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Bracketology 2022: Baylor back on top to start the New Year

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The defending national champions are the class of this season so far.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Texas Christian
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The college football season wrapped up last night with the Georgia Bulldogs winning their first national title since 1980 by taking down the defending national champ Alabama Crimson Tide. Even though this year’s College Football Playoff included a Cincinnati Bearcats team that’s never won a national football title and a Michigan Wolverines squad that last claimed a split title in 1997, football last had a new school claim a crown in 1996— Florida Gators. That was my freshman year in Gainesville, so yeah, it’s been a relative eternity.

As usual it’s a different story in the world of men’s college basketball. While last season’s Final Four featured the sport’s all-time record champion in the UCLA Bruins, the other three participants—the Gonzaga Bulldogs, Houston Cougars, and Baylor Bears—entered Lucas Oil Stadium with a combined zero titles between them. Scott Drew’s Bears were able to break through, completing a redemption story that began with the infamous murder of Patrick Dennehey by his former teammate Carlton Dotson—and the resulting scandal that led to the firing of head coach Dave Bliss.

Baylor joined 2019’s champion, the Virginia Cavaliers, as consecutive first-time winners of March Madness. And if you look at the top of today’s first real projection of the season, you’ll find five teams among the top eight that would love to add to the streak. Gonzaga is still there on the top line, along with the Auburn Tigers and LSU Tigers, while the Purdue Boilermakers and USC Trojans sit on line two alongside a pair of multiple champions in the Kansas Jayhawks and Villanova Wildcats.

Here’s today’s full bracket, which features a whopping 27 newcomers when compared to my preseason bracket.

Rundown

IN (27): Central Arkansas (ASUN), Chattanooga (SoCon), Cleveland State (Horizon), Colorado State, Creighton, Davidson, Iowa State, Louisiana (Sun Belt), Louisiana Tech (C-USA), Marquette, Miami (Fla.), Minnesota, Murray State, Navy (Patriot), NJIT (America East), Ohio (MAC), Oklahoma, Princeton (Ivy), Providence, San Francisco, Seton Hall, Southern (SWAC), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Southland), UNC Asheville (Big South), Wake Forest, Weber State (Big Sky), William & Mary (CAA)
OUT: Arkansas, Buffalo (MAC), Colgate (Patriot), Colorado, Delaware (CAA), Florida State, Furman (SoCon), Georgia State (Sun Belt), Liberty (ASUN), Louisville, Maryland, Michigan, Milwaukee (Horizon), Nevada, Nicholls (Southland), Notre Dame, Oregon, Richmond, Southern Utah (Big Sky), Syracuse, Texas Southern (SWAC), UAB (C-USA), Vermont (America East), Virginia, Virginia Tech, Winthrop (Big South), Yale (Ivy)

Last Four Byes: Belmont, Creighton, Minnesota, Wake Forest
Last Four IN: Memphis, St. Bonaventure, Florida, Saint Mary’s
First Four OUT: Louisville, Saint Louis, Virginia, UAB
Next Four OUT: Notre Dame, Mississippi State, TCU, UCF

Bids By Conference

Big Ten - 8: 2. Purdue, 3. Michigan State (AQ), 4. Illinois, 4. Wisconsin, 6. Ohio State, 8. Indiana, 9. Iowa, 11. Minnesota
Big 12 - 7: 1. Baylor (AQ), 2. Kansas, 5. Texas Tech, 6. Iowa State, 7. West Virginia, 7. Oklahoma, 8. Texas
Big East - 7: 2. Villanova, 5. UConn, 6. Xavier, 6. Seton Hall, 7. Providence (AQ), 10. Marquette, 11. Creighton
SEC - 6: 1. Auburn (AQ), 1. LSU, 4. Alabama, 5. Tennessee, 5. Kentucky, 12. Florida (First Four)
ACC - 4: 3. Duke, 9. Miami (Fla.) (AQ), 10. North Carolina, 11. Wake Forest
WCC - 4: 1. Gonzaga, 8. BYU (AQ), 10. San Francisco, 12. Saint Mary’s (First Four)
Pac-12: 3: 2. USC (AQ), 3. Arizona, 4. UCLA
Atlantic 10 - 2: 9. Davidson (AQ), 11. St. Bonaventure (First Four)
American - 2: 3. Houston (AQ), 11. Memphis (First Four)
MW - 2: 8. Colorado State, 9. San Diego State (AQ)
OVC - 2: 10 Belmont, 12. Murray State (AQ)
One-bid conferences: 21

It was exceptionally difficult to fill out the final six or so spots in the field at this point In January. My emphasis when sorting out the bubble was quality wins, which is why St. Bonaventure is present with a ranking 107th in the NET and Memphis and Florida remain in the field despite having picked up some truly questionable losses. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, cancelations, rescheduling, and freshly arranged games will play a major role in how things shake out.

On Friday, I’ll be back with a breakdown of how each conference performed in non-league play and how that’s shaping the bracketology picture for 2022.

For now, here’s a quick rundown of Tuesday’s busy TV schedule, which starts with some afternoon action. TV info is from Matt Sarz Sports, and his convenient daily schedule lists all the games I didn’t get to here. There are four particularly important contests in the Big 12 this evening, a crucial showdown between Big East surprises, and the hoops Iron Bowl in the SEC. I’ve bolded these games.

All times are Eastern. All information is tentative thanks to COVID.

Iona at Fairfield, 2 p.m. (ESPN3)
USC at Stanford, 5 p.m. (ESPN2)
Hofstra at Towson, 5 p.m. (CBSSN)
South Carolina at Tennessee, 6:30 p.m. (SECN)
Rutgers at Penn State, 6:30 p.m. (B1G Network)
Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Texas Tech at Baylor, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
DePaul at Marquette, 7 p.m. (FS1)
Pittsburgh at Syracuse, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Saint Louis at Dayton, 7 p.m. (CBSSN)
George Washington at VCU, 7 p.m. (MASN2/ESPN+ ($))
Bowling Green at Ohio, 7 p.m. (ESPN3)
St. Bonaventure at La Salle, 7 p.m. (ESPN+ ($))
UMass at Davidson, 7 p.m. (ESPN+ ($))
Miami at Florida State, 8 p.m. (ACCN)
Iowa State at Kansas, 8 p.m. (ESPN+ ($))
Ole MIss at Texas A&M, 8:30 p.m. (SECN)
Illinois at Nebraska, 6:30 p.m. (B1G Network)
Oklahoma at Texas, 8:30 p.m. (LHN)
Auburn at Alabama, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Oklahoma State at West Virginia, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Providence at Creighton, 9 p.m. (FS1)
Valparaiso at Loyola Chicago, 9 p.m. (CBSSN)