A No. 1 seed has won the men’s NCAA tournament the last five years. Dominance from top seeds doesn’t stop there: if you go back to the last 15 years, a No. 1 seed has won it all 12 times. While there hasn’t been a truly dominant team in men’s hoops this season, there is still a great chance a No. 1 seed eventually cuts down the nets and wins it all.
This season looked nothing we expected during the preseason. North Carolina was the preseason No. 1 in the polls after bringing back the majority of the roster from a team that reached the national title game last year. Instead, the Tar Heels missed the NCAA tournament after a disappointing season. They’re the first preseason No. 1 to ever miss the big dance.
Houston was expected to be an elite team coming into the year, and they have lived up to the hype. Kansas was expected to be good but perhaps not No. 1 seed level after losing so many key pieces from their national championship team last year. Instead, the Jayhawks have been as good as ever, and could become the first program to win back-to-back titles since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Both were no-brainer selections as No. 1 seeds this year.
Now that the bracket is out, meet this year’s No. 1 seeds in the men’s NCAA tournament.
Midwest Region: Houston Cougars
Kelvin Sampson has quietly turned the Houston Cougars into one of college basketball’s most successful programs in the modern era of college basketball. Houston reached the Final Four in 2021 as a No. 2 seed, and went to the Elite Eight last year as a No. 5 seed. This year, Sampson brought in his first true five-star freshman ever when he landed forward Jarace Walker. Add in some talented returners — led by guard Marcus Sasser — and Houston started the year No. 3 in the AP Poll with real expectations to go on a national title run.
The Cougars have lived up the hype all year. This is a balanced team on both ends of the floor. Entering Selection Sunday, no team in the country ranked in the top-10 of both offensive and defensive efficiency ... but Houston was damn close with the No. 11 offense and No. 4 defense. This is the most physical team in the country, full of dogs who pressure you defensively at the point of attack, hit the glass hard, and thrive in transition. There’s only one problem: Sasser suffered a groin injury in the AAC tournament, and his status is up in the air for the big dance. This might be the best team in the country, but they need their star lead guard.
South Region: Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama was picked to finish No. 5 in the SEC in the preseason poll. The Crimson Tide made those projections look silly from the moment the season started. Alabama beat North Carolina, Houston, Memphis, and Kentucky during a 13-2 start that established them as a real contender. If there were any real skeptics left, the Crimson Tide should have silenced them during a dominant run to the SEC tournament championship.
Alabama blends stud freshmen with talented veterans as well as any team in the country. Brandon Miller has established himself as the best freshman in college basketball, a 6’9 sharpshooter with deep range who is being projected as a top-three pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Big man Noah Clowney is another talented freshman who could be a first round pick, while guard Jaden Bradley can keep the offense humming in the halfcourt. The veterans are impressive here, too: Mark Sears and Jahvon Quinerly are shot-makers and facilitators in the backcourt, and center Charles Bediako dunks everything inside. Alabama’s season has been full of controversy after former player Darius Miles was charged with murder and kicked off the team in Jan. Oats will want to keep the focus on the court, but the added media scrutiny that will come with a deep tournament run could make that more difficult. No one will feel good about picking the Tide to win it all, but they have the pieces to do it.
West Region: Kansas Jayhawks
The defending champions are back on top of the bracket again this year, but the Jayhawks begin their quest for a repeat with a multitude of questions. Starting guard Kevin McCullar Jr. has been banged up and Head coach Bill Self was hospitalized during the Big 12 Tournament. Although Self is reportedly doing well and should be back in time for the first round, the team has clearly been shaken. The Jayhawks’ lost in a 20-point blowout to Texas in the Big 12 championship, their second double-digit loss to the Longhorns in a week.
The Jayhawks will lean on star and the Big 12’s leading scorer Jalen Wilson who can get a bucket with ease from literally anywhere on the floor. They have probably the most effective sharpshooter in the tournament with Gradey Dick shooting 41% from three this year. If McCullar can get healthy, he and point guard Dejuan Harris are a menace on the defensive end, each averaging over 2.0 steals per game. The fact stands that when Kansas is at their best, they’re unbeatable.
Both times Kansas suffered deflating losses this year, they responded with significant win streaks. They’re six wins away from becoming the first back-to-back champions in nearly 15 years. They have a top-10 offense, and a top-30 defense. The pieces are all there, but from the coaching staff to the roster, they need to refocus fast.
East Region: Purdue Boilermakers
The Boilermakers put together a shaky final stretch of the Big Ten regular season, losing four of their final eight games to slide out of the top spot in the AP Top 25. But a solid run in the Big Ten tournament, all the way to the title, has Purdue in as one of the four No. 1 seeds in the big dance. Of course, it starts with the imposing Zach Edey. The 7’4 center has blossomed into a force for the Boilermakers, and his performance in the Big Ten semifinal against Ohio State is a perfect example of what he means to Purdue. Edey finished with 32 points and 14 rebounds in the victory over the Buckeyes, and he had 17 points in the first half and a double-double alone in the second half (15 points, 13 rebounds). He followed that up with another double-double in the Big Ten Championship game against Penn State, putting up another 30 points with 13 more boards.
Edey is not the only reason the Boilermakers are dangerous. Head coach Matt Painter loves surrounding him with shooters, which gives him room to work, and those shooters opportunities when opponents try to double Edey. That creates opportunities for guards Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer on the perimeter, with both shooters converting for over 32% from deep. Penn State’s late-game pressure might be a bit of a roadmap for upcoming opponents, but Edey is college basketball’s immovable object, and the most dangerous player in this tournament. It is hard to find a player in college basketball today that can matchup with him one-on-one, and that could be enough for the Boilermakers to make a very deep run.