terrific one-and-done lead guard talent, who will need to have a huge tournament in order to get UK to its 18th Final Four. Tshiebwe's the best rebounder the sport has seen in decades. It starts with him, and then so many pieces fill in well around him. Kentucky got old, and wouldn't you know it, the formula works.
For the ninth time, Bill Self has coached Kansas to a No. 1 seed. The Jayhawks won the Big 12 Tournament by an average of 15.3 points. Safe to say they're ready for the big stage. Star shooting guard Ochai Agbaji is built for March. He shoots 40.5% from beyond the arc and 54.2% inside it. He's a smart player who stirs Kansas' drink. Another wing, Christian Braun, has developed into an NBA prospect alongside Agbaji because he's a perfect 1b to Agbaji's 1a. Keep an eye on Remy Martin, though. The former Arizona State shooter has embraced his place as a role player for this team, but it's conceivable he could be the most important sixth man in this tournament. This isn't a top-five team Self's had at KU (which speaks to his longevity and greatness as a coach), but it's certainly one of the five best teams in this field
The reigning national champions lost four starters from last season's team, but that didn't prevent Scott Drew from building up one of the toughest squads in the country yet again. Baylor has been resting longer than expected — it was dropped in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament by Oklahoma — but that might be what the doctor ordered for a team that's been hampered by injuries most of the season. In fact, even getting to 26-6 is a big feat for Drew's team. I'm ranking them this high for how good they've been in spite of the bad luck. The ongoing foot ailment of leading scorer L.J. Cryer is something that could prevent another Final Four run, but this is still a well-balanced team with solid athleticism, reliable defense, good shooting and above-average guard play. Watch for the freshman duo of Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan; both can jump out of the gym.
From a talent standpoint, you can make a tight case that no team is more naturally gifted than Duke. Mike Krzyzewski and his staff recruited well to assemble a title-possible team in his final season. But as we saw in the ACC championship game and in the weeks leading up to now, Duke's defense has gotten shakier. Because of that, it's hard to justify ranking this team in the top five going into the tourney. Duke won't be able to outscore teams. ACC defensive player of the year Mark Williams is always reliable, but guys like Trevor Keels, Wendell Moore Jr. and Paolo Banchero will need to join forces to bring Duke to a new level in order to make it to New Orleans. The offense is of no concern, to be clear. Banchero's a mismatch, sharpshooter A.J. Griffin might prove to be one of the five best NBA players to come out of this year's college class. Moore is efficient, Williams is opportunistic. At its best, Duke is as good as any team in the field.
Elite defensive team. Nobody wants to play Tennessee right now. Vols have won seven straight and 12 out of 13. They pushed hard to move up the overall seed line in the past two weeks, and with good reason. Kennedy Chandler, the freshman point guard, is a future first round pick and is the kind of player who can carry this team on offense on the big stage — but 5-9 Zakai Zeigler has been something of a revelation, too. It's the best freshman backcourt duo in the country. Rick Barnes' guys win with defense, though. That's their M.O. Tennessee ranks third in defensive efficiency, per KenPom. Bluntly: Tennessee is peaking at the right time and this team looks as Final Four-capable as any Barnes has had.
The Boilermakers were the toast of the sport through the first month of the season. But defensive issues have plagued this team consistently throughout Big Ten play. The offense is so good, though. Jaden Ivey is a superstar. Trevion Williams is the best sixth man in the game. Zach Edey is one-of-a-kind. It's a wickedly tricky team. Purdue can score 90-plus on a lot of teams in this bracket. How many can it keep under 70? Or 75? And without a natural point guard, it does put some limitations on this offense. We've seen Purdue thrive and struggle in the tournament under Matt Painter. If Ivey goes supernova and Purdue can find some semblance of consistent defense, the Final Four is on the table. But a bad matchup can knock this team out two or three rounds early.
Bruce Pearl's Tigers won the SEC regular season after not being ranked in the preseason AP Top 25. They started 22-1 and were the best team in the country through the end of January. Since? Just 5-4. Auburn never lost at home this season, but was 11-5 away from Auburn Arena. The reason to love 'em: Jabari Smith could be the best pro prospect in this tournament. And Walker Kessler (4.5 bpg) might be the best defender. Auburn's guard play is an opera, though. Wendell Green Jr. and KD Johnson can giveth just as they can taketh away. Auburn is seldom in the spot where it's the No. 2 seed. The Tigers will try to overcome a daunting statistic: no national champion since 1985 (when the field expanded) failed to make at least the semifinals of their conference tournament. Auburn lost in the quarters of the SEC to Texas A&M.
With senior point guard Collin Gillespie opting to use the NCAA-wide bonus year of eligibility due to COVID, Villanova has once again operated as a Final Four contender all season long. The Big East Tournament champions are in the groove they needed to be heading into bracket play later this week. Jay Wright's team isn't deep, but this is a veteran-laden group that's not too big, not too small, and never beats itself. The emergence of Brandon Slater as of late makes this team yet again a Final Four threat, but really, it's mostly due to Gillespie being one of if not the best point guards in college hoops. Jay Wright treasures this roster for how they always hold themselves accountable.
The best defensive unit in college basketball. It's not too surprising that's the case. Mark Adams was exclusively the defensive play-caller under former coach Chris Beard for years. Now that Adams is head coach, TTU had no drop-off on D this season. The Red Raiders might have to adjust a little now that Big 12 officials won't be calling their games, but it's nothing compared to the prep opponents will have to endure going against one of the most physical teams in the nation. Junior forward Kevin McCullar is this team's best defender, but really, you're not allowed on the floor here unless you're committing to resistance.
Kelvin Sampson's Cougars have overcome injuries to two of their four most important players, and yet once again UH ranks among the best teams in the country. After a Final Four run last year, Houston has a top-12 defense — but ranks 10th in points per possession. Sampson has a balanced team, led by 6-11 senior Josh Carlton and 6-8 senior Fabian White. Houston is a nightmare to prep for. Hard to figure, but the Cougars probably are undervalued again heading into the tournament.
Mick Cronin's Bruins were a top-three story in last year's tournament when they went from the First Four to the Final Four. This team started the season as a preseason top-five club, but it battled injury issues much of the season and, in spite of that, has maintained a good reputation. It gave Arizona a fantastic game in the Pac-12 final, and now we'll see what Johnny Juzang and Co. have for an encore after last year. This team ranks 14th in offensive efficiency and 11th in defensive efficiency at KenPom. Six of its eight top minutes-getters are between 6-7 and 6-10. The Bruins remain a problem for most teams.
The Illini have the pieces, size, experience and talent to make a run to New Orleans. It's all about putting it together. The only thing stopping this team is itself. Kofi Cockburn returned this season, in part, to atone for last year's second round exit at the hands of Loyola Chicago. Trent Frazier, a fifth-year senior, is a beloved player who ranks as a top-10 defender in college hoops. Andre Curbelo has whimsy to his game, but he's among the most gifted passers in the sport. Tempting team here. Illinois was surprisingly upended in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals by Indiana; perhaps that upset will get this team's focus where it needs to be. We've seen Illinois look close to elite this season. A Sweet 16, at minimum, is the expectation for this fan base.
A year after getting a No. 2 seed with national player of the year Luka Garza, the Iowa Hawkeyes have put up a season beyond anyone's expectations. Keegan Murray has been at a First Team All-American level. Murray's 103 points in the Big Ten Tournament set a league record, as Iowa won its first Big Ten tourney title since 2006. How hot are the Hawkeyes? They now rate as the No. 2 offense in the nation. Murray might play his way into being a top-five pick. Who's to say if this end-of-season run will absolutely translate to the NCAAs, but it's hard to see Iowa not making the Sweet 16 at minimum with how it's looked in recent weeks. Fran McCaffery might have pulled off his best coaching job ever.
The Razorbacks are a sleeper national title contender. There aren't many two-way players better than J.D. Notae, who was second in the SEC in scoring (18.4 ppg) and is nearly as good of a defender as big man Jaylin Williams (9.6 rpg), an underrated big man nationally. Arkansas will play with a blur, but it's dangerous because of its flexibility to push the pace while not sacrificing defensive intensity or efficiency. The Hogs will try to make it to the second weekend for a second consecutive season, something that hasn't been done since 1996.
The Gaels are dancing for the eighth time under Randy Bennett. You've got to see this team play, not just because it's a five-headed brain on defense — but the looks of these guys is incredible. The most YMCA-looking squad in the field. Highly inspirational to many of us who will watch from home. And this is a squad that's Sweet 16-capable. SMC has an impressive win over Gonzaga on its dossier, plus a sweep of San Francisco and a win over Notre Dame. Bound to be overlooked, Saint Mary's forces you to play at its tempo, then ties one hand behind your back.
The Huskies have a lot to like. NBA talent, an array of lengthy, athletic wings who can defend and crash the glass. A coach who's as entertaining to watch as the team he puts on the floor. Dan Hurley's getting it done at Connecticut. Huskies lead guard in R.J. Cole plays unafraid and can be unselfish on one play, then ball-dominant the next. While Cole commands the offense, the most important player is 6-9 center Adama Sanogo. His interior presence juxtaposed against SF Tyrese Martin's shooting ability makes UConn a tantalizing pick to make it to the second weekend.
There are a few teams in my top 30 that weren't even projected to make this year's NCAA Tournament back in the preseason. Wisconsin (picked 10th) is one such team. Who could have known that Johnny Davis would become THE breakout player in the sport? Davis (19.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg) is an NBA lottery talent. It's not all Davis (Brad Davison and Tyler Wahl don't get their due as difference-makers for this team), but he's unquestionably the heart and soul of this squad. He's also good enough to carry Wisconsin into the second weekend. Predictive metrics aren't high like I am on Bucky, but I've seen enough. Greg Gard's team should win a couple of games.
How much does the Friars' 85–58 loss to Creighton in the Big East Tournament affect your confidence in this team? That was a pounding. For most of the season Providence proved it was capable of ending on the winning side of close games. It's the blowouts that are the problem. NCAA Tournament games tend to be closer early, so long as you're not a No. 1, 2 or 3 seed. Keep it in mind. Ed Cooley was one of the best coaches in the sport this season; Providence was picked eighth in the Big Eat back in October. It's not elite in a single team statistic, but the nucleus of Nate Watson (big), Al Durham (clutch wing) and Justin Minaya (lockdown defender) pushed Providence to its first regular season title in school history.
The best team in the Ohio Valley is also one of the 25 best teams in this bracket. The Racers still have players on this roster (K.J. Williams, Tevin Brown) who were part of the Ja Morant-led team that upset Marquette in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Matt McMahon is one of the elite mid-major coaches in the game. At 30-2, Murray State has the best win percentage in the sport. A threat to win not just one, but two … maybe even three games in this tournament. Murray State has ranked inside the top 30 at KenPom for more than a month. It hasn't lost since Dec. 22. It also can win in a variety of styles and tempos. You're going to love these guys.
The Longhorns have not met their preseason hype, but that's OK. This was a team projected to be among the 5-10 best back in October, and it's taken a few twists and turns since then. Chris Beard's group was bounced immediately from the Big 12 Tournament by TCU and now sits in a spot it could take advantage of. Texas is one of the most experienced teams in this tournament, but can it find the consistency that it's been searching for over the past two months? Senior guards Marcus Carr and Andrew Jones are capable, but it's forward Timmy Allen who needs to be the centerpiece if Texas is to make the regional semifinals.
This is the second time a team coached by Will Wade will play in the NCAA Tournament … without being coached by Will Wade. Wade, of course, was fired Saturday. So that brings in a new dimension to this situation. Will LSU be worse, better or basically the same without him? LSU ranks well in defensive efficiency (fifth) at KenPom, yet its defensive rebounding is woeful; that's usually not the case with a good group that stops the shots from going in at a decent clip. The Tigers are a good man-to-man outfit that forces turnovers one out of every four opponents' possessions. Cincinnati transfer Tari Eason has been one of the best transfers in the country this season. LSU is not dependable in the big picture, but it has won at least one tournament game in the two times it's danced under Wade. … But again. Wade's not here.
A lot of good teams failed to win a conference tournament game; Alabama's another one that qualifies. A year after getting a 2-seed, the Crimson Tide have been one of the biggest enigmas in the sport. It boasts wins over Gonzaga, Baylor, Houston, Tennessee and Arkansas. Losses to Iona, Missouri, Georgia and Texas A&M are also there. The Tide could lose by 10 in the first round or they could blow out two opponents on the way to the Sweet 16. Bama thrives off getting to the rim and scoring. This team's flaw is it is poor from beyond the arc (31.1%) yet it takes more than 22 per game.
The Buckeyes have been a model of inconsistency, and the injuries haven't helped matters. But if you're looking for a team with a good coach, NBA talent and one of the best players in the country, OSU carries pretty good value at this point. Malaki Branham has played himself into being a first round NBA pick, while E.J. Liddell is unquestionably one of the 10 best players in the sport. Can Chris Holtmann get this team's defense back into shape? Hard to see it, but OSU is determined to make up for last year, when it was upset as a No. 2 seed by No. 15 Oral Roberts.
Mountain West champs two times over. Leon Rice guided the Broncos to a 15-3 Mountain West record, giving the Broncos their first regular-season league title since 2015 and first standalone MW title in school history. (Boise State joined the Mountain West in 2011.) Credit to Rice, as he made drastic changes to his starting lineup and rotation seven games into the season, when the team was 3-4. The gambit paid off; Boise State proceeded to win 13 in a row and 20 of its next 23. Name to know: senior wing Abu Kigab is the team's most reliable scorer and best in-the-lane defender.
That ACC title game against Duke showed us all why Virginia Tech is not only deserving to be in this field, but why it's a Sweet 16 dark horse, to boot. Mike Young has long been regarded as one of the wiser minds in the game. He's recruited and coached up one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the sport. Justyn Mutts plays as tough as his name sounds. Storm Murphy can make it rain. Hunter Cattoor hunts 3s like his playing time depends on it. Keve Aluma has grown into an opportunistic around-the-rim big who previously was a fledgling player under Young at Wofford. Easy team to root for, and one of the hottest heading into the NCAAs.
Hubert Davis' first season at UNC is culminating with an NCAA Tournament appearance. That wasn't assured as recently as two weeks ago, but now that UNC is in, the team is talented enough to win some games. Can anything top winning at Duke to close out the regular season? A Sweet 16 run would do, and this team is capable of pulling it off. On an individual level, junior Armando Bacot lived up to expectations over the past four months by growing into one of the best bigs in the country. Brady Manek = bucket. So much of what UNC can do is tied to PG Caleb Love, who's improved nicely as a sophomore. His backcourt mate, R.J. Davis, plays with less fear than almost anyone else I've seen this season.
The 25-5 Rams are having one of their best seasons in school history. Under fourth-year coach Niko Medved, CSU became a top-20 per-possession offense and finished second in the Mountain West. Small-ball 5 David Roddy is a must-see, do-it-all player. He can go for 30 points, or he can get you 14 rebounds, or he can dish seven assists, or he can swipe a trio of steals. Swiss Army knife player, and he's paired with Isaiah Stevens, a point guard that ranks among the most underrated players in the country.
Drew Valentine has guided the Ramblers to the NCAA Tournament at the ripe-old age of 30. He's the youngest head coach in the NCAA Tournament since Jeff Capel was 29 at VCU in 2004.This veteran-laden team returns four starters from last year's group that was a No. 8 seed and made the Sweet 16. Loyola Chicago is 6-2 in its last eight NCAA tourney games, including wins over a No. 1 seed, No. 3 seed and No. 6. The Ramblers held its opponents in the MVC Tournament to 30% from the field and 20% from 3-point range. While Loyola Chicago is seeded appropriately based on how it performed vs. its schedule, it's under-seeded in terms of its predictive metrics. A threat again to make a second-weekend run.
The Trojans have carried a good record all year, but are they a paper tiger? You can make that case. The Pac-12 is sending just three teams to the Dance; USC has some distance between itself and Arizona, UCLA. Andy Enfield (fresh off a contract extension; he won't be coaching at Maryland next season) saw a star emerge in recent months with Drew Peterson. The 6-9 junior shoots 41% from 3-point range, a vital component to the Trojans' attack, particularly when stacked against 6-10 Isaiah Mobley's inside-outside-inside arsenal. Don't so casually dismiss this team. USC made the Elite Eight last year.
Every tournament gives us a story or two (or more) of teams that either make the Dance for the first time or end a decades-long drought. The latter applies to the Dons, who are in for the first time since 1998. Todd Golden's team has a dynamic backcourt to watch. Viewer beware: this group is good enough to win a game or two. Khalil Shabazz and Jamaree Bouyea are hard to keep down, not to mention 6-9 senior Yauhen Massalski is an at-the-rim high-efficiency player. Before you go overlooking this team, just know: it started the season top-35 at KenPom and proceeded to climb up. Entering the NCAAs, it ranks 21st in the nation. Legit.
Credit to Penny Hardaway for turning this team's season around. The Tigers were viewed as an abject failure by early January. But according to BartTorvik.com, Memphis has performed as the fifth-best team in the country since Feb. 1. And this is without Emoni Bates, the former five-star prospect who hasn't been with the team due to injury for more than a month. Freshman Jalen Duren has been huge, and Memphis' defensive reputation has only increased in recent weeks. This team is a pesky one to play. The Tigers are back in the NCAAs for the first time since 2014. Great to have 'em back.
No knock on Bob McKillop's team for not winning the A-10 auto bid. The Wildcats rank 11th in offensive efficiency at KenPom. They're a team that's a model example of the ball not sticking. Michigan State transfer Foster Loyer founds his niche here: he sets up dynamic wing Hyunjung Lee (one of the most reliable shooters in college basketball) and feeds the post with aplomb for 6-10 senior Luka Brajkovic. There's no Steph Curry on this team, but this Davidson group is the best McKillop's had since Curry was on campus.
Brian Dutcher did it again. SDSU, a doormat of a program for decades, has become an NCAA Tournament near-staple in the past 12 years. The Aztecs rank, per advanced analytics, as one of the 30 best teams in the sport for a third consecutive season. Cal transfer Matt Bradley turned out to be everything SDSU hoped he would be — and more. Bradley is 6-4, pugnacious on the defensive boards, but also ranks among the best 3-point shooters in the Mountain West. The Aztecs are heavy on experience, as usual, which is why they're back where they expect to be: in this bracket.
Kevin Willard — who is a hot candidate for the Maryland job, oh by the way — has the Pirates in the NCAAs for the fifth time under his watch. If the Hall is to make some noise, it will need big showings from Jared Rhoden (15.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Kadary Richmond. This has been a good-not-great team all season long. It's won six of its past seven but was out of arm's reach for 40 minutes vs. UConn in the Big East quarters. How will this team regroup after that?
This is an average MSU team by Tom Izzo standards … which also means Michigan State is capable of making it to the Sweet 16 and surprisingly precisely zero humans by doing so. Sparty was a one-and-done a year ago in the First Four. Izzo almost never has quick appearances in consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Freshman Max Christie is still figuring things out, but there have been moments this season when Christie, Tyson Walker and/or Malik Hall have taken their games to an elite level. A.J. Hoggard has the No. 1 assist rate in the nation, getting a dime 46.9% of the time he's on the floor.
Hoosiers fans have lived through some stuff in the past year. Despite it all: Mike Woodson gets IU dancing in his first season, which is a bottom-line win. A win for college hoops fans is getting to see one of the best big men in the country. Trayce Jackson-Davis is capable of carrying Indiana to a win or two, if the games break the right way. Indiana's found a toughness groove, and proved itself worthy of being here after winning at least two games in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2003. (Amazing.)
The Wolverines barely got into the field — becoming just the fifth team (not including 2021) — to make the NCAAs despite being three games or fewer above .500. Somewhat lost amid Michigan's noisy (and disappointing) season is the fact Hunter Dickinson has been about as good as he was projected to be in the preseason. Dickinson (18.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg) is one of many outstanding centers who will be featured in this bracket. Potentially good news for U-M fans: over the past month, Michigan's pattern of results has gone win-loss five times over. There have been no two wins or two losses in a row in that span. So … next up should be a win, right?
Jim Larrañaga has the Hurricanes back in the NCAAs for the first time since 2018. This is the fifth time he's guided the program to the Big Dance. The U has an All-ACC stud in Kameron McGust (17.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg), but also a seventh-year (you read right) guard in Charlie Moore. Oh, then there's 6-10 Sam Waardenburg, a stretch big who's shot 43% on 84 attempts from 3-point range this season. While I don't have the Canes ranked in the top half of the field, I do think they're a legitimate double-digit-seed threat later this week.
Few fan bases will cherish this NCAA Tournament like TCU's. This year marks just the second appearance for the program since 1998. Hiring Jamie Dixon in 2016 was indeed the right move. The only team in the country better at crashing the offensive glass than TCU is Kentucky, and Kentucky has the best rebounder (and player) in the country. For all the rebounding prowess, TCU gets its go from guards Mike Miles (15.0 ppg) and Damion Baugh (10.7 ppg, 4.4 apg). The shooting is spotty but the poise rarely sags.
It's a win in Year One for Shaka Smart, no matter what happens from here. The Golden Eagles were picked to be in the bottom four of the Big East, yet here they are. One of seven Big East teams in the tournament, and probably the most surprising. Redshirt frosh Justin Lewis is one of the best players in that conference — he's capable of going for 25 points in Marquette's first round game. Daryll Morsell boosts matters; he is a top-20 defender in the country. They were cool to start the season, found a groove in January (won seven straight) and have been up and down since.
The big wins won out, and hello again to Rutgers, back in the NCAAs for two straight years for the first time since 1976. There have been some intriguing at-large résumés from power-conference teams over the years, but it's hard to recall one as polarizing as Rutgers'. No matter now. The committee looked at those six Quad 1 wins and decided they outweighed three atrocious losses, a poor nonconference strength of schedule and suboptimal team sheet metrics. Now that Rutgers is here, can it do some damage? Go ask Purdue, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State. They all lost to the Scarlet Knights this year.
Greg McDermott had one of the elite coaching jobs this season. He lost five starters from a Sweet 16 team a year ago, then lost his star freshman point guard, Ryan Nembhard, 27 games into the season. Yet here is Creighton, comfortably in the field and, in a twist, sporting its best defense (statistically) in two decades. The Jays won't be satisfied with merely getting here. In a tourney loaded with good bigs, 7-1 Ryan Kalkbrenner is as dynamic as just about any of them.
The Blazers built a profile worthy of being selected as an at-large, but no matter: this is C-USA's auto-bid rep. And folks, 5-11 junior Jordan "Jelly" Walker ranks among the top five gotta-see-him guys in this field. Walker is an eagle-eye shooter with a flair for the dramatic. A pure playmaker. He also said he doesn't care who UAB faces, they can't beat anyone. Andy Kennedy has been a home run hire at his alma mater. The Blazers are a tempting Sweet 16 dark horse. Play loose, shoot the 3-pointer well, never panic.
A polarizing tourney dossier, but the Fighting Irish's win over Kentucky was the trump card to get this team back into the NCAAs for the first time since 2017. Mike Brey's team has a potential first-round pick in Blake Wesley, a 6-5 freshman who now has the stage to show how good he can be. The Irish also have a veteran point guard, Prentiss Hubb, who will be a key factor in determining how good this team can be. Brey has one of the thinnest benches in this tournament, but Notre Dame's top seven are interchangeable.
The Cyclones aren't satisfied to just be in, but this has been an overachieving season. T.J. Otzelberger's first year in Ames began with his program being picked last in the Big 12. Instead: easily in the NCAA field with a 20-12 record and a top-10 defense. ISU grinds out possessions, is a pest with its propensity to turn teams over. Senior Izaiah Brockington and freshman Tyrese Hunter join forces to make for a formidable 1-2. Brockington is the better shooter, while Hunter is a very good defender and playmaker.
The Catamounts are in the NCAAs for the fourth time under John Becker. UVM has been dominant since early December, going 22-1 with the lone loss coming in overtime at Hartford, which made last year's NCAA Tournament. The Cats are led by two of the best players in New England: two-time America East POY, forward Ryan Davis, and fellow senior Ben Shungu, a 41.7% 3-point shooter. Tempting Cinderella appeal, though Vermont was 1-2 in Quad 1 and 2 games this season and played 20 of its games against Quad 4 opponents. UVM also just won the America East by an average of 36.7 points. Blazing into this bracket.
Welcome back to the Dance, Cowboys. It's Wyoming's first appearance since 2015 and just its second appearance since 2002. Jeff Linder runs a style of offense that isn't like anything else in the sport. He likens it to the Tennessee Titans' abusive, run-first, run-second philosophy in the NFL. Behind forwards Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado, the Pokes use the post over and over and over. Some teams can handle this, while others wear down. Linder is a rising coach in the industry, and his team will be ready to play this week.
Eric Henderson might be bound for a bigger job soon, as he's 68-21 through three seasons with the Jackrabbits. It's won 21 in a row, the longest winning streak in the country. Never until now had a Summit League team won 30 games in a season. The Bunnies do it with shooting. They rank No. 1 nationally in effective field goal percentage (59.7%), 3-point percentage (44.2%) and are second in points per game (86.7). You will not want to miss their first round game.
Thanks to an answered prayer by fifth-year senior David Jean-Baptiste, the Mocs are the champs of the SoCon, which rated as the No. 12 league (out of 32) in men's college hoops this season. Coach Lamont Paris has a team that won at VCU and beat a good Furman team three times this season. Sophomore guard Malachi Smith (20.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.1) is on the short list of the best mid-major players in this tournament.
The WAC was an incredible mid-major league this season, but once more it's NMSU (now in its ninth tournament in the past 12 of these) that makes it out of the conference. Chris Jans' 26-6 Aggies have solid size for a mid-major and will eagerly defend the perimeter. Jans is good enough to get a bigger job in a few weeks, and may well could if NMSU wins even one more game.
Spiders just crawling into your bracket! It's the first time since 2011 Richmond has made the tournament. Now that they're in, the Spiders are a threat in this regard: Chris Mooney's team isn't just one of the oldest/most experienced clubs in the field, all of these guys have also played together for more than four years. Jacob Gilyard is the NCAA all-time leader in steals and Grant Golden is one of the program's all-time leading scorers.
Yale went 54 years between NCAA Tournament appearances before James Jones coached it there in 2016. Now the Bulldogs have had an NCAA Tournament-level team in four of the past seven seasons. Jones is a really good coach who maybe should've been hired to a bigger gig a couple of years ago. The Bulldogs get their points in a variety of ways, but it's Azar Swain's ability to hit tough shots that gives Yale its edge against good teams.
The Raiders are in the NCAAs for the third time in four seasons, a job incredibly done by Matt Langel, who took over this program more than a decade ago, when it was arguably the least desirable job in the Patriot League. The only team better from 3-point range in this tournament than Colgate is South Dakota State. Led by senior Jack Ferguson's range, the Raiders made 40.1% of their treys. Last year, Colgate gave Arkansas a game early before losing chase. This year, the Raiders are a year older after returning much of the roster and are certainly better. This group has one loss since Jan. 4. It dropped 100 on Syracuse in a win in November. Worth a good look.
The Bobcats from Bozeman are Big Dance boys for the first time since 1996 and just the fourth team in school history. Danny Sprinkle has done an inspiring job turning around a program that was rudderless for years and years. The Bobcats rank top-60 nationally in 2- and 3-point percentage. You'll enjoy watching 5-8 senior point guard Xavier Bishop fearlessly call the shots and attack the lane.
One of the toughest jobs in the country due to a minimal budget for men's basketball, the Peacocks rose out of the MAAC to make it back to the NCAAs for the first time since 2011. Shaheen Holloway is a rising star in the coaching industry. The Peacocks rely significantly on their defense, while having a bona fide low-major star in KC Ndefo.
The champs of the MAC as a No. 4 seed. John Groce has been in this spot before. This is the third school he's brought to the NCAAs, joining Illinois and, before that, Ohio. In fact, in 2010, Groce led Ohio to the second round. Two years later, he had the Cinderella story of the 2012 tournament when Ohio made the Sweet 16. This year's Akron team will have a chance to steal a victory because it plays slow and gets to the foul line a lot. Name to know: Xavier Castaneda. A rock for this team.
The Lancers are making their NCAA Tournament debut 18 years after joining D-I. Griff Aldrich has a unique backstory: he was a lawyer, a CEO of a gas and oil company. Now he's the head coach of Longwood. The Lancers have one loss since Dec. 22 and rank eighth nationally in 3-point accuracy (38.6%). The Big South champs knocked off near-perennial favorite Winthrop in the title game to get here. Senior shooting guard DeShaun Wade is the name to know — he shoots 47% on 4.6 3-point attempts per game.
The Blue Hens are dancing for just the second time in 23 years — and doing so as the No. 5 seed out of the CAA Tournament (the first time that's happened in that conference). Martin Inglebsy has a wonderful freshman, Jyare Davis, who was the CAA tourney MOP. For most reading this, Delaware's the team that will age you in a hurry, and what I mean by that is: Jameer Nelson Jr. plays for this team and is a quality guard for the Blue Hens. Anything that conjures up images of 2004 Saint Joe's is a good thing.
The only team in the NCAAs that did not win its conference tournament. That's because Jacksonville State (which is located in Jacksonville, Alabama) won the regular season ASUN title, then lost in the tournament to Jacksonville (as in: Jacksonville, Florida). When Jacksonville lost to Bellarmine (ineligible for NCAAs until 2025 due to recent transition to Division I), Jacksonville State earned the auto bid for winning the regular season. The program went D-I in 1995. This is its second NCAA tourney appearance.
Rob Jones — a fantastic low-major coach who should be hired to a bigger job within weeks — has the Spartans in the NCAAs for the second consecutive season, as Norfolk State is the representative out of the MEAC. This team has been consistently stubborn in defending the 3-pointer, which will need to show up again if it's to give us some drama by the time the first round gets here.
Champs of the Big West. Dedrique Taylor's Titans overcame top-seeded Long Beach State in the title game to make it back after a four-year gap. I love the story of super-senior E.J. Anosike. He was a dominant big in the NEC at Sacred Heart for a couple of years. He transferred up to Tennessee and it was the wrong move; he rarely saw the floor. Anosike humbled himself, went back to mid-major hoops and became one of the best players in the Big West this season. So many of these guys have interesting stories.
Fascinating team and turnaround. Starting big Eliel Nsoseme missed the first 11 games of the season. Georgia State went 6-5 in the stretch. It brought back much of its roster a season ago, when it was the best offensive team in the Sun Belt. It was also among the worst defensive teams. This season, that flipped; even the coaches can't fully explain it. Nsoseme is the heart and soul of this team, and Corey Allen is a go-to scorer who had back-to-back 29-point games in the Big South Tournament to get the Panthers to this stage.
The Bulldogs are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance; the program arrived in Division I in 2008. They've got a bona fide mid-major star in Peter Kiss. The former Rutgers role player (and Quinnipiac before that) leads the nation in scoring (25.1 ppg) and adds another 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists as well. In the NEC title game, Kiss dropped 34 points and had five steals. He's not throwing away his shot on this stage, I guarantee you that. I sort of can't believe I'm saying this, but you need to watch Bryant!
Incredible redemption story for Scott Nagy's program. A year removed from giving away a 24-point lead in the Horizon League Tournament, the Raiders erased a 16-point deficit in the title game to earn the auto bid. Nagy's got the thinnest rotation of any team in the tournament. Wright State ranks 356th in bench minutes, meaning Tanner Holden, Grant Basile, Keaton Norris, Trey Calvin and Tim Finke will absolutely get their time to shine in this tournament. The Raiders are an unlikely Cinderella candidate, though: they don't shoot the 3-pointer well and they don't shoot it often.
For the sixth time in the past eight NCAA Tournaments, the Tigers are the team out of the SWAC. Johnny Jones' team is 13-2 since Jan. 18. No team is deeper than the Tigers; the bench plays 46.5% of the team's minutes, which ranks No. 1 at KenPom. Everybody gets a taste of some sugar on this group, which is coached by a grizzled vet in Johnny Jones.
You'll hear a lot about the power-conference first-year coaches who brought their teams to the Dance, but let's give it up for former Purdue assistant Steve Lutz. He's been with this team for less than a year, but here they are, champs of the Southland. It's Corpus Christi's first NCAA appearance since 2007. This group struggles on offense and may well be a one-and-done, but it's teams like this one who cherish their tournament run as much as anyone. It's also why this is the best event in American sports. You have schools like this and schools like Duke and Kentucky playing in the same bracket. The best.