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Bracket Watch: Final Selection Sunday Projection for 2021 NCAA Tournament Field

Selection Sunday is here! As the final games before the NCAA tournament take place, who's in line to make the field of 68?

Selection Sunday is here! But before the 2021 men's bracket is revealed at 6 p.m. ET, there's the matter of settling a few more conference championships—and settling the final spots in March Madness. After a Saturday night produced multiple bid-stealers in Georgetown and Oregon State, where does the field of 68 stand with just hours to go?

Editor's Note: The official NCAA tournament bracket was revealed on Sunday's selection show and can be viewed here.

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On the Bubble

Last Four Byes:

Michigan State

Last Four In:

Saint Louis
Wichita State

First Four Out:

Utah State
Colorado State
Boise State

Next Four Out:

Ole Miss
Seton Hall

Cincinnati’s blowout loss at the hands of Houston helped bubble teams breathe at least one sigh of relief after two bids were stolen last night by Georgetown and Oregon State.

That leaves us with, in my eyes, six serious contenders for the final three spots. VCU remains somewhat safe even after its A-10 championship game loss to St. Bonaventure. That left the deliberations between Drake, Saint Louis, Wichita State, Syracuse, Utah State and Colorado State, with Boise State and Ole Miss on the outside looking in from that group.

Drake and Saint Louis have waited the longest, agonizingly stuck at home for the last week watching the rest of the country play. But Drake’s win over Loyola Chicago and 5–0 record vs Quad 2 keeps them in, while Saint Louis's wins over LSU and St. Bonaventure moved the needle enough for it as well. I had significant doubt as to what to do with Wichita State, but in the end I believe the elite win over Houston combined with a regular-season championship in the AAC will earn the Shockers a bid despite poor metrics.

On the other hand, all three Mountain West bubble teams come up just short. I like Colorado State’s clean résumé (no Q3/Q4 losses) but a 3–6 record in Q1/Q2 games may not be enough. Utah State’s metrics are better, but the Aggies sit 4–7 vs Q1/Q2 and have two Q3 losses. Boise State was in for the majority of the year, but losing four in a row to close the year will keep them out of the final field.

Then there’s Syracuse, which has strong arguments both for and against. In the end, I just couldn’t get over Cuse’s 1–7 record in Q1 games. However, wins over Virginia Tech, Clemson and UNC are solid ones, and with the exception of a home loss to Pitt the Orange have a relatively clean résumé. It could really go either way.

One final Selection Sunday storyline will be who are the alternate teams selected in case of COVID issues. It’s possible that some of the teams that were in before Saturday’s bid-stealing will be bumped to alternates … if they choose that route. 

*Bold indicates team has secured its conference's automatic bid*

Gonzaga Region

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary's/Texas Southern
No. 8 Clemson vs. No. 9 UConn
No. 5 Virginia vs. No. 12 UC Santa Barbara
No. 4 Villanova vs. No. 13 North Texas
No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 Drake/Saint Louis
No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 14 UNC Greensboro
No. 7 LSU vs. No. 10 St. Bonaventure
No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 Drexel

As has been the case since Bracket Watch began in late January, Gonzaga is the No. 1 overall seed in what will likely be referred to as the West Region. The Zags clinching their undefeated season Monday against BYU also clinched that they’d be the first team to hear its name called during the Selection Show.

With that comes the question of which No. 2 seed gets “stuck” in the same region as Gonzaga. As alluded to in the “Games to Watch” section, Ohio State would love to get out of that spot, and could do so by beating Illinois Sunday. Even though Ohio State isn’t the worst No. 2 seed, it is bracketed like it is on the S-curve, for now, to avoid being placed in the same region as a Big Ten No. 1 seed. It is below Iowa on the seed list; a win against Illinois would change that.

One other note here: You’ll see that the “First Four” game between Drake and Saint Louis is now on the No. 11 line. That’s another quirk of the bid-stealers. Since Georgetown and Oregon State are below bubble teams like Drake and SLU on the seed list but are automatic qualifiers, they populate into the other two No. 12 seeds that had been being filled by “First Four” teams for much of the year. 

Baylor Region

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Appalachian State
No. 8 Georgia Tech vs. No. 9 Florida
No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 Oregon State
No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 13 Ohio
No. 6 Missouri vs. No. 11 Louisville
No. 3 Texas vs. No. 14 Abilene Christian
No. 7 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 10 Maryland
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Cleveland State

This region saw a few different shifts because of action on Saturday. First, conference champions Texas and Georgia Tech each moved up the seed list. Texas jumped from a No. 4 to a No. 3 seed, displacing West Virginia down a line in the process. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech’s incredible week at the ACC tournament moved from a No. 10 at the beginning of the week to a No. 8 seed.

One bracketing note: There are a few times where the committee has to break or bend its own rules because of how teams’ résumés shake out. The Big Ten having two No. 2 seeds and three more teams on track for No. 7 or No. 10 seeds makes it nearly impossible to not have one bracketing flaw. So while it’s not ideal to put Maryland in a situation where they could match up against Big Ten foe Iowa in the second round, it’s the closest possible fit (the teams only played each other once) without bumping a team to a worse seed line than it earned. 

Illinois Region

No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 16 Oral Roberts
No. 8 Oregon vs. No. 9 North Carolina
No. 5 Creighton vs. No. 12 Winthrop
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 Colgate
No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 Michigan State
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 14 Morehead State
No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 UCLA
No. 2 Houston vs. No. 15 Eastern Washington

I call this my “Blue Blood” region. Amazingly, perennial powers North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA and Michigan State all landed in this one, along with other strong brands like Wisconsin, Oregon and Illinois. A second-round matchup between Michigan State and Kansas or Illinois and North Carolina would certainly be tons of fun.

As of now, I’m fairly confident that Houston will stay on the No. 2 line even with a loss to Cincinnati Sunday. One reason for that is that the committee tends to be less reactive to games as close to the Selection Show as that one. It’s probably a 50/50 proposition whether Houston should be ahead of one of the Big 12 No. 3 seed trio (Oklahoma State, Texas and Kansas), with a loss, so we’ll stick with it on the No. 2 line regardless. 

Michigan Region

No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 16 Hartford/Norfolk State
No. 8 BYU vs. No. 9 Virginia Tech
No. 5 USC vs. No. 12 Georgetown
No. 4 West Virginia vs. No. 13 Liberty
No. 6 Texas Tech vs. No. 11 VCU/Wichita State
No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 14 Grand Canyon
No. 7 San Diego State vs. No. 10 Rutgers
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 15 Iona

Headed by No. 4 seed Michigan, this region will be on the left side of the bracket (the same side as Gonzaga). But being on the left side of the bracket has a few different implications for how teams are sorted. First, all “First Four” teams have to be on the left side, which plays Saturday/Monday rather than Friday/Sunday. This means Michigan will likely play a team that played in the play-in game and that a No. 11 seed play-in will also find its way into this region. The other thing it means is that there is a high probability that BYU is in this region. Like First Four teams, BYU has to be on the left side because it can’t play on Sundays. And since BYU is currently mocked as a No. 8 seed, the Cougars can’t be in the Gonzaga region and risk a fourth matchup with the Zags in the second round.

Meanwhile, I’ve gotten some questions about whether Alabama could be a No. 1 seed if they win the SEC title. With Illinois’s emergence, I just can’t see it. Passing a Michigan team with half as many losses and more Quad 1 wins would be wrong, and Illinois has boosted its résumé so much in recent weeks that it would be a stunner if the committee rewarded the Tide over either of those teams.

Sweeney's full projection as of Selection Sunday (5:30 p.m. ET):