March is almost here, which means the 2021 NCAA Tournament is just around the corner.
Well, hopefully. The NCAA is doing what it can to reduce the risk of COVID-19 playing havoc with the tournament — setting the entire event in the state of Indiana — but there’s only so much that can be done. Hopefully they’ll play games without delays and interruptions, but more importantly hopefully everyone stays safe. Assuming everything stays on track, Selection Sunday is March 14.
Let’s jump back into the NCAA Tournament projections game, with our first Field of 68 projection of the season.
As always, Sporting News’ Field of 68 projections are based on where teams should be seeded based on how their resumes compare, if the season ended yesterday. Because we’re still a few weeks from Selection Sunday, I’m not as concerned with regions and bracketing principles; if your team has an 8-seed resume relative to the other teams in the field, they’re on the 8-seed line. Simple as that.
For each team, I’ve included a couple of rankings and records that will be very relevant when the selection committee meets to build the real bracket. Automatic bids (noted in parenthesis) go to the team with the best conference record. In case of a tie, the bid is given to the team with the best NET rating.
March Madness bracket predictions for 2021 NCAA Tournament
Projected No. 1 seeds
Gonzaga (West Coast), Baylor (Big 12), Michigan (Big Ten), Ohio State
- Gonzaga (22-0): NET/Pom: 1/1. vs. Q1: 7-0. vs. Q3/4: 10-0
- Baylor (17-0): NET/Pom: 2/2. vs. Q1: 6-0. vs. Q3/4: 9-0
- Michigan (16-1): NET/Pom: 3/3. vs. Q1: 11-0. vs. Q3/4: 6-0
- Ohio State (18-5): NET/Pom: 7/7. vs. Q1: 8-4. vs. Q3/4: 7-0
Thoughts: The top three teams — Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan — are pretty much locked into No. 1 seeds at this point. At the very least, all three have considerable 1-seed cushions. Ohio State holds onto the fourth No. 1 seed for the moment, just ahead of Illinois, even after losing at home to Michigan in what was a thrilling game. If the Buckeyes trip up again and Illinois stumbles a bit, Alabama could make a 1-seed push.
Projected No. 2 seeds
Illinois, Alabama (SEC), Villanova (Big East), Iowa
- Illinois (16-5): NET/Pom: 4/5. vs. Q1: 7-5. vs. Q3/4: 5-0
- Alabama (18-5): NET/Pom: 8/8. vs. Q1: 7-3. vs. Q3/4: 6-0
- Villanova (14-3): NET/Pom: 10/11. vs. Q1: 2-2. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
- Iowa (17-6): NET/Pom: 5/4. vs. Q1: 4-5. vs. Q3/4: 7-0
Thoughts: Iowa’s still a 1-seed possibility, but that would almost certainly require winning its next two games — at Michigan on Thursday and at Ohio State on Saturday. No small task. Villanova’s more likely to drop a seed line with a loss or two than to jump up to the top seed line; the Wildcats only have two Quad 1 wins, and of their final four games only one (at home vs. Creighton) is a Quad 1 possibility. Three Q1 wins won’t be enough, unless crazy things happen.
Projected No. 3 seeds
Houston, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida State (ACC)
- Houston (17-3): NET/Pom: 6/6. vs. Q1: 2-1. vs. Q3/4: 11-1
- Virginia (15-5): NET/Pom: 9/9. vs. Q1: 3-4. vs. Q3/4: 7-1
- West Virginia (15-6): NET/Pom: 15/16. vs. Q1: 6-6. vs. Q3/4: 5-0
- Oklahoma (14-5): NET/Pom: 19/26. vs. Q1: 5-5. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
Thoughts: Oklahoma has won seven of its past eight games, including road victories at West Virginia and Texas, two teams in the top 5 seed lines of this week’s projection. The committee loves results like that. West Virginia’s resume includes an impressive sweep of Texas Tech and road wins at Texas and Oklahoma State.
Projected No. 4 seeds
Florida State, Tennessee, Kansas, USC (Pac 12)
- Florida State (13-3): NET/Pom: 12/12. vs. Q1: 3-2. vs. Q3/4: 5-1
- Tennessee (15-6): NET/Pom: 18/24. vs. Q1: 5-4. vs. Q3/4: 9-0
- Kansas (16-7): NET/Pom: 16/22. vs. Q1: 5-7. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
- USC (19-4): NET/Pom: 14/14. vs. Q1: 3-1. vs. Q3/4: 12-0
Thoughts: USC notched another resume win on Monday night, beating Oregon by 14 points at home. That’s 14 wins in the past 16 games for the Trojans. The Pac 12 doesn’t offer much in the way of elite-level wins, but the Trojans are collecting as many mid-level victories as possible. And, yes, this is the year that Kansas’ grip on the Big 12 title ends, but the Jayhawks are still a good team playing their best ball of the season (five wins in a row).
Projected No. 5 seeds
Texas, Missouri, Virginia Tech, Texas Tech
- Texas (13-6): NET/Pom: 23/21. vs. Q1: 3-6. vs. Q3/4: 7-0
- Missouri (14-6): NET/Pom: 39/44. vs. Q1: 6-4. vs. Q3/4: 6-0
- Virginia Tech (14-4): NET/Pom: 36/35. vs. Q1: 3-2. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
- Texas Tech (14-8): NET/Pom: 14/22. vs. Q1: 4-7. vs. Q3/4: 10-0
Thoughts: When the selection committee did its reveal of the top four seed lines, Missouri was listed as the No. 16 seed. The Tigers promptly went out and lost three games in a row before righting the ship with a win at South Carolina. In this projection, though, Mizzou has only fallen to the 5-seed line, and here’s why: player availability. Senior big man Jeremiah Tillmon missed all three games, and that matters to the selection committee. He was in the lineup when Mizzou beat Alabama — the only SEC loss of the year so far for the Tide — and back in the mix for the South Carolina win.
Projected No. 6 seeds
Purdue, Wisconsin, Creighton, Arkansas
- Purdue (15-8): NET/Pom: 28/17. vs. Q1: 4-7. vs. Q3/4: 6-1
- Wisconsin (16-8): NET/Pom: 20/13. vs. Q1: 3-7. vs. Q3/4: 7-0
- Creighton (16-5): NET/Pom: 25/15. vs. Q1: 4-1. vs. Q3/4: 5-4
- Arkansas (17-5): NET/Pom: 26/24. vs. Q1: 4-4. vs. Q3/4: 9-0
Thoughts: Other projections have Creighton as high as a 4 seed, but that seems inflated. They have only one win against an at-large lock (at home vs. Villanova) but they have four — FOUR — losses to teams that won’t sniff an at-large bid (home vs. Marquette, at Butler, home vs. Providence and home vs. Georgetown). They’re solidly in the field, with quality wins against Seton Hall (two), Xavier and UConn, but this feels more like their seed level.
Projected No. 7 seeds
Oklahoma State, Clemson, Florida, LSU
- Oklahoma State (15-6): NET/Pom: 41/43. vs. Q1: 6-4. vs. Q3/4: 8-1
- Clemson (13-5): NET/Pom: 38/41. vs. Q1: 4-5. vs. Q3/4: 4-0
- Florida (11-6): NET/Pom: 29/32. vs. Q1: 3-3. vs. Q3/4: 5-1
- LSU (14-6): NET/Pom: 27/27. vs. Q1: 3-6. vs. Q3/4: 9-0
Thoughts: Oklahoma State, of course, was technically banned from the 2021 Tournament, but that decision is being appealed and the Cowboys remain eligible while on that appeal. Nobody knows when the NCAA will rule on that appeal, but at this point it would be crummy to declare the Cowboys ineligible so close to Selection Sunday. With wins like the one Monday night — beating Texas Tech in OT — they’re showing they’re definitely tournament-worthy.
Projected No. 8 seeds
Oregon, UCLA, Loyola Chicago (Missouri Valley), BYU
- Oregon (14-5): NET/Pom: 42/37. vs. Q1: 2-3. vs. Q3/4: 8-2
- UCLA (16-5): NET/Pom: 43/45. vs. Q1: 2-3. vs. Q3/4: 12-0
- Loyola Chicago (17-4): NET/Pom: 11/9. vs. Q1: 1-2. vs. Q3/4: 12-0
- BYU (16-5): NET/Pom: 22/20. vs. Q1: 3-3. vs. Q3/4: 9-0
Thoughts: The computers irrationally love Loyola, though we didn’t know machines could love. You see the NET/Pom rankings (9/11) and you think that’s a top-four seed. But Loyola’s best wins are at Drake and home vs. North Texas, and they lost their two biggest non-conference games (at Wisconsin/neutral vs. Richmond). That’s not top-four seed caliber.
Projected No. 9 seeds
Rutgers, Colorado, Louisville, San Diego State (Mountain West)
- Rutgers (12-9): NET/Pom: 31/28. vs. Q1: 4-8. vs. Q3/4: 5-0
- Colorado (17-7): NET/Pom: 21/17. vs. Q1: 2-4. vs. Q3/4: 9-3
- Louisville (11-5): NET/Pom: 53/52. vs. Q1: 0-4. vs. Q3/4: 5-1
- San Diego State (16-4): NET/Pom: 24/19. vs. Q1: 0-3. vs. Q3/4: 12-0
Thoughts: On the No. 9 seed line we have two teams — Louisville and San Diego State — that have combined for zero Quad 1 wins, and this is where you start to realize the bubble is not packed with strong resumes. Glance down to the 10-seed line and you’ll see three teams with four Q1 wins and then a team that has five Q1 wins, but is only three games over .500 (vs. D-1 teams).
Projected No. 10 seeds
North Carolina, Boise State, Xavier, Maryland
- North Carolina (14-7): NET/Pom: 34/29. vs. Q1: 1-6. vs. Q3/4: 7-0
- Boise State (17-4): NET/Pom: 32/55. vs. Q1: 2-2. vs. Q3/4: 13-0
- Xavier (12-4): NET/Pom: 50/58. vs. Q1: 1-2. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
- Maryland (13-10): NET/Pom: 30/30. vs. Q1: 5-9. vs. Q3/4: 7-0
Thoughts: Two games into the ACC schedule, North Carolina was 0-2 in league play and just 5-4 overall. The Tar Heels have climbed a bit, beating fellow bubble teams Louisville, Duke and Syracuse while losing to teams solidly in the at-large field (Florida State, Virginia and Clemson. Still can’t afford to falter down the stretch.
Projected No. 11 seeds
Seton Hall, Drake, Indiana, VCU, Colorado State, Stanford
- Seton Hall (13-9): NET/Pom: 49/38. vs. Q1: 3-6. vs. Q3/4: 7-1
- Drake (21-2): NET/Pom: 33/47. vs. Q1: 1-1. vs. Q3/4: 16-1
- *Indiana (12-10): NET/Pom: 52/33. vs. Q1: 3-7. vs. Q3/4: 4-2
- *VCU (16-5): NET/Pom: 35/46. vs. Q1: 0-3. vs. Q3/4: 7-2
- *Colorado State (13-4): NET/Pom: 46/66. vs. Q1: 2-3. vs. Q3/4: 10-0
- *Stanford (14-9): NET/Pom: 57/61. vs. Q1: 4-5. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
Thoughts: With the last six at-large teams, we have all kinds of varied resumes. That’s what makes it fun, right? On one hand, Indiana is only a couple games north of .500, but the Hoosiers swept Iowa and have wins over bubble teams Stanford, Maryland and Minnesota. On the other extreme, Drake’s only lost two games, but the resume is thin up top. And with the teams in the First Four Out, it’s more of the same.
No. 12 seeds: St. Bonaventure (Atlantic 10), Wichita State (American), UC Santa Barbara (Big West), Colgate (Patriot)
No. 13 seeds: Belmont (Ohio Valley), Winthrop (Big South), Toledo (MAC), Wright State (Horizon)
No. 14 seeds: North Texas (Conference USA), UNCG (Southern), Abilene Christian (Southland), Liberty (Atlantic Sun)
No. 15 seeds: Vermont (America East), Eastern Washington (Big Sky), James Madison (Colonial), Grand Canyon (WAC)
No. 16 seeds: Siena (MAAC), South Dakota (Summit), Texas State (Sun Belt), Prairie View A&M (SWAC), Wagner (Northeast), North Carolina A&T (MEAC)
*First Four teams
First four out
UConn (10-6): NET/Pom: 54/36. vs. Q1: 2-3. vs. Q3/4: 7-0
Minnesota (13-10): NET/Pom: 60-49. vs. Q1: 4-10. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
Saint Louis (11-4): NET/Pom: 48/51. vs. Q1: 1-1. vs. Q3/4: 9-2
Duke (11-8): NET/Pom: 56/31. vs. Q1: 2-3. vs. Q3/4: 5-2
Other bubble teams (alphabetical)
Memphis (12-6): NET/Pom: 61/48. vs. Q1: 0-2. vs. Q3/4: 9-1
Richmond (11-5): NET/Pom: 58/59. vs. Q1: 2-2. vs. Q3/4: 6-2
SMU (11-4): NET/Pom: 59/56. vs. Q1: 0-3. vs. Q3/4: 7-1
Syracuse (13-7): NET/Pom: 47/53. vs. Q1: 0-5. vs. Q3/4: 10-1
Utah State (13-7): NET/Pom: 55/54. vs. Q1: 2-4. vs. Q3/4: 10-2