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March Madness bracket predictions 5.0: Projecting the Field of 68 for 2021 NCAA Tournament

Selection Sunday for the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament is just days away.

The 68-team field is taking shape through conference tournament week, and Wednesday’s schedule features 33 conference tournament games. A lot can change from the No. 1 seeds to the bubble over the next four days, and SN will track the action with daily updates from here through Selection Sunday.

Here is a look at Sporting News’ updated Field of 68 as of Thursday, March 11: 

MORE: Sporting News’ 2020-21 college basketball All-Americans

March Madness bracket predictions for 2021 NCAA Tournament

Projected No. 1 seeds

**Gonzaga 26-0 (West Coast)Baylor 21-1 (Big 12)Michigan 19-3 (Big Ten)Illinois 20-6

Lowdown: Gonzaga won the West Coast Conference tournament for the eighth time in nine seasons and should be a virtual lock for the top seed in the tournament. Baylor also appears to be a lock for a No. 1 seed heading into Big 12 tournament action against Kansas State on Thursday. Illinois and Michigan likely will stay on this line too, but it might require winning at least one game in the Big Ten tournament just to be safe. Both teams play Friday. 

Projected No. 2 seeds

Alabama 21-6 (SEC)Iowa 20-7Houston 21-3 (American)Ohio State 18-8

Lowdown: Iowa and Ohio State are interesting 2-seeds on different paths. The Hawkeyes could slide up to a No. 1 with a strong showing in Indianapolis. KenPom has Iowa at No. 4, so it’s possible. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, are a borderline 3-seed after losing their last four games of the regular season. Ohio State slid to the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament. To be fair, three of those late-season losses were to top-10 teams.

Projected No. 3 seeds

Arkansas 21-5Virginia 17-6 (ACC)Kansas 19-8Texas 17-7

Lowdown: Arkansas enters the SEC Tournament as one of the hottest teams in college basketball. The Razorbacks have won eight straight, including an 81-66 victory against Alabama on Feb. 24. Arkansas could play into the No. 2 line with ease. The Big 12 will put four teams on either the No. 3 or No. 4 line, depending on how they fare in the Big 12 tournament. Kansas and Texas are higher seeds than the pair of teams we placed on the No. 4 line — and KenPom has them ranked higher as well.

Projected No. 4 seeds

Villanova 16-5 (Big East)West Virginia 18-8Oklahoma State 18-7Purdue 18-8

Lowdown: West Virginia and Oklahoma State play in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday, so that should solve that debate. Villanova feels a touch low here given their KenPom rating of No. 10, and they could easily play up a line (or two) pending on how they fare in the Big East tournament. Purdue did snag the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, but there is a significant gap between them and the other high seeds in the conference.

MORE: Iowa’s Luka Garza is Sporting News’ Player of the Year

Projected No. 5 seeds

Florida State 15-5Creighton 18-7Oregon 19-5 (Pac-12)USC 21-6

Lowdown: Florida State has a strong case to climb into that No. 4 line and is separated from Purdue by one spot on KenPom. The Seminoles did lose two of their last three games in the regular season. Oregon is the top seed in the Pac-12 tournament, and the Ducks won their last five games in the regular season. That said, Oregon had a 1-2 record against USC and Colorado this season. The Buffaloes could easily be placed on this line.

Projected No. 6 seeds

Colorado 20-7Tennessee 17-7Texas Tech 17-9Oklahoma 15-9

Lowdown: The Big 12 love continues. The conference could have all seven Tournament teams on the first six lines, and Texas Tech could pass as a No. 5 seed at this point. Clemson closed the season with six wins its last seven games. They are in decent shape to stay on this line. Tennessee, which finished 3-3 in its last six games, stays on this line ahead of LSU for now. Oklahoma plays Kansas in the Big Ten quarterfinals Thursday. 

Projected No. 7 seeds

Florida 13-8LSU 16-8San Diego State 20-4 (Mountain West)Wisconsin 16-11

Lowdown: The Badgers have double-digit losses, but they also head into the Big Ten tournament with a KenPom rating of No. 11. They are a prime candidate to be overseeded a touch based on the strength of the Big Ten. LSU, which won five of its last seven games, and Florida are both on this line for now. 

Projected No. 8 seeds

Clemson 16-7UConn 14-6**Loyola-Chicago 24-4 (Missouri Valley)North Carolina 17-9

Lowdown: Clemson likely could slide down to this line after a 67-64 loss to Miami on Thursday. North Carolina and UConn are big names, but the team No. 1 seeds might be wary of is Loyola-Chicago. The Tar Heels have won three of their last four and could play up to a No. 7 seed with a victory against Virginia Tech. The Ramblers have lost just one game since Jan. 11.

MORE: Michigan’s Juwan Howard is Sporting News’ Coach of the Year

Rest of field projections

No. 9 seeds: Virginia Tech 15-5, St. Bonaventure (A-10), Missouri 15-8, BYU 20-6
No. 10 seeds: Georgia Tech 15-8, UCLA 17-8, Michigan State 15-11, Rutgers 14-10
No. 11 seeds: Louisville 13-7, Maryland 15-12, VCU 19-6, **Winthrop 23-1 (Big South)
No. 12 seeds: Louisiana Tech 20-6 (C-USA), Wichita State 15-4, Colorado State* 17-5, Drake* 25-4, St. Louis* 14-6, Syracuse 16-8*
No. 13 seeds: Toledo 20-7 (MAC), UC Santa Barbara 19-4 (Big West), Colgate 12-7 (Patriot), **Liberty 22-5 (A-Sun)
No. 14 seeds: **UNC-Greensboro 20-8 (Southern), **Morehead State 23-7 (Ohio Valley), Grand Canyon 15-6 (WAC), Southern Utah 19-3 (Big Sky)
No. 15 seeds: **Cleveland State 19-7 (Horizon), Nicholls State 17-6 (Southland), Hartford 13-8 (America East), **Oral Roberts 16-10 (Summit)
No. 16 seeds: Prairie View A&M 14-4 (SWAC), Saint Peter’s 13-10 (MAAC), North Carolina A&T* 11-10 (MEAC), **Appalachian State* 17-11 (Sun Belt), **Mount St. Mary’s* 12-10 (Northeast), **Drexel 12-7* (Colonial)

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

Last four in

St. Louis 14-6Drake 25-4Colorado State 17-5Syracuse 16-8

Lowdown: Syracuse is back in business. The Orange beat N.C. State on Thursday but might need one more to be safe. A win against Virginia would do the trick. Drake didn’t win its conference tournament, but the Bulldogs should be able crack the Field of 68. Colorado State needs to win a game in the MWC tournament to hold off two bubble teams behind them in the same conference.

First four out

Xavier 13-8Boise State 18-7Utah State 18-7Ole Miss 15-10

Lowdown: Xavier is in trouble after a 70-69 loss to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament on Thursday. That overtime loss, could knock the Musketeers off the bubble. Xavier blew a 14-point lead in the loss. Some projections favor either Utah State or Boise State over Colorado State for one of those last four spots. We have Ole Miss ahead of Seton Hall in the pecking order, but that can change.

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