2021 NCAA Tournament Projections and Predictions
What a mess.
The college basketball season has been a disjointed, uneven roller coaster ride through the heart of one of the worst public health crises in the history of our country. But hey, we’ve made it this far. And now the hope is that everything will fall into place so that we can enjoy the conference tournaments and NCAA Tournament that we were robbed of last March.
Picking the NCAA Tournament field is always a tricky proposition. This year it might as well be a blind draw. Unbalanced schedules, multiple coronavirus breaks, a truncated (and for some teams, nonexistent) nonconference slate and the usual spate of injuries and issues mean that teams are going to have wildly divergent resumes on the table when the selection committee tries to do its job.
Selection Sunday is set for March 14, and the 2021 NCAA Tournament is scheduled to begin on Thursday, March 18. Here are my 2020-2021 NCAA Tournament projections for the full field, version 1.0:
* = Projected tournament team
^ = Last teams in the field
AMERICAN ATHLETIC (Projected Teams: 2)
Bubble: Wichita State^, Memphis
Skinny: Houston has 12 wins in conference play, three more than the next closest team. However, they are in second place to Wichita State right now due to a lower winning percentage. Welcome to 2021 college basketball! Houston is likely a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in The Big Dance, and I’ll be surprised if they don’t win the league tournament. Wichita can hang its hat on that massive win over Houston on Feb. 18 and decent overall and nonconference strength of schedule. Memphis certainly has NCAA talent. But two long COVID pauses and no marquee wins leave a giant hole in their resume.
ACC (Projected Teams: 7)
Locks: Florida State*, Virginia*, Virginia Tech*, North Carolina*
Bubble: Louisville*, Clemson*, Duke^, Georgia Tech, Syracuse
Skinny: This league is an absolute mess. And how the committee handles the ACC is going to have a massive ripple effect on the rest of the bracket. No league in the country has had to deal with the impacts of unbalanced schedules as much as the ACC has. That makes evaluating these teams a bit of an apples vs. oranges challenge. The reality is that the ACC really isn’t very good this year. And whatever bubble teams do make the dance likely won’t be there for long. These schools still have four regular season games and the ACC Tournament to shore up their resumes. And I think that this conference is going to end up with at least two bids more than they deserve.
ATLANTIC 10 (Projected Teams 2)
Bubble: St. Bonaventure, VCU, Richmond*, St. Louis*
Skinny: The A-10 tournament is going to be one of the best and most competitive battles for an at-large bid in the country. These mid-major teams are likely going to have their bubbles burst simply because the television networks want bigger names in the tournament. However, it will be tough to make an argument that Richmond or St. Louis aren’t among the top 68 teams in the country if neither wins the league’s championship.
BIG 12 (Projected Teams: 7)
Locks: Baylor*, Oklahoma*, Kansas*, West Virginia*, Texas*, Oklahoma State*
Bubble: Texas Tech*
Skinny: I think that the Big 12 is licking its chops for a crack at the Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Big 12 acquitted itself well in their showdown with the SEC in January, and now this league would love to prove that it, and not the Big Ten, is the best conference in the country. Texas Tech is nearly a lock, despite its recent three-game losing streak, and I would be stunned if any of these seven teams weren’t in the field.
BIG EAST (Projected Teams: 4)
Locks: Villanova*, Creighton*
Bubble: Seton Hall, Xavier*, Connecticut*, St. John’s
Skinny: Watch out for Connecticut down the stretch. Now that James Bouknight is back healthy, this team is going to be a handful. St. John’s may have killed its hopes with that awful loss to DePaul last Saturday. I think that their season finale against Seton Hall will be an elimination game for those two teams. Also, don’t rule out someone making a run in the Big East Tournament and turning some heads. We’ve seen that happen more than a few times over the past four decades.
BIG TEN (Projected Teams: 10)
Locks: Michigan*, Illinois*, Ohio State*, Iowa*, Purdue*
Bubble: Wisconsin*, Rutgers*, Maryland*, Indiana^, Minnesota*
Skinny: The Big Ten is going to dominate the higher seeds in the NCAA Tournament. The only question now is how many teams make the field from this league. This conference has been cannibalizing itself all season long and is obviously the best in the country. Each team still has three games remaining and then we will all enjoy what should be an absolutely bonkers conference tournament. Minnesota is just 6-10 in league play…but they have wins over Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan! Indiana is barely above .500…but swept Iowa, beat Stanford, and has three OT losses against Top 20 teams! It’s going to be tough to keep one of these teams out. Despite my rosy, inclusive projections, my gut feeling is that one of these 10 teams is going to be stuck without a chair when the music stops.
CONFERENCE USA (Projected Teams 1)
Bubble: Western Kentucky*
Skinny: Western Kentucky is going to be one of the most fascinating cases in the field. Right now they are 15-4 with wins over Memphis and Alabama, along with a close loss at West Virginia as well. I have them finishing the regular season at 19-5, but the CUSA tournament will be full of landmines. If they make it to the conference championship game, I think they are a lock to make it. If not they will have to sweat things out.
MISSOURI VALLEY (Projected Teams: 1)
Bubble: Loyola-Chicago*, Drake
Skinny: The numbers love Loyola. They are currently in the Top 12 of all major ratings and they should feel good about their position, despite the lack of quality nonconference wins. Drake has 23 wins – the most in the country – but their two best players, Roman Penn and Shanquan Hemphill, are likely out for the season. If they make the MVC title and lose to Loyola, they may have a chance. But I think the committee will pass on a mid-major team that isn’t at full strength.
MOUNTAIN WEST (Projected Teams: 2)
Locks: San Diego State*
Bubble: Boise State*, Utah State
Skinny: Boise State is running away with the regular season title and is coming off a huge weekend sweep of Utah State. However, they have to close the regular season with two games at SDSU. I think if Boise wins one of those two games, they will punch their ticket. But if they get swept, they will need to at least make it to the MVC finals to have a chance at an at-large bid that they definitely deserve.
PAC-12 (Projected Teams: 5)
Bubble: UCLA*, Oregon*, Colorado*, Stanford^, Arizona
Skinny: UCLA, Oregon and Colorado should all feel very comfortable right now. The only reason I don’t have any of them as locks is because there are still four regular season games left, and any one of them could go in the tank and put their bids in jeopardy. Stanford has work to do. But, fortunately, they get games against Oregon (at home) and USC (on the road) over the next week, so they have an opportunity to pick up some marquee wins. Arizona only has one more shot, at Oregon next Monday. I don’t think that their wins over Colorado and USC will carry enough weight to get them dancing.
SEC (Projected Teams: 6)
Bubble: Arkansas*, LSU*, Florida*, Tennessee*, Missouri*
Skinny: We can argue about which of these teams should be on the “lock” line. The bottom line is that the SEC is going to be a six-bid league, and Kentucky will not be one of those six teams.
WCC (Projected Teams: 2)
Skinny: Gonzaga is a godless killing machine and could go to sleep right now and wake up with a No. 1 seed. BYU will finish the regular season in Provo against San Francisco and St. Mary’s – two tricky opponents – before enjoying a bye to the semifinals of the WCC Tournament. If they win two of their next three games, they should have done enough to ensure a bid.
Automatic Bid Leagues (Projected Teams: 19):
America East – Vermont*
Atlantic Sun – Liberty*
Big Sky – Eastern Washington*
Big South – Winthrop*
Big West – UC-Santa Barbara*
Colonial – James Madison*
Horizon – Wright State*
Metro – Siena*
Mid-American – Toledo*
MEAC – Norfolk State*
Northeast – Bryant*
Ohio Valley – Belmont*
Patriot League – Colgate*
Southern – UNC-Greensboro*
Southland – Abilene Christian*
SWAC – Prairie View A&M*
Summit – South Dakota State*
Sun Belt – Georgia State*
WAC – Grand Canyon*
*Denotes team projected for the NCAA Tournament.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has an unrivaled run of 13 of 14 winning nonconference seasons and 12 of 14 winning overall college hoops campaigns. There is no better moneymaker in the nation and Robert is looking forward to another amazing close to the year. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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