Feb 22, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars guard Jamal Shead (1) controls the ball as Tulane Green Wave forward Tylan Pope (33) defends during the second half at Fertitta Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
HOUSTON COUGARS (31-3): No. 1 Seed, Midwest Region
Round of 64 matchup: Northern Kentucky (22-12)
Path to the Final Four: The Houston Cougars, awarded the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region for a 31-3 campaign that saw them win the AAC regular-season title, will begin their potentially homeward-bound NCAA Tournament journey in Birmingham, Ala. versus the Northern Kentucky Norse on Thursday. NKU, champions of the Horizon League, toppled Cleveland State in the Horizon League’s final to secure their bid. While Houston will be a heavy favorite, the Norse are not to be slept on as evidenced by their 64-51 win over Cincinnati back on Nov. 16. Should the Cougars advance, they’ll take on either eighth-seeded Iowa or ninth-seeded Auburn in the round of 32, the latter of which could present what would feel like a road game. Houston’s most likely Sweet 16 opponent will be either fourth-seeded Indiana or fifth-seeded Miami, each of whom bowed out in their respective conference tournament semifinals. Miami is an elite offensive team, but undersized. Indiana is led by a dominant frontcourt player in Trayce Jackson-Davis but has been wildly inconsistent throughout Big Ten play. The other top seeds in the Midwest Region are No. 2-seed Texas and No. 3-seed Xavier, each of whom are potential Elite Eight opponents. Texas is the most well-rounded challenger to Houston, talented all over the floor and fresh off of a Big 12 championship win in Kansas City, where the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight will be located in the Coogs’ region. Xavier is notably without star player Zach Freemantle, but guard Souley Boum helped the Musketeers advance all the way to the Big East’s final. The big question for the Coogs surrounds the health of senior Marcus Sasser, who injured his groin in the AAC tournament’s semifinal.
TEXAS LONGHORNS (26-8): No. 2 Seed, Midwest Region
Round of 64 matchup: Colgate (26-8)
Path to the Final Four: Texas will open up its quest to reach the Final Four in Houston with a game Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa versus 15th-seeded Colgate, champions of the Patriot League, after posting a 17-1 conference record during the regular season. The Raiders lost 93-66 to Auburn in their only game this season against a power conference opponent. If the Longhorns advance past Colgate, they’ll take on either under-seeded seventh-seed Texas A&M or the 10th-seed Penn State in the Round of 32. No. 3-seed Xavier is the Longhorns’ most likely opponent in the Sweet 16, but Big 12 foe and No. 6-seed Iowa State cannot be overlooked. If Texas advances to the Elite Eight, there’s a very good chance it would take on No. 1-seed Houston to see which team heads to H-Town for a Final Four appearance.
TEXAS A&M AGGIES (25-9): No. 7 Seed, Midwest Region
Round of 64 matchup: Penn State (22-13)
Path to the Final Four: Texas A&M will also begin its potential journey to Houston in Des Moines on Thursday, where it will battle No. 10-seed Penn State. The Nittany Lions lost in the Big Ten championship game to Purdue on Sunday but have been playing much better basketball over the last few weeks. They’ll present a stiff challenge to Texas A&M, who probably should have been seeded higher than they are. Should the Aggies advance past Penn State, No. 2-seed Texas awaits a trip to the Sweet 16. From there, A&M’s path puts them on a possible collision course with No. 1-seed Houston for a chance to reach the Final Four.
BAYLOR BEARS (22-10): No. 3 Seed, South Region
Round of 64 matchup: UC Santa Barbara (27-7)
Path to the Final Four: Baylor, the South Region’s No. 3 seed, will take on No. 14-seed UC Santa Barbara in Denver to kick off its NCAA Tournament action on Friday. The Gauchos, champions of the Big West conference, finished the season with an impressive 27 wins and a 15-5 conference record. UC Santa Barbara has yet to take on a power conference team this season, so Baylor’s elite guard play and Big 12 pedigree will likely cause the Gauchos major issues. Scott Drew’s team would take on either sixth-seeded Creighton or 11th-seeded North Carolina State in the Round of 32. Creighton, a preseason AP Top 10 team, has talent in both the frontcourt and backcourt, while N.C. State presents two lightning-fast guards in Jarkel Joiner and Terquavion Smith. Baylor would most likely encounter No. 2-seed Arizona in the Sweet 16 in Louisville, Ky., a team the Bears share a lot in common with. Arizona is a veteran team with old guards and a huge frontcourt, and a team that would gladly play at a fast tempo with Baylor. Should Baylor advance to the Elite Eight, No. 1-overall seed Alabama likely awaits in what would be another incredibly fast-paced game.
TCU HORNED FROGS (21-12): No. 6-Seed, West Region
Round of 64 matchup: Arizona State (22-12) or Nevada (22-10)
Path to the Final Four: TCU will head to the West Region as a No. 6 seed, where they’ll begin their NCAA Tournament against either Arizona State or Nevada on Friday in Denver. Nevada and Arizona State, both bubble teams, also both have more experience than the Horned Frogs in playing at elevation. If TCU can topple one of those two west-coast opponents, it’ll advance into a potential Round of 32 matchup with No. 3-seed Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are as talented as the Big 12’s best, especially in the frontcourt, and could cause the Frogs issues if Eddie Lampkin Jr. remains unavailable. Jamie Dixon’s squad would head to Las Vegas for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight next, where injury-ridden No. 2-seed UCLA and defending national champion and No. 1-seed Kansas await. The Jayhawks and Horned Frogs split two games this season in conference play, which ought to give the Frogs confidence should they battle Bill Self’s team in Vegas for a trip to Houston.