Beery's Brackets: The Projected Bracket for March Madness | Feb. 22, 2021

Over the last few years I’ve entrenched myself in the world of bracketology, routinely creating a mock bracket from scratch based on data, analytics and my own copious amounts of college basketball consumption.
Kyle B

I’ve written this multiple times in the last 11 months, and I’ll maintain these sentiments for a very long time — losing the 2020 NCAA Tournament was one of the toughest “sports pills” I’ve ever had to swallow. It was such an exciting season that came to a screeching halt when the pandemic hit. 

We lost the two or three greatest weeks in all of sports and college basketball nerds felt empty without the tournament and all the big-time matchups that we were about to get. We really haven’t had that one big game where everyone tuned in this season — at least not one that lived up to the billing.

Until Sunday came around. No. 3 Michigan @ No. 4 Ohio State was the perfect remedy for that. A top-five matchup, a rivalry, and two potential one-seeds. A hard-fought 92-87 win for the Wolverines gave us everything we could’ve asked for in “the biggest game of the season.” 

Juwan Howard now has his team looking like a virtual lock for a No. 1 seed come March — what would be the program’s first since Howard was a player himself in 1993. The Wolverines have swiftly brushed aside any concerns of rust coming off a nearly month-long COVID hiatus. Hunter Dickinson was the holder of the swing vote for Michigan on Sunday — both teams were essentially evenly matched all over the floor except for the 7-foot-1 freshman’s dominance down low.

Michigan now owns a sparkling 10-1 record against NET Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 opponents — only four teams (Gonzaga, Illinois, Ohio State and Alabama) have more wins between the top two quads, but aside from Gonzaga, all the others have piled up five losses. The Wolverines appear to be locked in on the 1-line, and that’s probably going to be the case on Selection Sunday, but I’m not quite ready to bust out the Sharpie on that one yet. Why not? Michigan finishes the season with a flurry of games — five contests in 11 days — two of which are against Iowa and Illinois. Should they take a couple of losses in that stretch, the door could be wide open. But I’m certainly not expecting that to happen, I’m just being a little stingy with my 1-seeds.

The Wolverines are tracking to be a lock for the 1-line along with Gonzaga and Baylor, but the race for the fourth 1-seed got a little more interesting with OSU’s loss. Here’s how I project the field of 68 if the tournament started today. 

Note: The NCAA has not yet determined the names of the regions for this year’s tournament, which will be centralized in a “controlled environment” in Indiana — like last week’s bracket, we’ll continue to label them numerically. Auto-bids (conference champions) are denoted in bold.

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Region 1

1. Gonzaga (WCC) vs. 16. Prairie View A&M (SWAC) / N.C. A&T (MEAC)

8. San Diego State vs. 9. North Carolina

4. Texas vs. 13. UCSB (Big West)

5. Creighton vs. 12. Winthrop (Big South)

3. Iowa vs. 14. Eastern Washington (Big Sky)

6. Clemson vs. 11. Boise State (MWC)

7. Arkansas vs. 10. Oregon

2. Villanova (Big East) vs. 15. UNC Greensboro (SOCON)

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Region 4

1. Ohio State vs. 16. Texas State (Sun Belt)

8. Florida vs. 9. VCU (A-10)

4. Kansas vs. 13. Colgate (Patriot)

5. Missouri vs. 12. UConn / Maryland

3. West Virginia vs. 14. Cleveland State (Horizon)

6. USC (Pac-12) vs. 11. St. Bonaventure / Indiana

7. Rutgers vs. 10. Loyola-Chicago (MVC)

2. Alabama (SEC) vs. 15. Siena (MAAC)

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Region 2

1. Baylor (Big 12) vs. 16. Wagner (NEC) / South Dakota (Summit)

8. BYU vs. 9. Colorado

4. Florida State vs. 13. Toledo (MAC)

5. Wisconsin vs. 12. Wichita State (AAC)

3. Houston vs. 14. Liberty (A-Sun)

6. Tennessee vs. 11. Georgia Tech

7. Oklahoma State vs. 10. Xavier

2. Illinois vs. 15. UMBC (Am. East)

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Region 3

1. Michigan (Big Ten) vs. 16. Grand Canyon (WAC)

8. LSU vs. 9. Louisville

4. Texas Tech vs. 13. Western Kentucky (C-USA)

5. Virginia Tech vs. 12. Belmont (OVC)

3. Virginia (ACC) vs. 14. Abilene Christian (Southland)

6. Purdue vs. 11. Drake

7. UCLA vs. 10. Minnesota

2. Oklahoma vs. 15. James Madison (CAA)

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Bubble Snapshot

Last 4 Byes: GT Drake, Xavier, Minnesota

Last 4 In (First Four): Maryland, UConn, Indiana, St. Bonaventure

First 4 Out: Seton Hall, Syracuse, Utah State, 

Next 4 Out: Ole Miss, Saint Louis, Stanford, Duke

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Top of the Class

Gonzaga, after destroying San Diego by 37 points on Saturday, is still comfortably holding onto the No. 1 overall seed, while Baylor stays at No. 2 after another week on pause.

As I mentioned in the open, Michigan inched ever closer to locking up a 1-seed and could potentially do so with a win over Iowa on Thursday night.

The fourth 1-seed is where things start to get interesting, though. I’ll run you through the same “blind resume test” I used to decide it. A quick little note — Q1A is a further divided breakdown of the NET’s quadrant system that shows a little more depth to a team’s best wins.

Team A (16-5, 12-3) 

NET = #4 / KenPom = #5

ESPN BPI’s Strength of Record (SOR): #5 / SOR’s “Quality W-L”: 6-5

Q1: 7-4 / Q1A: 1-4 / Q1+Q2: 11-5 / Q1+Q2 Away/Neutral: 5-3

Best Wins (NET rankings) #5, #23, #28, @#41(twice), @#52(twice)

Losses: #34, @#37, @#29, vs. #6 vs. #2(neutral site)

Team B (18-5, 12-5)

NET: #6 / KenPom: #7

ESPN BPI’s Strength of Record (SOR): #4 / SOR’s “Quality W-L”: 8-2

Q1: 9-4 / Q1A: 5-2 / Q1+Q2: 11-5 / Q1+Q2 Away/Neutral: 8-3

Best Wins (NET rankings): @#4, @#5, @#23, vs. #29(twice), vs. #41(twice)

Losses: @#88, @#61, #28(twice), vs. #3

The first things that jump off the page are Team B’s NCAA-best nine Q1 wins and two top-five wins, one of which was against Team A. To boot, Team B has a nice heap of quality wins away from home. While the pandemic has diminished that metric to some extent, a road win is still a road win.

Team A is Illinois and Team B is Ohio State. The Illini are currently the best challengers to sneak onto the 1-line, with Alabama close behind and Oklahoma possibly still in the mix.

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Rising Stock

West Virginia rallied from down 19 points in the second half at Texas Saturday to secure a third win over a top-15 team in four games. The only loss during that stretch was a 2OT thriller against Oklahoma. The Mountaineers have a busy final week of the regular season, with scheduled games at TCU and Baylor, before wrapping up Saturday against Kansas State.

- There was a point in time this season when we all thought North Carolina was trending toward missing the tournament. Now UNC, on the *heels* of a 45-point drubbing of Louisville, is looking much more like a single-digit seed than a team destined for the NIT.

- Don’t look now, but Florida State has rattled off eight wins in nine games to move into top-four-seed territory and first place in the ACC. Leonard Hamilton just knows how to win.

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Falling Stock

Texas was hands down one of my favorite teams in college basketball early on this season. But now there are plenty of question marks after their collapse over the weekend. The Longhorns haven’t beaten a tournament team since knocking off the Mountaineers in early January. I still really like the make-up of this team and think they’ll be dangerous in March.

Indiana can’t figure out if it wants to be a team that beats Iowa (twice) and takes Illinois to overtime or a team that loses at home to Michigan State. Trayce Jackson-Davis can only do so much for the Hoosiers.

Louisville experienced the woes of resuming from COVID pause in a bad, bad way. The Cardinals shot an abysmal 1-for-16 from the 3-point line in Saturday’s disaster at the Dean Dome. They’ll need to bounce back quickly if they want to avoid sweating it out on Selection Sunday.

Bubble Talk

Last 4 Byes: Georgia Tech, Drake, Xavier, Minnesota

Last 4 In (First Four): Maryland, UConn, Indiana, St. Bonaventure

First 4 Out: Seton Hall, Syracuse, Utah State, Colorado State

Next 4 Out: Ole Miss, Saint Louis, Stanford, Duke

— It was a pretty rough weekend for bubble teams, with Minnesota, UConn, Indiana, Utah State and others all taking losses. But benefiting the most was probably Georgia Tech, who beat up on Miami Saturday. The Jackets still have some work to do to feel anything close to comfortable on the bubble, but that game may have been the spark they need moving forward.

Don’t look now, but Duke is creeping back into the tournament picture. I know nobody will want to hear this, but that win over Virginia breathed life back into their resume. If the Blue Devils can finish strong on a schedule that features two Q1 and two Q2 opportunities, they’ll certainly be in the mix on Selection Sunday.

Bracket Impact Games

This week is loaded with BIG games that’ll leave a mark on the tournament picture. We could really dive into the schedule and pull out 25+ games that have significance this week, but here are a dozen of the best games on the docket.

Syracuse @ Duke (Monday, 7 p.m., ESPN)

Oregon @ USC (Monday, 9 p.m., FS1)

Illinois @ Michigan State (Tuesday, 7 p.m., FS1)

Kansas @ Texas (Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPN)

Alabama @ Arkansas (Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPN2)

Iowa @ Michigan (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN)

West Virginia @ Baylor (Thursday, 5 p.m., TBD)

Western Kentucky @ Houston (Thursday, 7 p.m., TBD)

Texas @ Texas Tech (Saturday, noon, CBS)

Illinois @ Wisconsin (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)

Baylor @ Kansas (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN)

Iowa @ Ohio State (Sunday, 4 p.m.)

Note: If you’re really into bracketology and projecting the field, you have to check out Also follow me on Twitter @BeeryK. Let me know what you think of my latest projections — ask me questions, debate me, praise me; whatever floats your boat. Let’s talk some hoops!