March is almost here, which means the 2021 NCAA tournament is just around the corner.
Well hopefully. The NCAA is doing everything it can to reduce the risk of COVID-19 affecting the tournament and triggering the entire event in the state of Indiana. However, there is only so much that can be done. Hopefully they’ll play games without any delays or interruptions, but more importantly, hopefully everyone stays safe. Assuming everything stays on track, selection Sunday is March 14th.
Let’s jump back into the NCAA tournament projection game with our first Field of 68 projection of the season.
As always, Sporting News’ 68 projections are based on where teams should be seeded based on comparing their résumés when the season ended yesterday. Since we are still a few weeks away from Selection Sunday, I am not so much concerned with regions and parentheses. If your team has an 8-seed resume compared to the other teams on the field, they are on the 8-seed line. As simple as that.
MORE: Changes to the March Madness schedule could cause the biggest day (or days) in NCAA tournament history
For each team, I’ve included a few leaderboards and records that are very relevant when the selection committee meets to form the real bracket. Automatic bids (shown in parentheses) go to the team with the best conference recording. In the event of a tie, the bid will be placed on the team with the best NET rating.
March Madness Bracket Predictions for the 2021 NCAA Tournament
Projected seeds # 1
Gonzaga (West Coast), Baylor (Big 12), Michigan (Big Ten), State of Ohio
- Gonzaga (22-0): NET / Pom: 1/1. Q1: 7-0. Q3 / 4: 10-0
- Baylor (17-0): NET / Pom: 2/2. Q1: 6-0. Q3 / 4: 9-0
- Michigan (16-1): NET / Pom: 3/3. Q1: 11-0. Q3 / 4: 6-0
- Ohio State (18-5): NET / Pom: 7/7. Q1: 8-4. Q3 / 4: 7-0
Thoughts: The top three teams – Gonzaga, Baylor, and Michigan – are as good as number one at this point. At least all three have sizable 1-seed pillows. The US state of Ohio is holding onto fourth number 1 just before Illinois, even after losing to Michigan in an exciting game at home. If the Buckeyes boot up again and Illinois trips a bit, Alabama could do a 1-seed push.
Projected seeds # 2
Illinois, Alabama (SEC), Villanova (Great East), Iowa
- Illinois (16-5): NET / Pom: 4/5. Q1: 7-5. Q3 / 4: 5-0
- Alabama (18-5): NET / Pom: 8/8. Q1: 7-3. Q3 / 4: 6-0
- Villanova (14-3): NET / Pom: 10/11. Q1: 2-2. Q3 / 4: 8-0
- Iowa (17-6): NET / Pom: 5/4. Q1: 4-5. Q3 / 4: 7-0
Thoughts: Iowa is still a 1-seed opportunity, but that would almost certainly involve winning the next two games – Thursday in Michigan and Saturday in Ohio. Not a small task. Villanova is more likely to drop a seed line with a loss or two than jump to the top seed line. The Wildcats only have two Quad-1 wins, and of their last four games, only one (at home against Creighton) is a Quad-1 opportunity. Three Q1 wins won’t be enough unless crazy things happen.
Projected seeds # 3
Houston, Virginia, State of West Virginia, Florida (ACC)
- Houston (17-3): NET / Pom: 6/6. Q1: 2-1. Q3 / 4: 11-1
- Virginia (15-5): NET / Pom: 9/9. Q1: 3-4. Q3 / 4: 7-1
- West Virginia (15-6): NET / Pom: 15/16. Q1: 6-6. Q3 / 4: 5-0
- Oklahoma (14-5): NET / Pom: 19/26. Q1: 5-5. Q3 / 4: 8-0
Thoughts: Oklahoma has won seven of its last eight games, including road wins in West Virginia and Texas, two teams in this week’s top 5 starting lines. The committee loves such results. West Virginia’s resume contains an impressive selection of Texas tech and road wins in Texas and the state of Oklahoma.
Projected seeds # 4
Florida State, Tennessee, Kansas, USC (Pac 12)
- Florida State (13-3): NET / Pom: 12/12. Q1: 3-2. Q3 / 4: 5-1
- Tennessee (15-6): NET / Pom: 18/24. Q1: 5-4. Q3 / 4: 9-0
- Kansas (16-7): NET / Pom: 16/22. Q1: 5-7. Q3 / 4: 8-0
- USC (19-4): NET / Pom: 14/14. Q1: 3-1. Q3 / 4: 12-0
Thoughts: USC scored another win Monday night, beating Oregon by 14 points at home. That’s 14 wins in their last 16 games for the Trojans. The Pac 12 doesn’t offer much for elite-level wins, but the Trojans collect as many mid-level wins as possible. And yes, this is the year Kansas takes control of the Big 12 title, but the Jayhawks are still a good team playing their best ball of the season (five straight wins).
Projected seeds # 5
Texas, Missouri, Virginia Tech, Texas Tech
- Texas (13-6): NET / Pom: 23/21. Q1: 3-6. Q3 / 4: 7-0
- Missouri (14-6): NET / Pom: 39/44. Q1: 6-4. Q3 / 4: 6-0
- Virginia Tech (14-4): NET / Pom: 36/35. Q1: 3-2. Q3 / 4: 8-0
- Texas Tech (14-8): NET / Pom: 14/22. Q1: 4-7. Q3 / 4: 10-0
Thoughts: When the selection committee revealed the first four seed lines, Missouri was listed as # 16 seed. The Tigers ran out instantly, losing three games in a row before righting the ship with a win in South Carolina. However, in this projection, Mizzou only fell on the 5-seed line, and here’s why: player availability. The great senior Jeremiah Tillmon missed all three games and that is important to the selection committee. He was on the line-up when Mizzou beat Alabama – the only SEC loss of the year for the Tide – and back in the mix for victory in South Carolina.
Projected seeds # 6
Purdue, Wisconsin, Creighton, Arkansas
- Purdue (15-8): NET / Pom: 28/17. Q1: 4-7. Q3 / 4: 6-1
- Wisconsin (16-8): NET / Pom: 20/13. Q1: 3-7. Q3 / 4: 7-0
- Creighton (16-5): NET / Pom: 25/15. Q1: 4-1. Q3 / 4: 5-4
- Arkansas (17-5): NET / Pom: 26/24. Q1: 4-4. Q3 / 4: 9-0
Thoughts: Other projections have Creighton as high as 4 seeds, but that seems puffed up. They only have one win against an At-Large suspension (at home against Villanova) but they have four – FOUR – losses to teams that don’t sniff an aggregate (home versus Marquette, at Butler, home versus). Providence and Home versus Georgetown). They are solid in the field, with quality wins against Seton Hall (two), Xavier and UConn, but that feels more like their starting value.
Projected seeds # 7
Oklahoma State, Clemson, Florida, LSU
- Oklahoma State (15-6): NET / Pom: 41/43. Q1: 6-4. Q3 / 4: 8-1
- Clemson (13-5): NET / Pom: 38/41. Q1: 4-5. Q3 / 4: 4-0
- Florida (11-6): NET / Pom: 29/32. Q1: 3-3. Q3 / 4: 5-1
- LSU (14-6): NET / Pom: 27/27. Q1: 3-6. Q3 / 4: 9-0
Thoughts: The state of Oklahoma has of course been technically banned from the 2021 tournament, but this decision is being appealed and the cowboys will remain eligible during that appeal. Nobody knows when the NCAA will decide on this objection, but at this point it would be lousy to declare the Cowboys ineligible so close to Selection Sunday. With wins like that one Monday night – against Texas Tech in OT – they show that they are definitely worth a tournament.
Projected seeds # 8
Oregon, UCLA, Loyola Chicago (Missouri Valley), BYU
- Oregon (14-5): NET / Pom: 42/37. Q1: 2-3. Q3 / 4: 8-2
- UCLA (16-5): NET / Pom: 43/45. Q1: 2-3. Q3 / 4: 12-0
- Loyola Chicago (17-4): NET / Pom: 11/9. Q1: 1-2. Q3 / 4: 12-0
- BYU (16-5): NET / Pom: 22/20. Q1: 3-3. Q3 / 4: 9-0
Thoughts: Computers love Loyola irrationally, even though we didn’t know that machines can love. You see the NET / Pom ranking (9/11) and you think this is a top 4 seed. But Loyola’s best wins are at Drake and at home against North Texas, and they have lost their two biggest non-conference games (at Wisconsin / neutral to Richmond). This is not a top 4 seed size.
Projected seeds # 9
Rutgers, Colorado, Louisville, San Diego State (Mountain West)
- Rutgers (12-9): NET / Pom: 31/28. Q1: 4-8. Q3 / 4: 5-0
- Colorado (17-7): NET / Pom: 21/17. Q1: 2-4. Q3 / 4: 9-3
- Louisville (11-5): NET / Pom: 53/52. Q1: 0-4. Q3 / 4: 5-1
- State of San Diego (16-4): NET / Pom: 24/19. Q1: 0-3. Q3 / 4: 12-0
Thoughts: On start line # 9, we have two teams – Louisville and San Diego State – who have teamed up for zero Quad-1 wins, and this is where you begin to see that the bladder isn’t full of strong resumes. If you look down at the 10-seed line, you see three teams with four Q1 wins and then one team with five Q1 wins but only three games over 500 (against D-1 teams).
Projected seeds # 10
North Carolina, State of Boise, Xavier, Maryland
- North Carolina (14-7): NET / Pom: 34/29. Q1: 1-6. Q3 / 4: 7-0
- Boise State (17-4): NET / Pom: 32/55. Q1: 2-2. Q3 / 4: 13-0
- Xavier (12-4): NET / Pom: 50/58. Q1: 1-2. Q3 / 4: 8-0
- Maryland (13-10): NET / Pom: 30/30. Q1: 5-9. Q3 / 4: 7-0
Thoughts: After two games on the ACC schedule, North Carolina was 0-2 in the league game and only 5-4 overall. The tar heels have risen a bit and have defeated the other bubble teams Louisville, Duke and Syracuse while facing teams on the big Feld (Florida State, Virginia and Clemson) have lost. You still can’t afford to fall down the track.
Projected seeds # 11
Seton Hall, Drake, Indiana, VCU, State of Colorado, Stanford
- Seton Hall (13-9): NET / Pom: 49/38. Q1: 3-6. Q3 / 4: 7-1
- Drake (21-2): NET / Pom: 33/47. Q1: 1-1. Q3 / 4: 16-1
- * Indiana (12-10): NET / Pom: 52/33. Q1: 3-7. Q3 / 4: 4-2
- * VCU (16-5): NET / Pom: 35/46. Q1: 0-3. Q3 / 4: 7-2
- * Colorado State (13-4): NET / Pom: 46/66. Q1: 2-3. Q3 / 4: 10-0
- * Stanford (14-9): NET / Pom: 57/61. Q1: 4-5. Q3 / 4: 8-0
Thoughts: With the last six teams, we have all kinds of different résumés. It’s fun, isn’t it? On the one hand, Indiana is only a few games north of .500, but the Hoosiers defeated Iowa and defeated the Bubble teams Stanford, Maryland and Minnesota. On the other hand, Drake has only lost two games but the résumé is at the top. And it’s more the same with the teams in the First Four Out.
No. 12 seeds: St. Bonaventure (Atlantic 10), State of Wichita (American), UC Santa Barbara (Great West), Colgate (Patriot)
No. 13 seeds: Belmont (Ohio Valley), Winthrop (Big South), Toledo (MAC), Wright State (Horizon)
Seed # 14: North Texas (Conference USA), UNCG (South), Abilene Christian (Southland), Liberty (Atlantic Sun)
No. 15 seeds: Vermont (America East), East Washington (Big Sky), James Madison (Colonial), Grand Canyon (WAC)
No. 16 seeds: Siena (MAAC), South Dakota (summit), State of Texas (sun belt), Prairie View A&M (SWAC), Wagner (northeast), North Carolina A&T (MEAC)
* The first four teams
The first four out
UConn (10-6): NET / Pom: 54/36. Q1: 2-3. Q3 / 4: 7-0
Minnesota (13-10): NET / Pom: 60-49. Q1: 4-10. Q3 / 4: 8-0
Saint Louis (11-4): NET / Pom: 48/51. Q1: 1-1. Q3 / 4: 9-2
Duke (11-8): NET / Pom: 56/31. Q1: 2-3. Q3 / 4: 5-2
Other bubble teams (alphabetical)
Memphis (12-6): NET / Pom: 61/48. Q1: 0-2. Q3 / 4: 9-1
Richmond (11-5): NET / Pom: 58/59. Q1: 2-2. Q3 / 4: 6-2
Gymnasium (11-4): NET / Pom: 59/56. Q1: 0-3. Q3 / 4: 7-1
Syracuse (13-7): NET / Pom: 47/53. Q1: 0-5. Q3 / 4: 10-1
Utah State (13-7): NET / Pom: 55/54. Q1: 2-4. Q3 / 4: 10-2