Projecting the NCAA tournament field of 68

Here is our final look at how we think the 68-team NCAA tournament field will look when it is unveiled today at 6 p.m. Eastern.

While there were four league tournament finals Sunday, three involve two teams who are NCAA locks (ACC, Big Ten and SEC). The other one, though, was the Atlantic 10 final between St. Bonaventure and Xavier. To the dismay of every bubble team, St. Bonaventure won the title and “stole” a bid from a bubble team.

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.

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

No. 1s
4. Michigan State
Buzz: Kentucky unquestionably is the overall No. 1 now that Syracuse has lost again. UNC’s trek to the ACC tourney final should mean a No. 1 for the Heels. Michigan State won the Big Ten tourney and that should be enough to get the final No. 1.
No. 2s
5. Kansas
6. Missouri
7. Ohio State
8. Duke
Buzz: Missouri beat Baylor for the Big 12 tourney title. Kansas and Duke lost in their tourney semifinals. Ohio State fell to Michigan State for the Big Ten title.
No. 3s
10. Baylor
Buzz: Marquette finished second in the Big East but lost in its first Big East tourney game Thursday. Michigan fell to Ohio State in a Big Ten semifinal Saturday. Baylor lost to Missouri in the Big 12 tourney final. Louisville beat Cincinnati in the Big East tourney final.
No. 4s
Buzz: Wisconsin fell to Michigan State in a Big Ten semifinal Saturday. Murray State barely escaped with the Ohio Valley tourney title over Tennessee State. Florida State’s tourney run in the ACC has helped the Seminoles move up the seeding ladder.
No. 5s
18. Temple
20. Cincinnati
Buzz: Cincinnati lost in the Big East tourney final. Temple won the A-10 regular-season title, but lost in a league tourney quarterfinal. New Mexico shared the Mountain West regular-season title with San Diego State and beat the Aztecs for the tourney title Saturday night. The projection here is Indiana loses a seed line because of the season-ending injury to starting G Verdell Jones; the selection committee takes season-ending injuries into account when seeding.
No. 6s
22. Vanderbilt
23. San Diego State
Buzz: Creighton won the Missouri Valley tournament; Wichita State was the league’s regular-season champ. Vanderbilt, which had underachieved in the regular season, won the SEC tourney by beating Kentucky. San Diego State fell in the Mountain West final after tying for the regular-season title.
No. 7s
26. Florida
Buzz: Notre Dame has some notable wins but the Irish also have 11 losses overall, including three bad ones to teams ranked 100th or worse in the RPI. The nonconference schedule wasn’t that good, either. Memphis and Saint Mary’s doubled-up in their leagues, winning both the regular-season and tournament titles.
No. 8s
29. UNLV
32. Purdue
Buzz: Gonzaga was a solid 9-5 away from home. UNLV lost a Mountain West semifinal on its home court Friday night. Purdue is 3-10 against top-50 foes. Iowa State owns a season sweep of Kansas State, as well as wins over Baylor and Kansas.
No. 9s
33. Kansas State
35. Alabama
Buzz: K-State owns a season sweep of Big 12 tourney champ Missouri and also won at Baylor. But the Wildcats also were swept by Oklahoma and Iowa State. Saint Louis has eight top-100 wins and 10 wins away from home. Alabama owns an 8-10 record against top-100 opponents and struggled in road games. UConn’s travails are well-known, but the Huskies also have nine top-100 wins.
No. 10s
38. Xavier
Buzz: West Virginia has nine top-100 wins, but lost twice to UConn and fell at home to Pitt and Kent state. Harvard won the Ivy and is NCAA-bound for the first time since 1946. Xavier has removed any doubt about a potential NCAA bid by advancing to the Atlantic 10 tourney final. Virginia played well away from home and has seven top-100 wins, including a 12-point victory over Michigan.
No. 11s
41. BYU
42. VCU
43. NC State
Buzz: BYU lost in the WCC tourney semifinals and has just one top-50 win; it could be a 12 seed. VCU has lost once since Jan. 8. NC State played a good non-conference schedule and has six top-100 wins. Colorado was the surprise winner of the Pac-12 tournament.
No. 12s
47. Texas
48. USF
Buzz: Colorado State played a good non-conference schedule and has three top-50 wins, but the Rams reek on the road. Southern Miss has nine top-100 wins, played a top-30 non-conference schedule and has 10 wins away from home. Texas’ main selling points are a win over Temple, two wins over Iowa State and a win over Kansas State. But the Longhorns are 4-11 against top-100 foes and have been weak away from home. USF finished tied for fourth in the Big East, its best finish ever. But the Bulls have just two top-50 wins and three losses to teams outside the top 100. The only way Washington makes the field is if the selection committee values a regular-season title in a “major” conference. The bet here is that the committee rewards the Huskies for their Pac-12 regular-season championship. Seton Hall has seven top-100 wins, but also three losses to teams outside the top 100.
No. 13s
51. St. Bonaventure
Buzz: St. Bonaventure played its way into the field by winning the A-10 tourney Sunday. Long Beach State won the Big West tourney. Belmont won the Atlantic Sun tourney, and Davidson, which upset Kansas this season, won the Southern Conference tourney.
No. 14s
58. Ohio
Buzz: South Dakota State won the Summit tournament, Montana won the Big Sky tourney and Ohio won the MAC tourney. New Mexico State was in the WAC final late Saturday.
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
65. Lamar
Buzz: Remember that a 68-team field means at least four conference champs are going to end up in play-in games. Mississippi Valley won the SWAC tourney, Lamar won the Southland tourney, Detroit won the Horizon tourney, Norfolk State won the MEAC tourney, Vermont won the America East tournament and Western Kentucky, the only team in the field with a losing record, won the Sun Belt tourney.

Breakdown by league

10: Big East
6: Big Ten, Big 12
5: ACC
4: Atlantic 10, Mountain West, SEC
3: West Coast
2: Conference USA, Missouri Valley, Pac-12
1: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, 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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