The 2023 NCAA Tournament field has been announced, but before you grab that printable bracket and start to break down all the potential upsets and Cinderella runs, we need to set the stage with what we just learned from the bracket reveal on Selection Sunday.
The seeding decisions lead to matchups and determine the path -- in terms of locations -- for each team's NCAA Tournament journey. The manner in which the committee slots these teams against each other has tremendous repercussions on how the tournament will play out. So before we get to the expert picks, let's set the stage by parsing through some notable winners and losers coming out of the Selection Sunday festivities.
The Crimson Tide earned the No. 1 overall seed, will get to start their tournament in Birmingham and drew a favorable path to potentially making the Final Four for the first time in program history. Not that playing the winner of Maryland and West Virginia won't bring some bruises and require some physicality, but Alabama has one of the low-end 2-seeds in Arizona, and both 3-seed Baylor as well as 4-seed Virginia have been picking up losses more frequently over the last couple of weeks.
Should Alabama make it out of the first two rounds into the South Regional, it will do so with a comfortable trip to Louisville while other regional contenders like Arizona, San Diego State and, to a lesser extent, Creighton face more daunting travel. It's uncertain if a loss to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament championship game would have jeopardized such a favorable path, but after following the regular-season SEC title with a conference tournament title, everything is coming up Crimson Tide.
Loser: North Carolina
Sunday's bracket reveal made official what many believed was coming after North Carolina lost to Virginia in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals: The Tar Heels have made history as the first team to start as preseason No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll and finish by missing the NCAA Tournament since the field expanded in 1985. North Carolina ultimately finished as the third team in the first four out of the field. The team was presented with an opportunity to be a No. 1 seed in the NIT; however, coach Hubert Davis announced Sunday night the team has opted not to participate in the NIT, so the story of this historic season has concluded with a Selection Sunday snub.
North Carolina's infamy comes one year after a magical run to the national championship game with much of the same core having returned for the 2022-23 season. The team, however, failed to display any kind of consistency throughout the season. Even through those frustrations -- or perhaps compounding them for UNC fans -- is the fact that if several close losses were flipped in their favor, the Tar Heels would be in the tournament. None of those loom larger on Selection Sunday than a triple-overtime loss to Alabama, the No. 1 overall seed.
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When Houston was introduced as the No. 2 overall seed and assigned the Midwest Region, it was immediately obvious that the Jayhawks had missed an opportunity to potentially play Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games close to home. The Midwest Regional will be held in Kansas City, so Houston, not Kansas, getting the nod for that region has wide-ranging impact on the Jayhawks' efforts to repeat as national champions.
Now, if Kansas does make it out of the first two rounds, it will travel to Las Vegas for the second weekend. That's particularly challenging not just in terms of the difference in travel for Kansas and its fans but also what they might find in the Elite Eight with both 2-seed UCLA and 3-seed Gonzaga taking up residence in the other end of the West Region bracket. The explanation for having Houston over Kansas included the mention that the Cougars were competitive in both of their two regular-season losses, and Sunday's defeat to Memphis in the AAC championship game came without star guard Marcus Sasser in the lineup. So while Kansas has set a new record with 17 Quad 1 wins, it not only failed to capture the No. 1 overall seed but also to land a spot on a path that would have rolled through Kansas City.
While Kansas has missed out on an opportunity to play second weekend games in favorable locations, the opposite is true for Duke in the East Region. The Blue Devils earned a 5-seed thanks to their full body of work, but with nine straight wins, a healthier roster and a much-improved level of play over the last month, it does not pass the eye test as a 5-seed.
If Duke can get out of its Orlando pod that includes Tennessee and a first-round meeting with Oral Roberts, it will travel to the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden. The Blue Devils play games in that building annually, due in part to the heavy presence of Duke fans and alumni in the New York area, and it's great news for Jon Scheyer. It's bad news for No. 1 seed Purdue, though, if the Cameron Crazies have an opportunity to fill up that building.
Loser: Rutgers, Oklahoma State
Our own Jerry Palm had Rutgers in the projected field of 68, but the selection committee favored Arizona State instead. The Scarlet Knights were 10-10 in Quad 1 and Quad 2 opportunities but went 2-4 in Quad 3. There was an opportunity against Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament to secure a 5th Quad 1 win, but Rutgers found itself on the wrong side of the bubble after a loss to the Boilermakers.
Rutgers that was officially the first team out, however. That honor instead goes to an Oklahoma State team that went 6-12 in Quad 1 and Quad 2 opportunities with just one Quad 3 loss. The resume numbers were not as strong as the predictive metrics, and Oklahoma State fans will ultimately be haunted by two close home losses -- a five-point loss to Kansas State and six-point loss to Baylor -- that could have flipped this outcome.
Still, as our own Gary Parrish mentioned on CBS Sports Network Sunday night, any team in a power conference that misses the cut cannot complain for lack of opportunities. Rutgers had 20 chances against teams in the first two quadrants and Oklahoma State had 18. With a few different bounces, the profiles would have been strong enough to be dancing.
Winner: Rick Pitino-to-the-Big East storylines
As the coaching carousel churns with rumors about Rick Pitino and whether he may be a candidate for open positions at both St. John's and Georgetown, the Hall of Famer and current Iona coach will get his 2023 NCAA Tournament started going head-to-head with one of the best teams from the Big East this season: UConn. That Albany, New York, pod for the first and second round should be well attended by UConn fans. The Big East vibes will be tremendous!
Loser: Texas A&M
Buzz Williams' team was one of the biggest snubs from the 2022 NCAA Tournament field, and on this Selection Sunday, the Aggies found themselves as the subject of one of the more puzzling seeding decisions from the committee. Texas A&M was projected to be a 5-seed or 6-seed heading into the SEC Tournament championship game against Alabama, yet when the committee revealed its bracket, the Aggies found themselves as a 7-seed in the Midwest Region matched up with a Penn State team in the first round that just finished as the runner-up in the Big Ten Tournament. They'll also potentially face 2-seed Texas in the second round. While fans elsewhere can salivate at the potential of a Texas-Texas A&M game on the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line, this is a much more difficult draw than if the Aggies had gotten a 5-seed or 6-seed, as many projected.