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Bracketology 2021: The 2021 NCAA Tournament takes further shape

This week, we learned more details about how this season’s version of March Madness will play out. But terms of the projection itself, a new No. 2 seed and three new at-larges are the newsmakers after this midweek period’s action.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Louisiana State
Alabama is now a No. 2 seed in this projection.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

While the top seed line of today’s projection is exactly the same as Tuesday’s, there was plenty of shuffling on lines two through four.

  • Alabama, dominating the SEC, is now the second No. 2 seed (behind Texas), following Tuesday’s emphatic 105-75 victory at LSU.
  • Iowa and Tennessee remain on seed line No. 2, but slipped a bit following their respective losses to Indiana and Florida. The Hoosiers and Gators, meanwhile, earned some breathing room after their victories.
  • The No. 3 line features three new names, with Houston (down from a two), Kansas, and Virginia Tech (up from fours) joining Wisconsin.
  • Creighton dropped to seed line No. 4, where the Bluejays are joined by holdovers Missouri and Ohio State, and newcomer Florida State. Illinois dropped out of the Top 16.
NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Auburn
Arkansas is back in the field after following up December’s win at Auburn with a home win over the same foe on Wednesday night.
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Today’s field also features three new at-large teams:

  • Arkansas snapped Auburn’s two-game win streak, notching a 74-72 win over the Tigers, a more impressive result than their December 30th win on the Plains, thanks to the addition of Sharife Cooper to Auburn’s roster.
  • Colorado State ended Utah State’s 11-game winning run on Thursday night in Logan, a result that both knocked the Aggies out of a tie for first in the Mountain West, but also put the Rams into this projection.
  • North Carolina defeated Wake Forest, 80-73, a result that helped the Tar Heels sneak back into the field. However, UNC is about to start a make-or-break portion of their schedule. In their next eight games, the Heels will play just one team that’s not really a factor in the NCAA picture at the moment: Miami.

Today’s new at-large squads replace Wichita State, Maryland, and Rutgers, who all dropped their midweek games.

After today’s full bracket and rundown, I’ll discuss the new info we learned this week about how the 2021 NCAA Tournament will be scheduled. Plus, there’s a weekend viewing guide.

The Bracket

Stars (✴️) indicate new entrants, while arrows (⬆️ ⬇️) indicate movement up and down the seed list.

Rundown

IN (4): Arkansas, Colorado State, North Carolina, Wofford (SoCon)
OUT: Furman (SoCon), Maryland, Rutgers, Wichita State

Last Four Byes: LSU, Pittsburgh, Utah State, Marquette
Last Four IN: Richmond, North Carolina Arkansas, Colorado State
First Four OUT: Wichita State, Rutgers, Georgia Tech, Providence
Next Four OUT: San Diego State, Stanford, Syracuse, VCU

Bids by Conference

*: auto bid holder

One-bid conferences: 22

Big Ten (8): 1. Michigan*, 2. Iowa, 3. Wisconsin, 4. Ohio State, 5. Minnesota, 6. Illinois, 6. Purdue, 10. Indiana
ACC (7): 3. Virginia Tech, 4. Florida State, 5. Virginia*, 7. Clemson, 8. Louisville, 10. Pittsburgh, 11. North Carolina (First Four)
Big 12 (7): 1. Baylor*, 2. Texas, 3. Kansas, 6. West Virginia, 6. Oklahoma State, 7. Texas Tech, 9. Oklahoma
Big East (6): 1. Villanova*, 4. Creighton, 7. UConn, 89 Xavier, 10. Seton Hall, 11. Marquette
SEC (5): 2. Alabama*, 2. Tennessee, 4. Missouri, 9. Florida, 10. LSU, 11. Arkansas (First Four)
Pac-12 (4): 5. UCLA*, 5. Colorado, 8. Oregon, 8. USC
Atlantic 10 (3): 7. Saint Louis, 11. Richmond (First Four), 12. St. Bonaventure*
Mountain West (3): 8. Boise State*, 11. Utah State, 11. Colorado State (First Four)
West Coast (2): 1. Gonzaga*, 9. BYU

New 2021 Tournament Info

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Ohio State
Even though Purdue is rising up the bracket, the Boilermakers won’t get to play NCAA Tournament games on their home floor.
Columbus Dispatch-USA TODAY NETWORK

On Tuesday, the NCAA announced the 2021 March Madness schedule. CBS’s Matt Norlander also interviewed NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt, and the resulting story provides more information about how March Madness will play out in a CoVID world. While this info won’t affect my bracket projections much, it still answers some, though not all, of the questions I had about how things will play out.

Timing: The tournament will start a little later than normal, with all four First Four games scheduled for Thursday, March 18th. All four winners, two auto bids slotted into 16 seeds and two at-larges on lines 11 or 12, will play on Saturday.

The first round is set for Friday and Saturday, March 19th and 20th, with the second round following on Sunday and Monday, March 21st and 22nd.

The regional semifinals will be played on Saturday and Sunday, March 27th and 28th. In a change from past scheduling, all eight games will receive their own TV window. The regional finals are then set for prime time on Monday and Tuesday, March 29th and 30th. As for the Final Four, its schedule won’t change, as it’s still on Saturday, April 3rd and Monday, April 5th.

Venues: Of the 67 games scheduled for the tournament, only 12 will be played outside of Indianapolis, on-campus in Bloomington and West Lafayette. That includes the First Four contests, which will be split between the two. Those arenas will also host first-round games only.

Purdue, Indiana, Butler, and IUPUI will not be able to play on their home floors. That’s a slight concern for the Boilermakers and Hoosiers, who are currently part of this projection, though the Bulldogs and Jaguars will see their home arenas host games for a longer period, as from the second round on, all of the action is set for Indianapolis.

The regional semifinals are set for Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Hinkle Fieldhouse, with the regional finals, Final Four, and national championship game scheduled for Lucas Oil Stadium. While recent tournament practice has attempted to put the Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight weekend in arenas, not domes, Gavitt explained that there was a desire to get all potential Final Four teams a game in the dome environment before that stage.

Note that there will be a midseason bracket reveal on Saturday, February 13th. That should be a particularly fascinating and helpful exercise, given the CoVID-created scheduling issues in college basketball this season.

Weekend Lineup

Games are presented in relative order of importance. All times are Eastern. All times and broadcast information is CoVID-dependent. I’ll try to keep this section updated, but if I don’t, check out MattSarzSports.com’s weekly and daily schedules.

Friday

Michigan at Purdue, 7 p.m. (FS1)
Fresno State at Boise State, 9 p.m. (CBSSN)
San Diego State at Air Force, 9 p.m. (FS1)

Purdue has won four in a row, with just one of those victories coming at Mackey. On Tuesday, the Boilermakers stunned Ohio State in Columbus, and they’ll look to build on that when they welcome Michigan for a needed home game. The Wolverines got themselves back on track by waxing Maryland on Tuesday. In the Mountain West, Boise State can complete a sweep of its two-game set with Fresno State, and San Diego State opens a double-dip at Air Force.

Saturday

Early afternoon

UConn at Creighton, 12 p.m. (Fox)
Kansas at Oklahoma, 12 p.m. (ESPN)
Virginia Tech at Syracuse, 12 p.m. (ACC RSNs)
Houston at Temple, 12 p.m. (CBS)
Arkansas at Vanderbilt, 12 p.m. (SECN)
Auburn at South Carolina, 12 p.m. (ESPN2)

Creighton and UConn both enter their meeting in Omaha needing a win, as the Jays have dropped two straight and Huskies dropped a home game to St. John’s on Monday. Kansas heads to Norman aiming to shake off Monday’s loss at Baylor. Virginia Tech can extend its winning streak to four by winning at the Carrier Dome; however, Syracuse will be eager to put on another fine performance, following Tuesday’s rout of Miami. Elsewhere, Houston heads to Temple seeking to remain in control of the American Athletic race, while Arkansas will look to follow up a fine home with over Auburn by taking down Vandy. Speaking of the Tigers, they travel to Columbia, where South Carolina needs a quality win for its at-large hopes.

Mid-afternoon

Baylor at Oklahoma State, 2 p.m. (CBS)
Clemson at Florida State, 3 p.m. (ABC)
Maryland at Minnesota, 2 p.m. (BTN)
Providence at Villanova, 2:30 p.m. (Fox)
Florida at Georgia, 2 p.m. (ESPN2)
NC State at North Carolina, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
SMU at UCF, 2 p.m. (ESPNU)
La Salle at Richmond, 2:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Army at Navy, 2:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

The Saturday mid-afternoon window features both NC State and SMU’s scheduled returns from CoVID pauses, along with several contests that will affect the bid picture. The Wolfpack’s trip to Chapel Hill is among those contests, with State looking to complete a season sweep of UNC. But the biggest ACC game in this window sees Clemson, which has been blown out in two straight, traveling to FSU, a team that’s playing better than anyone in the league (not named ‘Virginia’ anyway) at the moment. In the Big 12, Oklahoma State will look to add Baylor to its list of home victims, which already includes Kansas.

Fresh off a blowout loss to Michigan, Maryland travels to Minnesota. Providence, meanwhile, will look to follow a win over Creighton with a road victory over Big East-leading Nova. In the SEC, Georgia can improve its at-large case by defeating Florida.

Navy, meanwhile, is 9-1 overall and 6-0 in Patriot League play. The Midshipmen face a huge challenge this weekend; however, as Army, 8-3 and 4-2, visits Annapolis for two.

Late afternoon

Ohio State at Wisconsin, 4 p.m. (CBS)
UCLA at Stanford, 5 p.m. (Fox)
Duke at Louisville, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Dayton at VCU, 4:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
West Virginia at Kansas State, 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
Texas A&M at Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m. (SECN)
Utah Valley at St. John’s, 4 p.m. (FS1)

With Duke currently out of the projected field and Louisville having dropped two straight, the ACC showcase in this window isn’t the automatic top viewing pick. That honor goes to the conclusion of CBS’s tripleheader, Ohio State-Wisconsin, instead. UCLA travels to Stanford looking to sweep its Bay Area trip. The Cardinal, meanwhile, had its Thursday game against USC canceled at almost the last possible moment due to CoVID concerns in the Trojans’ program. In the Atlantic 10, VCU welcomes Dayton to the Siegel Center having collapsed at St. Bonaventure on Wednesday.

St. John’s was able to add a non-conference game thanks to CoVID cancelations, so the Red Storm welcome Utah Valley to Queens.

Early evening

Mississippi State at Alabama, 6 p.m. (SECN)
LSU at Kentucky, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Pittsburgh at Wake Forest, 6 p.m. (ACCN)
Saint Mary’s at San Francisco, 7 p.m. (CBSSN)
St. Bonaventure at Duquesne, 7 p.m. (ESPN+ ($))
DePaul at Marquette, 6 p.m. (FS1)
Northwestern at Penn State, 7 p.m. (BTN)

Alabama’s record-breaking win at LSU on Wednesday means the Crimson Tide are now the SEC favorite, so its game with Mississippi State outranks the Tigers’ visit to struggling Kentucky as the lead contest of the early evening window. Fresh off Tuesday’s home triumph over Duke, Pitt would like to avoid tripping up at Wake, while St. Bonaventure will aim for a similar result at Duquesne. Saint Mary’s-San Francisco and Northwestern-Penn State both feel like bubble elimination matches, while Marquette will find itself in trouble with a home loss to DePaul.

Mid-evening

Missouri at Tennessee, 8:30 p.m. (SECN)
Georgia Tech at Virginia, 8 p.m. (ACCN)
Colorado at Washington State, 8 p.m. (ESPN2 or ESPNU)
USC at California, 8 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

Tennessee and Missouri meet in Knoxville, with the Vols in danger of losing the “second best in the SEC” label after Tuesday’s blowout loss in Florida. As for the Tigers, they’ll look to continue their surprisingly strong play. In the ACC, Georgia Tech can seriously improve its at-large hopes by winning in Charlottesville. As for the two Pac-12 road teams in this window, both could really use a victory after each picked up a shocking road loss earlier this week—Colorado at Washington and USC at Oregon State. Note that the Trojans-Golden Bears contest must be marked tentative due to the cancelation of USC’s game in Palo Alto on Thursday.

Late evening

Oregon State at Oregon, 10:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)
Pepperdine at BYU, 10 p.m.
Pacific at Gonzaga, 10 p.m. (KHQ/WCC Network)

Speaking of the Beavers, they will aim to spoil their in-state rivals’ return from a CoVID pause. Elsewhere out West, the top two teams in the WCC will attempt to hold serve at home.

Sunday

Rutgers at Indiana, 12 p.m. (BTN)
Davidson at UMass, 12 p.m. (CBSSN)
Memphis at East Carolina, 4 p.m. (ESPN2 or ESPNU)
Utah at Washington, 4 p.m. (ESPN2 or ESPNU)
Loyola Chicago at Bradley, 4 p.m. (FS Midwest/ESPN+ ($))
San Diego State at Air Force, 10 p.m. (FS1)
Notre Dame at Miami (Fla.), 6 p.m. (ACCN)
Army at Navy, 3 p.m. (ESPN+ ($))

Sunday’s schedule is, again, limited because of NFL playoff games. Rutgers’ trip to Indiana, with both clubs barely on the right side of the bubble, is the biggest game of the day. However, the second Army-Navy showdown in as many days and the first of two Loyola-Bradley matchups are also worth a look.

Monday

Texas Tech at West Virginia, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Syracuse at Virginia, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Oklahoma State at Iowa State, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Utah State at UNLV, 9 p.m. (CBSSN)
Loyola Chicago at Bradley, 7 p.m. (CBSSN)
Arizona State at Arizona, 11 p.m. (ESPN2)
UNCG at Furman, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)

The second Loyola-Bradley matchup is the first game of an intriguing CBSSN doubleheader, with Utah State’s road trip to UNLV following. However, as usual, Big Monday dominates the night’s schedule, with Texas Tech’s trip to West Virginia following Syracuse’s attempt to grab a quality road win in Charlottesville. Note the ESPN2 late doubleheader, Oklahoma State’s trip to struggling Iowa State followed by a rare Pac-12 Monday night contest for Arizona State and Arizona. The Wildcats edged the first leg of the home-and-home, 84-82, in Tempe on Thursday night.

See you all on Tuesday with my next projection.