Projecting the NCAA tournament field of 68

We’re 44 days away from “Selection Sunday” (March 11), and here is our second look at how we think the 68-team NCAA tournament field will look when it is unveiled that day.

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.

We will update this every Thursday until late February, when we will begin to update it daily.

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.

[Forde Minutes: It’s the year of the dragon in college hoops]

No. 1s
1. Syracuse
2. Kentucky
3. Ohio State
4. Kansas
Buzz: Kentucky and Syracuse look like locks to win their leagues. Ohio State and Kansas are in for tougher tests. But KU owns a two-game lead in the Big 12.
No. 2s
5. North Carolina
6. Missouri
7. Duke
8. Baylor
Buzz: UNC’s outside shooting bears watching with the season-ending injury to G Dexter Strickland. Missouri was flat in Wednesday’s loss to Oklahoma State.
No. 3s
9. Michigan State
10. Georgetown
11. West Virginia
12. Connecticut
Buzz: WVU coach Bob Huggins can’t be happy about his team’s defense in Wednesday night’s loss at St. John’s. UConn has dropped four of its past six.
No. 4s
13. Michigan
14. Florida
15. Marquette
16. Mississippi State
Buzz: Florida is just 1-4 in true road games and plays at Ole Miss on Thursday night. Marquette has won five in a row but plays three of its next four on the road.
No. 5s
17. Creighton
18. Vanderbilt
19. San Diego State
20. Murray State
Buzz: Vanderbilt has road trips to Arkansas and Florida in the next week. Murray State is the nation’s lone unbeaten and four of its next five games are at home.
No. 6s
21. Wisconsin
22. Florida State
23. UNLV
24. Gonzaga
Buzz: All of a sudden, Florida State’s offense has become productive; the Seminoles ripped Wake Forest on Wednesday for their fifth win in a row. Gonzaga plays its next three games and five of its next seven on the road.
No. 7s
25. Indiana
26. Temple
27. California
28. Wichita State
Buzz: Indiana has a big game Thursday night at Wisconsin. Cal plays five of its next seven games at home.
No. 8s
29. Seton Hall
30. Xavier
31. Saint Mary’s
32. Alabama
Buzz: Alabama’s lack of outside shooting has to be a concern for coach Anthony Grant. Saint Mary’s already has key league wins over BYU and Gonzaga.
No. 9s
33. Dayton
34. Cincinnati
35. New Mexico
36. Illinois
Buzz: Cincinnati owns wins over Georgetown and UConn. Illinois has lost two in a row, including a bad loss at Penn State.
No. 10s
37. Memphis
38. Virginia
39. Kansas State
40. Louisville
Buzz: Memphis has a tough upcoming stretch: vs. Marshall, at Southern Miss and vs. Xavier. Virginia has three losses, by a combined eight points.
No. 11s
41. Harvard
42. North Carolina State
43. Purdue
44. Southern Miss
Buzz: Harvard hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1946. Southern Miss hasn’t been since 1990.
No. 12s
45. BYU
46. Oregon
47. St. Louis
48. UCF
49. Colo. St.
50. Northwestern
Buzz: BYU gets Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga at home in back-to-back games next week. UCF beat Connecticut in November. Northwestern is the only “Big Six” conference school never to make the NCAA field.
No. 13s
51. Davidson*
52. Long Beach State*
53. Oral Roberts*
54. Nevada*
Buzz: Davidson, which already owns a three-game lead in the Southern Conference, won at Kansas in December. Long Beach State played a murderous non-conference schedule. ORU opened 0-2 but has won 18 of its past 20, including a 22-point win at Xavier.
No. 14s
55. Cleveland State*
56. Iona*
57. Middle Tennessee*
58. Drexel*
Buzz: Cleveland State won at Vanderbilt and is tied for the lead in the Horizon League. Middle Tennessee, which leads the Sun Belt, hasn’t been to the NCAA tourney since 1989, when it won a first-round game as a No. 13 seed. Drexel is our pick in the Colonial, which is way down this season.
No. 15s
59. Akron*
60. Belmont*
61. Weber State*
62. Norfolk State*
Buzz: Akron, which won at Mississippi State, is just 13-7 overall but is our pick to win the MAC. Norfolk State is seeking its first NCAA bid.
No. 16s
63. Bucknell*
64. Long Island*
65. UT Arlington*
66. UNC Asheville*
67. Stony Brook*
68. Mississippi Valley*
Buzz: Remember that a 68-team field means four conference champs are going to end up in play-in games. Stony Brook never has made the NCAA field.

Breakdown by league

8: Big East, Big Ten
4: Atlantic 10, Big 12, Mountain West
3: Conference USA, West Coast
2: 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 (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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