March Madness bracket predictions 2.0: Projecting the Field of 68 for 2021 NCAA Tournament

March Madness bracket predictions 2.0: Projecting the Field of 68 for 2021 NCAA Tournament

It’s March. That’s as much of an intro to this week’s Field of 68 NCAA Tournament projections as you need, right? Cool. Let’s go. 

As always, Sporting News’ Field of 68 projections are based on where teams should be seeded based on how resumes compare, if the season ended yesterday. 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. 

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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.

Projected No. 1 seeds

Gonzaga (West Coast), Michigan (Big Ten), Baylor (Big 12), Illinois

Gonzaga (24-0): NET/Pom: 1/1. vs. Q1: 7-0. vs. Q3/4: 12-0
Michigan (18-1): NET/Pom: 2/2. vs. Q1: 8-1. vs. Q3/4: 5-0
Baylor (18-1): NET/Pom: 3/3. vs. Q1: 6-1. vs. Q3/4: 10-0
Illinois (18-6): NET/Pom: 5/6. vs. Q1: 8-5. vs. Q3/4: 5-0

Baylor suffered its first loss of the season, but the Bears are in very little danger of dropping off the top seed line. The only way that would happen would be if they lost their final three regular-season games AND the Big 12 Tournament opener. Even then, they’d still be a worthy candidate. Ohio State dropped off this week and Illinois ascends to that fourth spot on the No. 1 seed line. The Illini dropped a game on the road against a surging Michigan State team a week ago, but rebounded with a workmanlike win over Nebraska and a win at Wisconsin, which is always impressive. 

Projected No. 2 seeds

Ohio State, Alabama (SEC), Iowa, Houston

Ohio State (18-7): NET/Pom: 8/7. vs. Q1: 7-5. vs. Q3/4: 7-0
Alabama (19-6): NET/Pom: 7/8. vs. Q1: 7-4. vs. Q3/4: 6-1
Iowa (18-7): NET/Pom: 6/5. vs. Q1: 5-6. vs. Q3/4: 5-0
Houston (19-3): NET/Pom: 4/4. vs. Q1: 2-1. vs. Q3/4: 13-1

The Big Ten schedule is brutal, and the Buckeyes are stumbling a bit right now. They’ve lost three in a row — at home vs. Michigan and Iowa, and at Michigan State. Their final regular-season tilt is at home on Saturday against Illinois, against the team that took the No. 1 seed from them this week. Iowa had the nice win at Ohio State, but that followed a 22-point loss at Michigan. The Hawkeyes started well and then were run out of the gym in the last 30 minutes or so.

Projected No. 3 seeds

West Virginia, Villanova (Big East), Kansas, Florida State (ACC)

West Virginia (17-6): NET/Pom: 13/19. vs. Q1: 6-6. vs. Q3/4: 6-0
Villanova (15-4): NET/Pom: 11/10. vs. Q1: 2-3. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
Kansas (17-8): NET/Pom: 10/18. vs. Q1: 6-8. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
Florida State (14-4): NET/Pom: 14/9. vs. Q1: 3-3. vs. Q3/4: 5-1

A very good case could be made for West Virginia ahead of Houston on the 2-seed line, and the Mountaineers have a great chance to solidify that case down the stretch. Their final three games are at home against Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State; win all three and they’ll almost certainly be a 2 seed — and a dark horse for that final 1-seed spot. It’s telling that, in a year when the Jayhawks will lose their grip on the Big 12 title (Baylor will run away with that), Kansas still will wind up as a top-4 seed.

Projected No. 4 seeds

Arkansas, Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas

Arkansas (19-5): NET/Pom: 18/17. vs. Q1: 6-4. vs. Q3/4: 9-0
Virginia (16-6): NET/Pom: 20/15. vs. Q1: 3-4. vs. Q3/4: 9-1
Oklahoma State (17-6): NET/Pom: 31/35. vs. Q1: 8-4. vs. Q3/4: 8-1
Texas (14-7): NET/Pom: 27/25. vs. Q1: 4-7. vs. Q3/4: 7-0

Arkansas has done wonders for its eventual NCAA Tournament seed in recent weeks, knocking off four tournament-bound teams in a row: Missouri, Florida, Alabama and LSU. The Razorbacks went from the 8/9/10 seed range to a likely spot in the top five. Impressive. And speaking of impressive, how about Oklahoma State? Cade Cunningham and the Cowboys have four OT wins this year, all against teams that will easily earn at-large bids. That sweep of Oklahoma (one on Saturday, one on Monday) was especially impressive. 

Projected No. 5 seeds

Oklahoma, Purdue, Texas Tech, Florida

Oklahoma (14-8): NET/Pom: 30/31. vs. Q1: 5-6. vs. Q3/4: 8-1
Purdue (16-8): NET/Pom: 22/13. vs. Q1: 5-7. vs. Q3/4: 5-1
Texas Tech (15-8): NET/Pom: 15/23. vs. Q1: 5-7. vs. Q3/4: 10-0
Florida (13-6): NET/Pom: 26/27. vs. Q1: 5-3. vs. Q3/4: 5-1

Obviously the Sooners would have loved to at least split with Oklahoma State, and that could have happened; one game went to OT and the other was decided by four points. But the thing that really hurts the resume? The game before that, a loss on the road to a K-State team that the Sooners beat by 26 points earlier this season. The Wildcats are ranked 200 in the NET — even after beating OU — and hadn’t beaten a team in the NET top 100 all season. Yikes. 

Projected No. 6 seeds

Creighton, Colorado, Clemson, Tennessee

Creighton (17-6): NET/Pom: 25/15. vs. Q1: 4-2. vs. Q3/4: 6-3
Colorado (19-7): NET/Pom: 12/16. vs. Q1: 3-4. vs. Q3/4: 9-3
Clemson (15-5): NET/Pom: 33/38. vs. Q1: 4-5. vs. Q3/4: 5-0
Tennessee (16-7): NET/Pom: 21/24. vs. Q1: 5-5. vs. Q3/4: 10-0

Colorado had a big week, winning home games against USC and UCLA. The Buffs have solid computer numbers, as you see, but the three Quad 3 losses aren’t going to help when the committee does its seed scrub. They’ll need as many quality wins as possible. Clemson continues to roll along, winning five in a row in ACC play, and suddenly a resume with only five losses — and neutral-court non-conference wins against Alabama and Purdue — starts to look pretty darn good.

Projected No. 7 seeds

Missouri, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, USC

Missouri (14-7): NET/Pom: 46/48. vs. Q1: 6-4. vs. Q3/4: 6-0
Wisconsin (16-9): NET/Pom: 24/11. vs. Q1: 3-8. vs. Q3/4: 6-0
Virginia Tech (15-5): NET/Pom: 44/46. vs. Q1: 2-2. vs. Q3/4: 10-0
USC (19-6): NET/Pom: 25/21. vs. Q1: 3-3. vs. Q3/4: 12-0

Wisconsin’s computer metrics are solid, as always, and they have a handful of solid victories, but the Badgers lack a “signature” win in a conference with lots of signature-win opportunities — they’re 0-6 combined against Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois and Iowa. 

Projected No. 8 seeds

UCLA (Pac 12), Oregon, BYU, San Diego State (Mountain West)

UCLA (17-6): NET/Pom: 39/41. vs. Q1: 2-4. vs. Q3/4: 12-0
Oregon (17-5): NET/Pom: 42/37. vs. Q1: 3-3. vs. Q3/4: 9-2
BYU (18-5): NET/Pom: 19/22. vs. Q1: 3-3. vs. Q3/4: 10-0
San Diego State (18-4): NET/Pom: 17/20. vs. Q1: 0-3. vs. Q3/4: 12-0

San Diego State had been tied atop the Mountain West in the loss column with Boise State and Colorado State with three league losses each. But the Aztecs knocked one of those teams — the Broncos — out of the conversation with a sweep at home last week. Both games were close (one in OT, one decided by four points) but San Diego State came away with wins both times and went a long way toward firming up that at-large bid. 

Projected No. 9 seeds

Louisville, LSU, Maryland, Loyola Chicago (Missouri Valley)

Louisville (13-5): NET/Pom: 47/44. vs. Q1: 1-4. vs. Q3/4: 6-1
LSU (14-8): NET/Pom: 29/29. vs. Q1: 3-8. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
Maryland (15-10): NET/Pom: 28/26. vs. Q1: 5-9. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
Loyola Chicago (19-4): NET/Pom: 16/12. vs. Q1: 1-2. vs. Q3/4: 14-0

Louisville got a much-needed Quad 1 win on Saturday, knocking off Duke in Durham. That’s not the elite win it would be most years, but for a resume with a big ol’ zero in the Q1 win column, it was still huge for Louisville. LSU, on the other hand, lost back-to-back road games. The one at Arkansas wasn’t so bad; the one at Georgia was a bit more painful. 

Projected No. 10 seeds

Rutgers, North Carolina, UConn, St. Bonaventure (Atlantic 10)

Rutgers (13-10): NET/Pom: 38/32. vs. Q1: 4-8. vs. Q3/4: 5-0
North Carolina (15-9): NET/Pom: 45/33. vs. Q1: 2-8. vs. Q3/4: 7-1
UConn (12-6): NET/Pom: 35/28. vs. Q1: 2-3. vs. Q3/4: 7-0
St. Bonaventure (13-4): NET/Pom: 32/34. vs. Q1: 2-2. vs. Q3/4: 9-1

Four of UConn’s six losses this year came with star James Bouknight out of the lineup. In games he’s played, the Huskies’ only setbacks were in OT against Creighton and by single digits on the road at Villanova. That matters to the committee. He’s back and scored a total of 44 points in easy wins against Marquette and Georgetown last week. 

Projected No. 11 seeds

Xavier, Colorado State, VCU, Drake, Boise State

Xavier (13-5): NET/Pom: 50/55. vs. Q1: 2-2. vs. Q3/4: 7-0
Colorado State (15-4): NET/Pom: 40/61. vs. Q1: 2-3. vs. Q3/4: 12-0
VCU (17-6): NET/Pom: 37/50. vs. Q1: 1-4. vs. Q3/4: 9-2
*Drake (22-3): NET/Pom: 42/56. vs. Q1: 1-1. vs. Q3/4: 17-2
*Boise State (17-6): NET/Pom: 34/52. vs. Q1: 2-4. vs. Q3/4: 13-0

We talked about Boise’s close calls at San Diego State last week because winning just one of the two would have given the Broncos another quality road win to go with the Ws at BYU and at Colorado State and help the committee forgive two road losses at Nevada. Drake has that shiny record, but the loss against Bradley last week isn’t helpful. 

Projected No. 12 seeds

Georgia Tech, Saint Louis, Wichita State (American), Western Kentucky (Conference USA), Colgate (Patriot)

*Georgia Tech (13-8): NET/Pom: 41/30. vs. Q1: 2-6. vs. Q3/4: 6-2
*Saint Louis (13-5): NET/Pom: 43/42. vs. Q1: 1-2. vs. Q3/4: 9-2

Georgia Tech started its season with losses at home to Georgia State and Mercer, but the Jackets now have wins against Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Syracuse, and that’s enough to get in this week. Saint Louis makes it in the final spot, but mostly because Seton Hall, Indiana and Stanford had awful weeks. 

No. 13 seeds: Belmont (Ohio Valley), UC Santa Barbara (Big West), Winthrop (Big South), Toledo (MAC)
No. 14 seeds: UNCG (Southern), Cleveland State (Horizon), 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 State (Summit), *Texas State (Sun Belt), *Prairie View A&M (SWAC), *Bryant(Northeast), *North Carolina A&T (MEAC)

*First Four teams

Dropped out: Indiana, North Texas, Seton Hall, South Dakota State, Stanford, Wagner, Wright State

Newbies: Bryant, Cleveland State, Georgia Tech, Saint Louis, South Dakota, UConn, Western Kentucky

First four out

Michigan State (13-10): NET/Pom: 77/63. vs. Q1: 4-9. vs. Q3/4: 6-0
Seton Hall (13-10): NET/Pom: 53/43. vs. Q1: 3-6. vs. Q3/4: 7-1
Duke (11-9): NET/Pom: 58/36. vs. Q1: 2-3. vs. Q3/4: 5-3
Indiana (12-12): NET/Pom: 57/37. vs. Q1: 3-9. vs. Q3/4: 3-2

Other bubble teams (alphabetical)
Memphis (14-6): NET/Pom: 59/47. vs. Q1: 0-2. vs. Q3/4: 10-1
Minnesota (13-12): NET/Pom: 70/57. vs. Q1: 4-10. vs. Q3/4: 8-1
Mississippi (13-10): NET/Pom: 60/58. vs. Q1: 3-4. vs. Q3/4: 6-2
SMU (11-4): NET/Pom: 54/51. vs. Q1: 0-3. vs. Q3/4: 7-1
Stanford (14-11): NET/Pom: 63/70. vs. Q1: 4-5. vs. Q3/4: 9-1
Syracuse (14-8): NET/Pom: 55/59. vs. Q1: 1-6. vs. Q3/4: 10-1
Utah State (14-7): NET/Pom: 48/45. vs. Q1: 2-4. vs. Q3/4: 12-2