2021 Men's NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection with 1 Month to Go
No one is going to go 40-0 during this truncated 2020-21 men's college basketball season, but the top two projected seeds for the NCAA tournament, Gonzaga and Baylor, are closing in on a combined 40-0 record.
The Zags have done their share, pushing their record to 20-0 over the weekend in solidifying their case for the No. 1 overall seed. Baylor isn't far behind at 17-0, though. The Big Ten's Michigan and Ohio State fill out the rest of the projected top seed line.
On Saturday, the selection committee gave us its top 16 teams if the tournament had started that morning. While there were some valuable takeaways from that ranking of the best teams, the order has already (presumably) changed a fair amount.
One No. 3 seed (Oklahoma) went on the road and beat another one (West Virginia). Another No. 3 seed (Tennessee) and a No. 2 seed (Villanova) each lost by double digits. A No. 4 seed (Iowa) won a road game by 30 points while another (Missouri) lost a home game. That all happened within 10 hours of the top-16 reveal. Imagine how much further things could change in the remaining 25 days until Selection Sunday.
But if the season ended today, this is our best guess at what the bracket would look like.
With the 2021 NCAA tournament to be held entirely in Indiana, regional and sub-regional locations aren't a bracketology consideration. During the top-16 reveal, the regions were boringly named Region 1, Region 2, Region 3 and Region 4. Until they announce something better, that's the nomenclature we'll use.
For each of those four regions, we'll discuss one team in better shape than it was in last week's projection and another that—though still in position to dance—isn't sitting so pretty anymore. We'll also discuss which first-round matchup in each region would be most entertaining.
We'll start with the bubble, like we always do. And after the region-by-region breakdown, there will be an explanation of why the No. 1 seeds are ranked in the order they are. At the end is a list of overall seeds by conference as a handy reference guide.
All NET and KenPom data current through the morning of Feb. 15.
Last Five In
Last Team In: St. Bonaventure Bonnies (10-3, NET: 41, KenPom: 50)
The Bonnies had a tough-luck, three-point loss at VCU on Friday night. It didn't hurt them. Neither did the road loss to Saint Louis the previous weekend. But those two missed opportunities kept St. Bonaventure from moving more comfortably into the projected field.
The Bonnies must win their two games this coming week: vs. 2-11 Fordham, at 3-9 George Washington. Those also won't do anything to help move this team further up the seed list, but a loss in either game would be unsalvageable.
Second-to-Last In: Colorado State Rams (14-4, NET: 43, KenPom: 68)
Colorado State was supposed to play two games against New Mexico this past week, but both were postponed. Frankly, that might be a good thing for a team that appears to be in a "just don't blow it" position.
The Rams split their season series with each of Boise State, San Diego State and Utah State, and their only other loss was a road game against Saint Mary's. As long as they don't lose again during the regular season, they should be OK.
Unfortunately, they have a two-game series at Nevada coming up this week. The Wolf Pack recently swept Boise State and battled well in two close road losses to San Diego State. Winning back-to-back games against that team will not be easy.
Third-to-Last In: Drake Bulldogs (20-2, NET: 35, KenPom: 59)
Things got dire in a hurry for Drake. After starting out 18-0, the Bulldogs lost two out of three and were staring a third loss square in the face Sunday evening. But they stormed back from a 10-point deficit in the final eight minutes to pick up a much-needed Quadrant 1 win over Loyola-Chicago.
Despite the bloated record, Drake is in bubble trouble with five games remaining in the regular season. Even if they win each of those games—at Northern Iowa, two vs. Evansville, two at Bradley—the Bulldogs will still be sweating out Selection Sunday if they don't win the MVC's Arch Madness. Such is life when you have a 1-1 record in Quadrant 1 games and a loss to a team outside the NET Top 200.
Fourth-to-Last In: Maryland Terrapins (11-10, NET: 36, KenPom: 35)
Over the weekend, I sent a question about Maryland (and/or Penn State) to David Worlock, the NCAA director of media coordination and statistics. He confirmed there is no requirement for a team to have an overall record of .500 or better to qualify as an at-large team.
Normally, we wouldn't need that question answered since it's almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which a team goes 15-16 and deserves to be in the conversation. But this year, in this Big Ten and with truncated nonconference schedules, it could come up.
Maryland is 11-10 overall and 10-10 as far as the selection committee is concerned since its game against non-Division I Wingate doesn't count on its resume. But all 10 of those losses were Quadrant 1 games, and they also have impressive wins at Illinois, at Wisconsin, vs. Purdue and a season sweep of Minnesota. Throw in the solid metrics, and the volume of losses is the only significant issue.
Given Maryland's remaining schedule—vs. Nebraska (twice), at Rutgers, vs. Michigan State, at Northwestern, vs. Penn State—we don't need to worry about the .500 question. If the Terps go 3-3 in those games and immediately get bounced from the Big Ten tournament to finish 13-14, there's almost no way they would get in. But they should go 5-1 down the stretch to make the dance.
Fifth-to-Last In: VCU Rams (15-4, NET: 31, KenPom: 47)
February has been good to VCU. The Rams opened the month with a nice road win over Rhode Island and followed suit in the past week with victories over Dayton and St. Bonaventure. Just like that, they're up to four Quadrant 2 wins and a borderline Quadrant 1 win (neutral over NET No. 50 Utah State) and have jumped into the projected field.
They're going to need a strong finish, though. VCU has road games remaining against Richmond, Davidson and Dayton, as well as a home game against Saint Louis. As things stand, that's two Quadrant 1 and two Quadrant 2 games, and they might need to win three of the four to seal the deal.
First Five Out
First Team Out: Richmond Spiders (11-4, NET: 54, KenPom: 55)
Richmond has only played three games since Jan. 9. One was a Quadrant 4 home loss to La Salle, and another was a home game against non-Division I St. Mary's College of Maryland. But at least Richmond's neutral-site victory over Loyola-Chicago keeps looking better by the day.
In addition to that marquee win, the Spiders have road victories over Davidson, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and they should have games against VCU and Saint Louis within the next two weeks. Split those two and win the other three (at La Salle, vs. Fordham, at Massachusetts), and that might be enough.
Second Team Out: Stanford Cardinal (13-8, NET: 60, KenPom: 60)
Stanford keeps hanging around, mostly because that season-opening 18-point neutral-site victory over Alabama isn't going anywhere. But nothing has changed for the Cardinal lately between a blowout Quadrant 1 loss to Colorado and a close Quadrant 3 win over Utah. Typical bubble stuff.
They better win the road games against Washington and Washington State this coming week. But those games won't do much to help Stanford's case. It needs those wins to keep the status quo.
Third Team Out: Ole Miss Rebels (12-8, NET: 55, KenPom: 51)
Out of nowhere, here come the Rebels. They were 8-8 at the start of February, but they have reeled off four consecutive wins over Tennessee, Auburn, Missouri and South Carolina. They weren't messing around against Missouri—Ole Miss won that game by 21, storming into the bubble conversation.
Two of those four wins were of the Quadrant 1 variety. The other two fell into Quadrant 2. And the Rebels haven't suffered any terrible losses. (Getting swept by Georgia wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible.) If they can win the home game against LSU on Wednesday, that should push the Rebels into the projected field.
Fourth Team Out: Boise State Broncos (15-4, NET: 38, KenPom: 63)
Fifth Team Out: Utah State Aggies (13-5, NET: 50, KenPom: 48)
One week after back-to-back losses to Nevada, Boise State got back in the winning column in two home games against UNLV. Neither win over the sub-.500 Rebels was particularly convincing, though, so the Broncos didn't gain any ground.
Meanwhile, Utah State hasn't played since Feb. 4, as its last three games have been postponed because of health and safety concerns.
Those two Mountain West teams are scheduled to square off in Boise on Wednesday and Friday in a series with massive bubble implications. Assuming they're able to play those games, if either side can pull off a sweep, it would be in excellent shape heading into the home stretch.
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Prairie View A&M / Morgan State
No. 8 Clemson vs. No. 9 Minnesota
No. 4 Texas Tech vs. No. 13 Colgate
No. 5 Missouri vs. No. 12 Western Kentucky
No. 3 Iowa vs. No. 14 Winthrop
No. 6 Kansas vs. No. 11 VCU
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Grand Canyon
No. 7 Colorado vs. No. 10 North Carolina
Stock Up: Iowa Hawkeyes (Up Two Seed Lines)
15-6, NET: 8, KenPom: 4
Iowa was my top No. 5 seed one week ago. After a 13-point home win over Rutgers, the Hawkeyes were the selection committee's top No. 4 seed Saturday. Later that day, they won at Michigan State by 30 while the committee's No. 11 overall seed (Tennessee) lost by double digits to a bubble team (LSU).
That was more than enough to push them up to a No. 3 seed.
If they continue playing that well, that climb has only begun.
Iowa still has two games remaining against Wisconsin, as well as road games against Ohio State and Michigan. Given the Hawkeyes' impressive metrics, if they win out—even without accounting for the possibility of several more Quadrant 1 wins in the Big Ten tournament—a No. 1 seed is very much in play.
Stock Down: North Carolina Tar Heels (Down Two Seed Lines)
12-7, NET: 57, KenPom: 43
The Tar Heels only played one game in the past week, and that 12-point loss at Virginia was more or less the expected result.
All the same, it was another missed opportunity for a team that seems to be stockpiling them.
North Carolina is 0-5 against projected tournament teams, plus road losses to Georgia Tech and NC State. The road win over Duke and neutral-site victory over Kentucky look great if you've been living under a rock for the past three months. Given how terribly this season has gone for those blue bloods, though, those "best" wins are rather suspect.
In spite of the 48-point disaster against Virginia, the offense looks to have been improving in recent weeks, and that could bode well with scheduled home games remaining against Louisville, Florida State and Duke. As long as the Tar Heels win one of those three (and both of the road games against Boston College and Syracuse), they might be OK. But if they do wind up with a No. 10 or No. 11 seed, that might feel even weirder than a field devoid of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State.
Dream First-Round Pairing: Kansas vs. VCU
Can't imagine many programs hold an all-time winning record against Kansas, but VCU is one of them. These teams have only met once, and we are coming up on the 10-year anniversary of the biggest win in VCU history. Shaka Smart and the Rams stunned No. 1 seed Kansas in the 2011 Elite Eight. Could they do it again?
No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Texas State / Bryant
No. 8 Florida vs. No. 9 BYU
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 Wright State
No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 Drake / St. Bonaventure
No. 3 Virginia vs. No. 14 Liberty
No. 6 Arkansas vs. No. 11 Seton Hall
No. 2 Illinois vs. No. 15 Eastern Washington
No. 7 Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 UCLA
Stock Up: Arkansas Razorbacks (Up Three Seed Lines)
16-5, NET: 24, KenPom: 25
Arkansas was one of our Stock Up teams in last week's projection too, in which I noted that, given their dearth of both quality wins and bad losses, the Razorbacks were prone to major swings in seeding:
"Arkansas has road games against Kentucky and Missouri this coming week. Win both of those contests and I could see them vaulting up to a No. 6 seed in our next projection. Lose them both, though, and the Hogs might drop out of the field altogether."
Guess what? They won both games, and they vaulted up to a No. 6 seed.
Neither one was pretty. The Hogs needed two late free throws to beat Kentucky by one and needed overtime and more clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch to beat Missouri. But with nothing better previously on their resume than a road win over Sharife Cooper-less Auburn, those were massive results.
I wouldn't call Arkansas a lock to dance, but wins over Florida and Texas A&M this coming week should do the trick.
Stock Down: UCLA Bruins (Down Two Seed Lines)
14-5, NET: 48, KenPom: 45
After starting 8-0 in Pac-12 play, UCLA has been falling apart at the seams.
The Bruins have lost three of their last five games, and the two wins—57-52 vs. Oregon State, 64-61 at Washington—haven't done anything to inspire confidence. But the loss at Washington State this past week hurt the most.
Up until that result, the Bruins could say they had a quality win over Colorado and no bad losses. Now they have a bad loss, and that win over the Buffaloes has lost value, as they have suffered three Quadrant 3 losses in the past month.
UCLA is starting to look bubble-y in advance of a difficult closing stretch. The Bruins have home games against Arizona and Arizona State this coming week and road games against Utah and Colorado the following week before wrapping up the regular season at home against USC. The way they've been playing, they could well lose all five of those games.
Dream First-Round Pairing: Florida vs. BYU
Jimmer Fredette isn't walking through that door, but we're always ready for some March highlights of that dude. And in both the 2010 and 2011 NCAA tournaments, Florida and BYU squared off in games that went to overtime. The Cougars won in 2010 behind 37 points from Fredette, but Florida survived his 32-point showing the following year thanks to 19 points and 17 rebounds from Alex Tyus.
No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 16 Northeastern
No. 8 Xavier vs. No. 9 San Diego State
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 UC Santa Barbara
No. 5 Creighton vs. No. 12 Colorado State / Maryland
No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Furman
No. 6 Loyola-Chicago vs. No. 11 Indiana
No. 2 Houston vs. No. 15 Vermont
No. 7 Virginia Tech vs. No. 10 Connecticut
Stock Up: Oklahoma Sooners (Up One Seed Line)
13-5, NET: 17, KenPom: 21
It's hard to believe Oklahoma was on the bubble not even a month ago. The Sooners were 8-4 with a nice home win over West Virginia and little else worth mentioning. Since then, they're 5-1 with victories over Kansas (home), Texas (road), Alabama (home) and West Virginia (road).
(A lot can change in four weeks' time when a team gets opportunities and capitalizes on them. Keep that in mind if you're a fan of a not-even-really-on-the-bubble team like Duke, Michigan State or Providence.)
The Sooners were the No. 12 overall seed in the selection committee's top-16 reveal Saturday. However, that was before the double-overtime road win over West Virginia (the committee's No. 10 overall seed), and before Tennessee (then No. 11 overall) lost by 13 to LSU. It stands to reason that Oklahoma would sit at No. 10 if the committee redid its rankings today.
Oklahoma has another big opportunity coming up Tuesday night at home against Texas. A second win over the Longhorns might bump the Sooners up to a No. 2 seed.
Stock Down: Xavier Musketeers (Down One Seed Line)
11-3, NET: 40, KenPom: 52
Speaking of Oklahoma, Xavier should be thanking its lucky stars the Sooners have been on fire. The Musketeers defeated Oklahoma 99-77 in December for their only noteworthy win. As far as NET and quadrants are concerned, Xavier's second-best win was a 76-73 home victory against Toledo.
That means losing at home to Connecticut on Saturday was less than ideal for the X-Men.
They're still in respectable shape, in part because each of their losses was against a team projected to make the NCAA tournament.
The bad news is Xavier still has four road games scheduled against opponents not projected to dance but good enough to win a home game against a bubble team: St. John's, Providence, Georgetown and Marquette. It also has a home game left against Creighton. And I would assume the Big East will try to fit in a Villanova vs. Xavier game somewhere, as they have yet to face each other because of COVID-19 pauses.
Even excluding the possibility of a game against Villanova, that's a brutal closing stretch for a team with minimal margin for error.
Dream First-Round Pairing: Loyola-Chicago vs. Indiana
Did you know these teams used to play on a near-annual basis? The Hoosiers and Ramblers met eight times in the 1960s—when the latter was more of a tournament regular than the former. But they haven't met since 1969, before Bob Knight was even coaching for Indiana. Given how much Indiana fans love history and living in the past, that could be an intriguing showdown.
No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 16 South Dakota State
No. 8 Louisville vs. No. 9 LSU
No. 4 Texas vs. No. 13 Toledo
No. 5 USC vs. No. 12 Belmont
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 14 Abilene Christian
No. 6 Rutgers vs. No. 11 Saint Louis
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 15 Siena
No. 7 Purdue vs. No. 10 Oregon
Stock Up: LSU Tigers (Up Three Seed Lines)
13-6, NET: 26, KenPom: 27
The Bayou Bengals were on the brink of extinction one week ago, sitting outside the top 40 in both NET and KenPom, fresh off an 18-point loss to Alabama. Their best win of the season was a home game against also-on-the-bubble Arkansas.
Not only did the Razorbacks help LSU by flying up the seed list with two impressive road wins in the past week, but the Tigers also helped their own cause with a 14-point win at Mississippi State and a 13-point home win over Tennessee.
Star freshman Cameron Thomas had 25 points in each game, which is nothing new. Take out the game against Ole Miss in which he only played four minutes because of an early ankle injury, and he is averaging 23.8 points per game. Only presumed National Player of the Year Luka Garza (24.5 PPG) has a higher mark.
As long as the Tigers can avoid disaster down the stretch, we should get to see that phenom in the NCAA tournament. Remaining games against Auburn, Georgia and Vanderbilt are potential land mines, but LSU does have a bit of wiggle room.
Stock Down: Purdue Boilermakers (Down Two Seed Lines)
13-8, NET: 27, KenPom: 22
Purdue went from No. 20 overall (bottom No. 5 seed) to No. 25 overall (top No. 7 seed), so it wasn't a precipitous drop for the Boilermakers. But they did lose their only game of the week (at Minnesota) to slip to 13-8 overall and 3-7 against Quadrant 1.
Meanwhile, Loyola-Chicago, Arkansas and Rutgers all took sizable steps forward, and Creighton (previously one spot behind Purdue on the overall seed list) picked up a massive win over Villanova. Those external circumstances caused Purdue to drop further than what would normally happen after a Quadrant 1 loss.
But as long as Purdue can maintain a cushion of five or so games above .500, this is probably the furthest this team can fall. That's the benefit of having a season sweep of a projected No. 1 seed (Ohio State) and only one bad loss (at Miami).
Dream First-Round Pairing: USC vs. Belmont
Belmont hasn't faced anyone worth mentioning, but the Bruins are 22-1 with the most efficient two-point-shooting attack among teams not named Gonzaga. Drawing a team with USC's size and athleticism (second-tallest in the country, per KenPom) would be a colossal challenge, but what a great No. 5 vs. No. 12 battle that would be.
Ranking the No. 1 Seeds
No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (17-4, NET: 7, KenPom: 7)
There was a lot of angst in the comments section over my decision to rank Illinois and Ohio State at No. 4 and No. 5 overall, respectively, in last week's projection. But between Illinois' poor showing at Nebraska on Friday night, Ohio State's blowout of Indiana on Saturday and, you know, the selection committee's placement of Ohio State at No. 4 and Illinois at No. 5 on Saturday afternoon, I've got to tip the scales back in the Buckeyes' favor.
Ohio State has eight Quadrant 1 wins, the most in the country. And the Buckeyes have several opportunities remaining to add to that count. Games at Penn State and vs. Michigan in the coming week fall into that category, as do the home games against Iowa and Illinois, scheduled for Feb. 28 and March 6, respectively.
Even if they go 2-2 in those games, there's a good chance they'll land on this top line come Selection Sunday. Following Villanova's 16-point loss to Creighton and Houston's bad loss to East Carolina earlier this month, Illinois and (to a lesser degree) Alabama are the only other teams with a case for a No. 1 seed. That could change, but 5.5 teams are battling for four spots at this point.
No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (14-1, NET: 3, KenPom: 3)
After going more than three weeks between games, it only took Michigan one half to get back into its groove as an elite defensive team.
The Wolverines gave up 39 points and trailed by as many as 14 in the first half of Sunday's road game against Wisconsin, but they shut down the Badgers after the intermission for an impressive 67-59 victory. Nothing came easy for Wisconsin in the second half. Several of the Badgers' buckets came on long two-point jumpers or off-balance fadeaway runners as they tried to neutralize Hunter Dickinson's reach in the paint. (He still finished with 11 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks.)
On offense, Michigan shot 41.2 percent from three-point range and only committed six turnovers. The Wolverines looked a little out of sync early, but that final box score gives no indication that this team was playing its first game in 23 days.
No. 2 Baylor Bears (17-0, NET: 2, KenPom: 2)
Baylor hasn't played since Feb. 2 because of a COVID-19 pause, but it's not like the Bears have lost any ground. They're still undefeated and still neck-and-neck with Gonzaga in the race for the No. 1 overall seed.
They are scheduled to return to action Saturday at home against Oklahoma State, followed by a home game against Iowa State on Tuesday. Even if they're rusty from the break, they should be able to win those games and then be back at full speed in time for the back-to-back tests against West Virginia and Kansas later this month.
If Baylor can remain undefeated through those games, there's a good chance the Bears would be No. 1 overall on Selection Sunday. It's a close call between Baylor and Gonzaga right now, but the Bears would likely get a nice boost with the selection committee in light of the remaining Quadrant 1 opportunities.
No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs (20-0, NET: 1, KenPom: 1)
In case you thought Gonzaga might get cocky or rest on its laurels after landing at No. 1 overall in the selection committee's top-16 reveal, the Zags went out that night and pummeled San Francisco by 39 on the road.
Gonzaga has an adjusted efficiency margin of +37.67 on KenPom, which is even better than Kentucky's +36.91 mark during its 38-1 season.
The average scoring margin of 23.7 points per game is silly, and it's not a product of an easy life in the West Coast Conference. Remember, this team destroyed Virginia and comfortably won games against Kansas, Iowa and Auburn earlier this year. Heck, the only team to finish a game within 10 points of the Zags was West Virginia, and the Mountaineers needed an off night from Drew Timme and a Jalen Suggs injury scare in the first half to pull that off.
Seeding by Conference
In case seeded regions aren't enough and you want to know where the top 68 teams stand in relation to one another, here is a list of each team's overall seed, broken down by conference. The first five out are italicized.
American Athletic (1): 7. Houston
Atlantic 10 (3): 41. Saint Louis; 44. VCU; 48. St. Bonaventure; 69. Richmond
Atlantic Coast (6): 12. Virginia; 15. Florida State; 26. Virginia Tech; 29. Clemson; 30. Louisville; 38. North Carolina
Big 12 (7): 2. Baylor; 9. Oklahoma; 11. West Virginia; 14. Texas Tech; 16. Texas; 21. Kansas; 27. Oklahoma State*
Big East (5): 8. Villanova; 19. Creighton; 32. Xavier; 37. Connecticut; 42. Seton Hall
Big Ten (10): 3. Michigan; 4. Ohio State; 5. Illinois; 10. Iowa; 18. Wisconsin; 23. Rutgers; 25. Purdue; 34. Minnesota; 43. Indiana; 45. Maryland
Missouri Valley (2): 24. Loyola-Chicago; 46. Drake
Mountain West (2): 35. San Diego State; 47. Colorado State; 72. Boise State; 73. Utah State
Pac-12 (4): 17. USC; 28. Colorado; 39. UCLA; 40. Oregon; 70. Stanford
Southeastern (6): 6. Alabama; 13. Tennessee; 20. Missouri; 22. Arkansas; 31. Florida; 33. LSU; 71. Ole Miss
West Coast (2): 1. Gonzaga; 36. BYU
Other (20): 49. Belmont; 50. Western Kentucky; 51. Wright State; 52. Toledo; 53. Colgate; 54. UC Santa Barbara; 55. Winthrop; 56. Abilene Christian; 57. Liberty; 58. Furman; 59. Grand Canyon; 60. Vermont; 61. Siena; 62. Eastern Washington; 63. South Dakota State; 64. Northeastern; 65. Texas State; 66. Bryant; 67. Prairie View A&M; 68. Morgan State
*Oklahoma State is appealing a postseason ban. Until/unless that appeal is heard, the Cowboys are presumed to be eligible.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.