March Madness bracket predictions 3.0: Projecting the Field of 68 for 2021 NCAA Tournament

March Madness bracket predictions 3.0: Projecting the Field of 68 for 2021 NCAA Tournament

Selection Sunday is, well, Sunday. How cool is that? 

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. We’re not predicting how this week will play out because we have no idea how this week will play out. 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. 

MORE: March Madness replacement rules, explained

Teams that have clinched automatic bids have double asterisks. Auto bids for conferences that have not completed their tournaments are given to the highest remaining seed, and those are noted in parenthesis.

Projected No. 1 seeds

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

Gonzaga (24-0): NET/Pom: 1/1. vs. Q1: 7-0. vs. Q3/4: 13-0
Baylor (21-1): NET/Pom: 2/2. vs. Q1: 8-1. vs. Q3/4: 10-0
Michigan (19-3): NET/Pom: 3/3. vs. Q1: 7-2. vs. Q3/4: 6-0
Illinois (20-6): NET/Pom: 4/5. vs. Q1: 9-5. vs. Q3/4: 6-0

Remember how we told you that Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan all had plenty of room for error on the top seed line? Well, Michigan tested that theory last week, with a blowout loss at home against Illinois and a loss to a Michigan State team that’s just clawed its way back onto the bubble in the past few weeks. And the Wolverines are still solid on the 1-seed line. 

Projected No. 2 seeds

Alabama (SEC), Iowa, Ohio State, Houston

Alabama (21-6): NET/Pom: 7/8. vs. Q1: 7-4. vs. Q3/4: 6-1
Iowa (20-7): NET/Pom: 6/4. vs. Q1: 7-5. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
Ohio State (18-8): NET/Pom: 9/7. vs. Q1: 7-6. vs. Q3/4: 6-0
Houston (20-3): NET/Pom: 5/6. vs. Q1: 2-1. vs. Q3/4: 13-1

It’s been a rough stretch for Ohio State; the Buckeyes have lost four in a row — at Michigan State and at home to Michigan, Illinois and Iowa. Four good teams, so they don’t drop much, but if they would have gone 2-2 in those four, they would likely be on the 1 seed line instead of Illinois. 

Projected No. 3 seeds

Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Virginia (ACC), Texas

Arkansas (21-5): NET/Pom: 16/18. vs. Q1: 6-4. vs. Q3/4: 10-0
Oklahoma State (18-7): NET/Pom: 33/37. vs. Q1: 8-5. vs. Q3/4: 8-1
Virginia (17-6): NET/Pom: 13/12. vs. Q1: 4-4. vs. Q3/4: 9-1
Texas (17-7): NET/Pom: 24/26. vs. Q1: 6-6. vs. Q3/4: 8-0

Three weeks ago, I would not have guessed that Arkansas would be on the 3-seed line, but college basketball is nothing if not unpredictable. The Razorbacks have won eight in a row, including Ws over Alabama, Mizzou (on the road), Florida and LSU. Their non-con slate wasn’t great, but it’s worth noting that all five of their losses are to teams that will solidly make the NCAA Tournament as at-large teams. 

Projected No. 4 seeds

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

Kansas (18-8): NET/Pom: 14/22. vs. Q1: 6-8. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
West Virginia (18-8): NET/Pom: 23/25. vs. Q1: 6-7. vs. Q3/4: 7-0
Florida State (15-5): NET/Pom: 22/14. vs. Q1: 3-3. vs. Q3/4: 6-1
Villanova (16-5): NET/Pom: 11/10. vs. Q1: 3-3. vs. Q3/4: 8-0

West Virginia was sitting there at 16-6 with four games remaining — all at home, where the Mountaineers have traditionally been tough. But they lost the two games against quality teams (in OT vs. Baylor and by five points to Oklahoma State). With those losses evaporating any longshot at a No. 1 seed, and any realistic shot at a 2 seed, too. 

Projected No. 5 seeds

Purdue, USC, Colorado, Tennessee

Purdue (18-8): NET/Pom: 20/13. vs. Q1: 6-6. vs. Q3/4: 5-1
USC (21-6): NET/Pom: 15/15. vs. Q1: 4-3. vs. Q3/4: 12-0
Colorado (20-7): NET/Pom: 12/16. vs. Q1: 3-4. vs. Q3/4: 10-3
Tennessee (17-7): NET/Pom: 18/23. vs. Q1: 6-5. vs. Q3/4: 10-0

The Pac-12 teams are difficult to seed. You see the solid computer metrics for USC and Colorado, but both teams are light on Q1 victories, compared with other teams with top-16 metrics. And Colorado has those three Q3 losses, which isn’t great. And then factor in Oregon, which has lower metrics but earned the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. The safe guess for those three teams is somewhere in the 5-7 seed range at the moment. 

Projected No. 6 seeds

Creighton, Oregon (Pac 12), Texas Tech, Clemson

Creighton (18-7): NET/Pom: 25/17. vs. Q1: 4-3. vs. Q3/4: 7-3
Oregon (19-5): NET/Pom: 32/35. vs. Q1: 3-3. vs. Q3/4: 9-2
Texas Tech (17-9): NET/Pom: 17/21. vs. Q1: 4-9. vs. Q3/4: 12-0
Clemson (16-6): NET/Pom: 36/38. vs. Q1: 3-6. vs. Q3/4: 6-0

Both Creighton and Texas Tech are higher on other bracket projections. Creighton’s three Q3 losses are troublesome, and Texas Tech went 0-8 in Big 12 play against four of the five top teams in the conference: Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia and Oklahoma State. I just don’t think those resumes scrub well when the committee gets to the nitty gritty.  

Projected No. 7 seeds

Missouri, Oklahoma, LSU, Florida

Missouri (15-8): NET/Pom: 45/48. vs. Q1: 7-5. vs. Q3/4: 6-0
Oklahoma (14-9): NET/Pom: 30/31. vs. Q1: 5-8. vs. Q3/4: 8-1
LSU (16-8): NET/Pom: 28/28. vs. Q1: 4-7. vs. Q3/4: 9-0
Florida (13-8): NET/Pom: 29/30. vs. Q1: 5-4. vs. Q3/4: 5-1

Lots of hit-or-miss SEC schools on this seed line. That wasn’t intentional, I promise. 

Projected No. 8 seeds

UConn, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, UCLA

UConn (14-6): NET/Pom: 31/24. vs. Q1: 3-3. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
Virginia Tech (15-5): NET/Pom: 42/47. vs. Q1: 2-2. vs. Q3/4: 10-0
Wisconsin (16-11): NET/Pom: 26/11. vs. Q1: 4-9. vs. Q3/4: 7-0
UCLA (17-8): NET/Pom: 41/42. vs. Q1: 2-6. vs. Q3/4: 12-0

Wisconsin has 11 losses and is 11th in the KenPom ratings. That has to be a first, right? The Badgers were 0-8 in Big Ten play against Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State, Iowa and Purdue, and their best win of the season is probably against a Missouri Valley team (Loyola Chicago). 

Projected No. 9 seeds

St. Bonaventure (Atlantic 10), BYU, San Diego State (Mountain West), Loyola Chicago (Missouri Valley)

St. Bonaventure (15-4): NET/Pom: 27/27. vs. Q1: 3-2. vs. Q3/4: 9-1
BYU (18-5): NET/Pom: 19/20. vs. Q1: 3-3. vs. Q3/4: 11-0
San Diego State (19-4): NET/Pom: 21/19. vs. Q1: 0-3. vs. Q3/4: 13-0
**Loyola Chicago (22-4): NET/Pom: 10/9. vs. Q1: 2-2. vs. Q3/4: 16-0

Again, an unintentional grouping. Four teams outside the “power” conferences with sparking records. If I’m a 1 seed, I would be worried about facing any of these four in the second round. 

Projected No. 10 seeds

North Carolina, VCU, Rutgers, Georgia Tech

North Carolina (16-9): NET/Pom: 39/32. vs. Q1: 2-8. vs. Q3/4: 7-1
VCU (19-6): NET/Pom: 35/43. vs. Q1: 2-4. vs. Q3/4: 10-2
Rutgers (14-10): NET/Pom: 37/33. vs. Q1: 4-8. vs. Q3/4: 5-0
Georgia Tech (15-8): NET/Pom: 38/31. vs. Q1: 2-6. vs. Q3/4: 7-2

A win over Duke isn’t what it was in previous years, but the Tar Heels pretty much removed any lingering doubts about their at-large status with their 18-point win over the Blue Devils on Saturday. Partially because it was a decent resume win, but also because that likely knocked Duke off the bubble. 

Projected No. 11 seeds

Maryland, Michigan State, Louisville, **Winthrop (Big South)

Maryland (14-12): NET/Pom: 34/29. vs. Q1: 4-9. vs. Q3/4: 8-0
Michigan State (15-11): NET/Pom: 67/56. vs. Q1: 5-9. vs. Q3/4: 6-0
Louisville (13-6): NET/Pom: 51/52. vs. Q1: 1-5. vs. Q3/4: 6-1

What are you doing, Maryland? The Terps dropped games to Northwestern and Penn State to end their regular season, teams that are a combined eight games under .500 on the season. They dropped to the No. 8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and have to face a very hot — and motivated — Michigan State squad. Yikes. 

Projected No. 12 seeds

Drake, Saint Louis, Wichita State (American), Western Kentucky (Conference USA),

*Colorado State (16-5): NET/Pom: 50/61. vs. Q1: 2-3. vs. Q3/4: 13-0
*Drake (23-4): NET/Pom: 47/55. vs. Q1: 1-2. vs. Q3/4: 17-2
*Xavier (13-7): NET/Pom: 57/60. vs. Q1: 1-2. vs. Q3/4: 7-0
*Saint Louis (14-6): NET/Pom: 44/49. vs. Q1: 2-2. vs. Q3/4: 10-2

The good thing for the teams that snuck into the final four at-large berths this week is this: Seton Hall, Indiana, Minnesota, Duke and Stanford had awful weeks. So, y’know, the competition for the last few spots was more a battle of attrition than a rush to the finish. 

No. 13 seeds: Colgate (Patriot), UC Santa Barbara (Big West), UNCG (Southern), Toledo (MAC)
No. 14 seeds: Cleveland State (Horizon), **Liberty (Atlantic Sun), **Morehead State (Ohio Valley), Grand Canyon (WAC)
No. 15 seeds: Siena (MAAC), Hartford (America East), Southern Utah (Big Sky), Northeastern (Colonial)
No. 16 seeds: South Dakota State (Summit), Nicholls State (Southland), *Georgia State (Sun Belt), *Prairie View A&M (SWAC), *Bryant (Northeast), *North Carolina A&T (MEAC)

*First Four teams
** Teams that have clinched automatic bids

Dropped out: Abilene Christian, Belmont, Boise State, Eastern Washington, James Madison, Texas State, Vermont

Newbies: Georgia State, Hartford, Michigan State Morehead State, Nicholls State, Northeastern, Southern Utah