Projecting the NCAA tournament field of 68

You can bet coaches living on the bubble are counting the minutes to “Selection Sunday,” and here is our look at how we think the 68-team NCAA tournament field will look when it is unveiled Sunday.

It’s important to note that this is a projection of how teams are going to finish, not how the field would look if it were decided today.

Three teams earned bids by winning their conference tournaments Wednesday. While there is no tourney final Thursday, at-large bids easily could be lost if bubble teams falter in league tournament action.

In our projection, teams are grouped by projected seed and listed from strongest to weakest within that seed. At the bottom is a breakdown by league of the number of projected bids and some information on the makeup of the field, the selection committee and the sites.

Remember that this is the second season of a 68-team field. There again will be four play-in games: two involving teams that will be No. 11 or 12 seeds and two involving teams that will be No. 16 seeds. To simplify matters, that’s why there are six teams at the Nos. 12 and 16 seedings.

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Asterisked teams must win their conference titles to receive an NCAA bid. Teams in bold type have earned automatic bids.

No. 1s
Buzz: Who will be the overall No. 1: UK or Syracuse? Syracuse opens play in the Big East tourney Thursday, against Connecticut. North Carolina is in line for the final No. 1 seed after winning the ACC regular-season title. How the Heels fare in the ACC tourney will determine whether they stay as a No. 1. While the ACC and SEC tourneys begin Thursday, UNC and UK don’t play until Friday. Kansas does play Thursday, against Texas A&M in the Big 12 tournament.
No. 2s
7. Duke
Buzz: Michigan State hurt its case for a No. 1 by losing at home to Ohio State on Sunday. The flipside: The Buckeyes have a shot at a No. 1 if they win the Big Ten tourney and get some help (in terms of losses) by some other teams. The Spartans, Buckeyes and Duke don’t play again until Friday. Mizzou meets Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tourney Thursday.
No. 3s
12. Baylor
Buzz: Michigan won at Penn State on Sunday to finish tied for first in the Big Ten; the Wolverines are the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tourney and begin play Friday. Marquette finished second in the Big East and plays Louisville in the Big East tournament Thursday. Baylor split its final eight regular-season games and easily could wind up as a No. 4 seed. The Bears meet Kansas State in the Big 12 tourney Thursday.
No. 4s
13. Temple
16. Louisville
Buzz: Temple won the Atlantic 10 regular-season championship and opens play in the league tourney Friday against Massachusetts. Indiana is the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten tourney and meets Penn State on Thursday. Wisconsin is the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tourney and doesn’t play until Friday.
No. 5s
Buzz: Murray State barely escaped with the Ohio Valley tourney title over Tennessee State. Wichita State won the Missouri Valley regular-season title but was upset in a tourney semifinal. San Diego State shared the Mountain West regular-season title with New Mexico and is the No. 1 seed in the league tourney; the Aztecs play Boise State on Thursday.
No. 6s
Buzz: Creighton won the Missouri Valley tournament. Florida finished its regular season Sunday by losing to visiting Kentucky; the Gators, who have lost three in a row, will be the No. 4 seed in the SEC tourney and open play Friday. Saint Mary’s won the WCC regular-season and tourney titles.
No. 7s
25. Purdue
26. UNLV
Buzz: Purdue plays Nebraska in a Big Ten tournament first-round game Thursday. UNLV is the host team for the Mountain West tourney and meets Wyoming on Thursday. Gonzaga lost in the WCC tourney final. Vandy is the No. 3 seed in the SEC tournament and plays Friday.
No. 8s
32. New Mexico
Buzz: Iowa State owns a season sweep of Kansas State, as well as wins over Baylor and Kansas, and the Cyclones play Texas in the Big 12 tourney Thursday. Memphis won the Conference USA regular-season title and faces UTEP in a quarterfinal Thursday.
No. 9s
33. Kansas State
Buzz: K-State owns a season sweep of Missouri and also won at Baylor, the Wildcats’ opponent Thursday in the Big 12 tournament. Cincinnati plays Georgetown in a Big East tourney quarterfinal Thursday.
No. 10s
37. Connecticut
40. BYU
Buzz: Connecticut almost certainly wrapped up an NCAA bid by beating West Virginia on Wednesday. Harvard won the Ivy League title and received its first NCAA bid since 1946 on Tuesday when Penn lost at Princeton. BYU lost in the semifinals of the WCC tourney.
No. 11s
42. West Virginia
43. Xavier
Buzz: Southern Miss stumbled down the stretch, losing four of its final eight regular-season games; the Golden Eagles meet East Carolina in a Conference USA tournament quarterfinal Thursday. Seton Hall could see its bubble popped this weekend, depending on how other bubble teams fare.
No. 12s
45. VCU
47. Miami
49. USF
Buzz: VCU won the CAA tournament. Mississippi State has won two in a row after a five-game losing streak; the Bulldogs are the No. 6 seed in the SEC tourney and face Georgia in a must-win game Thursday. Speaking of must-win games, Northwestern has to beat Minnesota in a Big Ten tourney first-rounder to keep its at-large hopes alive; the same goes for Miami against Georgia Tech in a first-round game in the ACC tournament. USF can help itself in a big way if it can beat Notre Dame on Thursday.
No. 13s
51. Drexel
53. Nevada*
Buzz: Drexel won the CAA regular-season title, but fell in the tourney final. Long Beach State won the Big West regular-season title. Nevada won the WAC regular-season title. Belmont won the Atlantic Sun tourney Saturday.
No. 14s
57. Buffalo*
Buzz: Davidson won the Southern Conference tourney Monday, South Dakota State won the Summit tournament Tuesday and Montana won the Big Sky tourney Wednesday. While Akron won the MAC regular-season title, Buffalo swept the Zips in the regular season and is the pick here to win the conference tournament.
No. 15s
60. Loyola (Md.)
61. UT Arlington*
62. Lehigh
Buzz: Long Island won the Northeast Conference tourney. Loyola won the Metro Atlantic Athletic tournament. Lehigh upset host Bucknell to win the Patriot League tourney. UT Arlington is the No. 1 seed in the Southland tournament.
No. 16s
63. UNC Asheville
Buzz: Remember that a 68-team field means at least four conference champs are going to end up in play-in games. UNC Asheville won the Big South tourney as the top seed, while Detroit (Horizon) and Western Kentucky (Sun Belt) were upset winners in their league tourneys. Stony Brook has advanced to the America East final.

Breakdown by league

10: Big East
7: Big Ten
5: ACC, Big 12, SEC
4: Mountain West
3: Atlantic 10, West Coast
2: Colonial, Conference USA, Missouri Valley
1: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Pac-12, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Summit, Sun Belt, Southwestern Athletic, Western Athletic (20)

Notes on makeup of field

• The NCAA uses an “S curve,” meaning it ranks all 68 teams in order 1-68, then places them in regions under the theory the top No. 1 seed would have the worst No. 2 seed in its bracket, the worst No. 1 seed would have the top No. 2 seed, etc. The balancing of the regions is the most important factor in seeding the tournament.
• As far as other rules go, teams from the same conference hopefully won’t meet until a regional final, but the NCAA has relaxed that because some conferences have six and seven bids (it’s even permissible for an intraconference matchup in the second round, though that is to be avoided whenever possible). But the first three teams selected from a given conference must be in different regions.
• Higher-seeded teams should be placed as close to home as possible. No team may play on its home floor, but most sites are “neutral courts” anyway.
• Teams can move up or down a spot or two in the “S-curve,” maybe even a seed, to preserve other principles.
• Jeff Hathaway is the chairman of the 10-member NCAA Tournament Selection Committee this season. He retired as AD at Connecticut in August and was hired in October as a consultant to Big East commissioner John Marinatto; had he not been hired by the Big East, Hathaway would’ve lost his spot on the committee. Each member is selected for a four-year run; this is Hathaway’s final season. Former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe lost his spot on the committee when he was forced out by the league in September. Hathaway is one of four members with a “Big Six” affiliation, joining LSU AD Joe Alleva, Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione (he replaced Beebe) and Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman. The other six members: Utah State AD Scott Barnes, Xavier AD Mike Bobinski, Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton, Texas-San Antonio AD Lynn Hickey, SMU AD Steve Orsini and West Coast Conference commissioner Jamie Zaninovich. Hickey is the second woman to serve on the committee, following Charlotte AD Judy Rose (1999-2003).

Tournament sites

The four play-in games – one for each region – are March 13 and 14 in Dayton, Ohio.

March 15 and 17 first- and second-round sites are Albuquerque, N.M., Louisville, Ky., Pittsburgh and Portland, Ore.

March 16 and 18 first- and second-round sites are Columbus, Ohio; Greensboro, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Omaha, Neb.

March 22 and 24 regional sites are Boston and Phoenix.

March 23 and 25 regional sites are Atlanta and St. Louis.

The Final Four is March 31 and April 2 in New Orleans, at the Superdome.

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