Ten Takeaways from the Men’s NCAA Tournament Bracket

The field looks particularly ripe for early upsets.

Here are my 10 picks from the men’s NCAA Tournament reveal on Selection Sunday:

1. The potential for chaos is real and spectacular.

As has been reported all season, the sport’s top tier is thin and fickle. No team from a Power 6 conference has lost fewer than five games. the AP No. 1 ranking has changed hands seven times and 14 different teams have been ranked in the top five. only three teams among the top 12 seeds won both regular season and postseason championships (Alamama, Purdue and Marquette). And there are some serious injuries and health concerns among the contenders (see below).

Meanwhile, the lower half of the arm looks like one of the strongest in recent memory. There were relatively few upsets in the mid-major conference tournaments, meaning that most of the best teams from that stratum advanced to this tournament. Fourteen teams from single-bid leagues have won at least 25 games and three have won 30 or more. Three are led by coaches who have advanced to at least the Sweet Sixteen (Iona’s Rick Pitino, Northern Kentucky’s Darrin Horn and Oral Roberts’ Paul Mills). There are several veteran mid-major teams that have been to the Big Dance before and gained valuable experience.

Among the most attractive double-digit seeds: all four No. 12s (Charleston, Drake, VCU and Oral Roberts). all four 13s (Furman, Kent State, Louisiana and Iona); No. 14 UC-Santa Barbara; No. 15 Colgate? No. 16 Northern Kentucky.

If ever we were primed for an onslaught of mid-majors, this year would seem to be it.

The College of Charleston is returning to the Big Dance for just the second time since 1999.

Nick Wass/AP

2. Controversy be damned, Alabama is the clear No. 1 all-purpose seed.

The tournament selection committee made a basketball decision, and only a basketball decision, by selecting the Crimson Tide as the top overall seed. The fallout from the manslaughter charge of player Darius Miles and the connection of star player Brandon Miller to the crime scene after the alleged murder weapon was delivered to his car has cast a dark cloud over the program. But in purely on-field terms, no one had a better season than Alabama (29-5).

Alabama’s closest competition for the overall top seed before Sunday was Houston, which was No. 1 ahead of the Tide in the NCAA NET rankings and several other metrics-based rankings. But the Cougars lost at home to Alabama in December, and leading scorer Marcus Sasser’s status is at least somewhat questionable after suffering a groin injury Saturday in the American Athletic Conference tournament. Sacher did not play in Sunday’s AAC title game against Memphis, where Houston was soundly defeated by the Tigers.

For history’s sake, making a different team the top No. 1 seed would have slightly alleviated the NCAA upset that comes with the Tide. But there really wasn’t a viable alternative — and after seeing Kansas cut down the nets last spring while under investigation for major rules violations, this is just a more complicated chapter in college basketball.

3. The committee did some interesting geography gymnastics.

By giving Houston the second No. 1 seed over Kansas, the committee took the Jayhawks off a gilded backyard path to the Final Four. The Cougars, not the Jayhawks, are the Midwest’s No. 1 seed and — if they win two games — will play in Kansas City. This has long been considered Lawrence East for Kansas, which will now be routed through Des Moines and then Las Vegas if it goes ahead.

However, Houston got some crappy treatment on the opening weekend. And so did No. 8 seed Iowa. Both of those teams were sent to Birmingham—along with No. 9 Auburn. The Tigers were given a relaxed travel schedule and the opportunity for home fans to purchase tickets for games against higher-seeded teams.

4. Who’s missing—at least temporarily—is almost as important as who’s playing.

In addition to Sasser, the injury status of several other key players could play a huge role in how this tournament plays out. UCLA, the No. 2 seed, lost defensive ace Jalen Clark to a reportedly season-ending Achilles tendon injury (the school has not confirmed or denied that report), and the Bruins weren’t benching the big man. Adem Bona for Saturday’s Pac-12 title game after shoulder injury. Texas, also No. 2, won the Big 12 tournament without forward Timmy Allen (10.5 points, team-high 5.5 rebounds), who was listed as “day-to-day” after a lower leg injury . And Tennessee’s hopes for a long tournament run were dealt a major blow by the season-ending knee injury suffered by point guard Zakai Zeigler.

SWEENEY: Jaylen Clark’s injury is a crushing blow to UCLA’s Title Hopes

Just as big as those player issues is the health of Kansas coach Bill Self, who had a heart problem before the Big 12 tournament. The man who led the Jayhawks to two national championships hasn’t coached since being hospitalized for a catheterization procedure and the placement of two stents to relieve the blockage last week. Kansas assistant Norm Roberts, who took over as head coach, said Self will be back for the NCAA tournament. The question is whether he can handle a full workload amid the stress and long hours of tournament play.

Also: committee chairman Chris Reynolds said an injury played a role in keeping Rutgers off the field. The Scarlet Knights went just 3–7 after forward Mawot Mag suffered a season-ending injury.

5. Hard to blame Oklahoma State for uncharitable considerations toward various branches of the NCAA.

The Cowboys will miss their second straight NCAA Tournament for two different reasons. This year, the Cowboys were the first team out of the field, surpassing Nevada for 68th. Last year, the Cowboys were banned from postseason play by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions for their involvement in the federal investigation into college basketball corruption — making them the only program to date embroiled in that scandal to be hit with that penalty .

6. There is a familiarity to this tournament.

With many established players remaining in the college game – partly due to NIL opportunities and partly due to their limited upside in the NBA – we’re going to see a lot of recognizable faces in starring roles.

Drew Timme is back for his 23rd NCAA run at Gonzaga. UCLA seniors Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell, were in the starting lineup for four years, including the Bruins’ 2021 Final Four. Purdue’s Zach Edey was a towering presence in the post for three seasons. Oscar Tshiebwe at Kentucky, Trayce Jackson-Davis at Indiana, Jalen Wilson at Kansas, Jamal Shead at Houston, Jeremy Roach at Duke, Max Abmas at Oral Roberts—they’re all as familiar as the neighbors you see at the grocery store .

The North Carolina quartet of Armando Bacot, RJ Davis, Leaky Black and Caleb Love could have added to that feel, but, well…

In a sport that had become quite transient, with players coming and going so quickly that it was hard to stick with them, this is a welcome change.


Jamie Jaquez Jr. averaged 17.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists to earn Pac-12 Player of the Year honors.

Chase Stevens/AP

7. Coach K is missing — but his protégés are not.

Mike Krzyzewski retired after last year’s Final Four run, but the winningest coach in Division I men’s basketball history still has his influence on the team. Replacement Jon Scheyer leads a red-hot Duke into the East Regional as a No. 5 seed. Former assistant Jeff Capel pitched Pittsburgh as a First Four participant. and former Blue Devil player Kenny Blakeney led Howard to the tournament for the first time since 1992.

8. The power of a single play over a long season.

Some of the highlights that helped shape the tournament:

Desmond Cambridge Jr.’s 55-foot prayer for Arizona State to beat Arizona in Tucson certainly meant the difference between NCAA and NIT for the No. 11 Sun Devils.

Back on January 23, a controversial flagrant foul against New Mexico big man Morris Udeze at Nevada allowed the Wolf Pack to tie the game and send it into overtime, where Nevada won 97–94. Nevada was the last team in the tournament.

Two free throws by Jamarius Burton in the final seconds sent Pittsburgh past North Carolina on Feb. 1 in what might have been the margin by which one team made the tournament and one didn’t. Also, Carolina’s four-overtime loss to Alabama on Nov. 27 in Portland now looms large.

9. There’s a strong Texas flavor to the tournament.

The Final Four will be in Houston, and there are plenty of Lone Star teams that would love to get there. That starts with two from this very city – the No. 1 seed Houston Cougars and No. 16 Texas Southern Tigers. (One of those two has slightly better odds than the other.) There’s also No. 2 seed Texas, No. 7 seed Texas A&M, No. 3 seed Baylor, No. 6 seed TCU and No. 16 seed Texas A&M- Corpus Christi.

10. Training under pressure.

The only team coach among the top eight to win a national title is Self. Purdue’s Matt Painter is fighting off a disappointing early tournament streak. Marquette’s Shaka Smart has lost six straight NCAA Tournament first-round games. Tennessee’s Rick Barnes has only made one Sweet Sixteen in the past 16 years. Iowa’s Fran McCaffrey has never made the Sweet Sixteen in more than 20 years as a college head coach.

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