NCAA Tournament Field of 68 Projection: January
Previous Projections: Preseason
Earlier this week, the NCAA formally announced that the entire 2021 NCAA Tournament will be held in Indianapolis and its surrounding area. Due to last year’s cancellation, the anticipation for this year’s tournament will be astronomical. With over a full month of the regular season in the books, there is enough on the table to start laying out some predictions for the field of 68.
Predicted conference champions will be in italics, with the at-large bids presented normally. Note that the conference winners are predicted, and can not necessarily be first at the moment.
Take a look, find your team, and check back next month for a fresh bracket!
1 Gonzaga vs. 16 (Grambling State vs. North Carolina A&T)
8 Michigan State vs. 9 LSU
5 Clemson vs. 12 Richmond
4 West Virginia vs. 13 Little Rock
6 Louisville vs. 11 (USC vs. Purdue)
3 Kansas vs. 14 New Mexico State
7 Florida State vs. 10 Alabama
2 Illinois vs. 15 Wright State
There should be no doubt that Gonzaga is the best team in the country, thus earning them the number one overall seed. Their region will feature some tough outs, headlined by Illinois, a team with the firepower to keep up with the Bulldogs. Sleeper teams in this group include Clemson, Richmond, and Florida State, all squads that have the tools to win a few games. It should be anticipated that Michigan State will move up a few seeds by the end of the season, along with Florida State. We’ve seen both of these programs enter a tournament and make deep runs regardless of seed. With the way Gonzaga is playing, however, they have a really solid shot at a Final Four appearance.
1 Baylor vs. 16 (Bryant vs. Stony Brook)
8 San Diego State vs. 9 Indiana
5 Minnesota vs. 12 Furman
4 Missouri vs. 13 Winthrop
6 UCLA vs. 11 North Carolina
3 Michigan vs. 14 Abilene Christian
7 Ohio State vs. 10 BYU
2 Tennessee vs. 15 Eastern Washington
A potential Baylor-Tennessee Elite Eight matchup headlines this region, with Michigan posing the biggest threat at preventing that from happening. The Wolverines are one of the hottest teams in the country, and are incredibly efficient. They are built for a tournament run, along with the two programs already mentioned. Minnesota, a pleasant surprise this season so far, along with Mick Cronin’s UCLA Bruins, can knock off one of these higher seeds at some point. A mid-major program to watch in this grouping is Furman, as the Paladins will be a popular upset pick if they make the field in March.
1 Villanova vs. 16 Liberty
8 Arkansas vs. 9 Duke
5 Texas Tech vs. 12 Belmont
4 Rutgers vs. 13 Hofstra
6 Florida vs. 11 Boise State
3 Houston vs. 14 UC Irvine
7 Virginia Tech vs. 10 Xavier
2 Wisconsin vs. 15 Colgate
There are a lot of intriguing first round matchups here: Arkansas-Duke, Texas Tech-Belmont, Florida-Boise State and Virginia Tech-Xavier. The region’s headliners, Villanova and Wisconsin, will bring a wealth of experience and depth to the court, making both tough outs. Houston, led by one of the best backcourts in the country, will also be a factor in March. Don’t forget about Rutgers, however, as the Scarlet Knights are hoping to make their much-anticipated return to the NCAA Tournament.
1 Texas vs. 16 Oral Roberts
8 Western Kentucky vs. 9 Seton Hall
5 Saint Louis vs. 12 Oklahoma State
4 Oregon vs. 13 Drake
6 Virginia vs. 11 (UConn vs. Oklahoma)
3 Creighton vs. 14 Bowling Green
7 Colorado vs. 10 Syracuse
2 Iowa vs. 15 Siena
Shaka Smart has built the Longhorns into a powerhouse this season, earning them the last spot on the one line, slightly beating out Iowa. The Hawkeyes, the best of the four on the two line, are built for a deep run with the compliment of spectacular shooting and Luka Garza down low. Western Kentucky would pose a rough second round matchup for Texas, and teams like Saint Louis and Oregon would do the same in the Sweet 16. In this predicted grouping, it would be a very bumpy road for Texas to get to the Final Four. Creighton and Virginia add some flavor to the field as well.
Who’s on the bubble?
Just made the cut: USC, Purdue, UConn, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, BYU, Syracuse, Richmond.
Just missed the cut: Northwestern, Providence, SMU, Loyola-Chicago, Stanford, St. Bonaventure, Maryland, Utah State.
Northwestern has had a great start to the season, and they were hard to leave out of the field. Another month of Big Ten play should help be a clearer indicator of where they stand nationally. If it weren’t for the 13-0 Drake Bulldogs, Loyola-Chicago would have the auto-bid out of the Missouri Valley. The duel between those two programs will be a must-watch, as the Ramblers don’t have enough to sneak in as an at-large. On the flip side, teams like Richmond and BYU have the unfortunate reality of being in a non-power conference with ranked teams. While these types of teams will have a harder time getting in this season due to the lack of nonconference play, the Spiders and Cougars would be formidable challengers.
(Cover Photo: Fox Sports)