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.

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.

[Pat Forde: Northwestern chokes away shot at first ever trip to NCAA tournament]

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 opened play in the Big East tourney Thursday by beating 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.
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 open play in their league tourneys Friday. Mizzou meets Texas in the Big 12 tourney Friday.
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 but lost in its first Big East tourney game Thursday. Baylor meets Kansas in a Big 12 tourney semifinal Friday.
No. 4s
13. Temple
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 fourth-seeded Wisconsin in a quarterfinal 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 Colorado State on Friday.
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 against Alabama. Saint Mary’s won the WCC regular-season and tourney titles.
No. 7s
25. UNLV
26. Purdue
Buzz: Purdue plays Ohio State in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal Friday. Gonzaga lost in the WCC tourney final. Vandy is the No. 3 seed in the SEC tournament and plays Friday against Georgia.
No. 8s
31. New Mexico
Buzz: Cincinnati has advanced to play Syracuse in a Big East semifinal Friday. Iowa State owns a season sweep of Kansas State, as well as wins over Baylor and Kansas. Memphis won the Conference USA regular-season title and faces UCF in a semifinal Friday.
No. 9s
34. Alabama
36. Kansas State
Buzz: Alabama meets Florida in an SEC tourney quarterfinal Friday. Virginia gets NC State in an ACC quarterfinal Friday. K-State owns a season sweep of Missouri and also won at Baylor.
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
44. VCU
Buzz: All of a sudden, Cal looks to be the team to beat in the Pac-12 tourney. Xavier needs to beat Dayton on Friday to feel good about an at-large bid. VCU’s likely seed gets better because of losses by bubble teams.
No. 12s
45. USF
46. Texas
47. Colorado State
49. Miami
Buzz: This isn’t exactly a stellar collection of teams. USF and Seton Hall are the ninth and 10th Big Ten teams. Texas likely played its way in with Thursday’s victory over Iowa State. Colorado State looks OK and can nail down a bid with a win Friday over San Diego State. Washington fell in a Pac-12 tourney quarterfinal to ninth-seeded Oregon State; the Huskies’ regular-season title might be their saving grace. Miami likely locks up a bid if it beats Florida State on Friday.
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. Lehigh
62. UNC Asheville
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. UNC Asheville won the Big South tournament.
No. 16s
63. Lamar*
Buzz: Remember that a 68-team field means at least four conference champs are going to end up in play-in games. 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
6: Big Ten, Big 12
5: ACC, Big 12
4: Mountain West, SEC
3: Atlantic 10, West Coast
2: Colonial, Conference USA, Missouri Valley, Pac-12
1: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Summit, Sun Belt, Southwestern Athletic, Western Athletic (19)

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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