Beery's Brackets: The Projected Bracket for March Madness | Feb. 11, 2021
I’ll be the first to admit it. When the NCAA officially canceled March Madness last spring, I was crushed. I knew why it was done, and I wholeheartedly agreed with the decision. But I was crushed.
On the doorstep of the greatest fortnight in American sports, the pageantry, the thrill and the heartbreak of the Big Dance were all swept away in an instant. It left us with so many “what-ifs” and “what could’ve beens.” If I’m being perfectly honest, I still get pretty bummed out thinking about it.
But the light at the end of the madness-less tunnel is growing brighter. Though the season has been stop-and-go for many teams dealing with COVID pauses, we’re approaching the finish line. Sunday marks exactly one month until Selection Sunday, and though the tournament will look drastically different, confined to the greater Indianapolis area with little to no fan attendance, it appears the return of March Madness is definitely going to happen. It started to feel very real Wednesday when the NCAA announced tournament tip-times and the TV schedule.
That can only mean one thing.
It’s bracket szn.
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.
Now I’m here to bring Beery’s Brackets to Box Score, giving you a glimpse of what the NCAA Tournament picture looks like on a weekly basis between now and Selection Sunday.
In constructing my brackets, I closely follow the NCAA’s bracketing principles, which were recently simplified in light of the pandemic, which not only makes actually building the bracket easier, but gives as close to a “true S-curve” as we’ll ever see. From conference restrictions and avoiding rematches, to a closely scrutinized seed list, I’m going to be trying to give you the best bracket projections possible.
I must note these projections are what the bracket would look like if the tournament started today, not how I think it will ultimately end up. Until the NCAA tells us differently, I’ve decided to simply label the regions numerically, rather than the traditional geographic designations, and Region 1 will square off with Region 4 in the Final Four, while the other side of the bracket will feature Region 2 and Region 3
Without further ado, here’s the Box Score debut of my bracket projections.
1. Gonzaga (WCC) vs. 16. Prairie View A&M (SWAC) / NC A&T (MEAC)
8. Minnesota vs. 9. Arkansas
4. Iowa vs. 13. UAB (C-USA)
5. Oklahoma vs. 12. Wofford (SOCON)
3. Texas Tech vs. 14. Siena (MAAC)
6. Virginia Tech vs. 11. Loyola-Chicago (MVC)
7. Xavier vs. 10. St. Bonaventure (A-10)
2. Virginia (ACC) vs. 15. Northeastern (CAA)
1. Ohio State vs. 16. South Dakota (Summit)
8. Florida vs. 9. North Carolina
4. West Virginia vs. 13. Liberty (A-Sun)
5. Wisconsin vs. 12. Stanford / Boise State
3. Tennessee vs. 14. Navy (Patriot)
6. Kansas vs. 11. Colorado State
7. Colorado vs. 10. LSU
2. Villanova (Big East) vs. 15. Eastern Washington (Big Sky)
1. Baylor (Big 12) vs. 16. Bryant (NEC) / Sam Houston State (Southland)
8. Clemson vs. 9. Indiana
4. USC (Pac-12) vs. 13. Toledo (MAC)
5. Purdue vs. 12. Winthrop (Big South)
3. Missouri vs. 14. Grand Canyon (WAC)
6. Creighton vs. 11. VCU / Oregon
7. Oklahoma State vs. 10. Seton Hall
2. Illinois vs. 15. Texas State (Sun Belt)
1. Michigan (Big Ten) vs. 16. UMBC (Am. East)
8. Louisville vs. 9. BYU
4. Houston (AAC) vs. 13. Belmont (OVC)
5. Florida State vs. 12. Utah State (MWC)
3. Texas vs. 14. UC Irvine (Big West)
6. Rutgers vs. 11. Drake
7. UCLA vs. 10. San Diego State
2. Alabama (SEC) vs. 15. Cleveland State (Horizon)
Top of the class
Gonzaga and Baylor started the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the AP Poll and neither has budged all year. As it stands, I’ve got the Zags holding the slight edge over the Bears for the top overall seed, in part because Gonzaga currently has six Quad-1 wins away from home (eight total), while Baylor has six total. But the Bears will certainly have plenty more opportunities to bolster their resume and inch ahead.
Though the tourney’s top seed means little in a year where everything is centralized in one location, these two teams will be neck and neck until the very end.
Michigan, despite missing the last two weeks due to a COVID pause, has been sitting in a solid position for a 1-seed, while Ohio State has come on strong in the last month to give the Big Ten two teams on the top line. The Buckeyes lead the country with nine Quad-1 wins and are right on the doorstep of passing their bitter rivals on the seed list. These teams are scheduled to meet in Columbus on Feb. 21.
No, I’m not talking GameStop or Dogecoin here. I’m talking about some of the teams that have been climbing up the seed lines in recent weeks.
— Illinois was sputtering just a month ago, having lost two straight games. Since then, the Illini have ripped off four straight wins, including two ranked teams in Iowa and Wisconsin. Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn are my favorite duo to watch in all of college basketball.
— If it weren’t for a stinker at Oregon State a few weeks back, USC would be even higher up the seed line. The Trojans, featuring a potential No. 1 draft pick in Evan Mobley, have won four straight after that game, including one against rival UCLA.
— West Virginia has won five straight Big 12 games — three of which were against ranked teams — despite a home loss to Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Mountaineers have been a bit hot-and-cold at times this season, but they’re not a team I’d want to see in my region on Selection Sunday.
While there’s still plenty of time to right the ship, these are some teams that have been taking on water the last couple of weeks.
— Kansas is one of the only Blue Bloods that currently appears to be a safe bet to make the NCAA Tournament. But the Jayhawks have hardly looked like themselves, having posted a 3-3 record in their last six as they dropped out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in 12 years.
— Houston was in the mix for a No. 1 seed just a few short weeks ago, but took an ugly loss at East Carolina. There’s still time for the Coogs to climb back up into the 2-seed conversation, but that looks to be their ceiling after the ECU debacle.
— UConn has had to stop and start its season multiple times, and hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm without star guard James Bouknight in the lineup in recent weeks. The Huskies have lost four of their last five, finding themselves squarely on the bubble. If this team was a real company on the stock, I’d be buying this dip right now, because Bouknight is slated to return soon, and he is the kind of guy capable of carrying a team on a tournament run.
Last 4 Byes — Drake, Colorado State, Seton Hall, San Diego State
Last 4 In (First Four) — VCU, Oregon, Stanford, Boise State
First 4 Out — UConn, Saint Louis, Georgia Tech, St. John’s
Next 4 Out — Maryland, Western Kentucky, Pitt, Michigan State
The bubble has seemingly been a revolving door this year. I don’t expect anything different between now and season’s end. Out of this current bunch of teams in this week’s bubble picture, I’d say I would pick Stanford as the strongest candidate to play itself into solid safety above the cut line over the next month.
As for teams I see trending in the wrong way, Oregon has experienced the woes of COVID pauses, having lost to Oregon State and Washington State following lulls in their schedule. Can’t penalize a team too much for COVID situations, but those are two bad losses that have the Ducks fluttering right now.
Bracket Impact Games
There are some BIG games on the docket this weekend, even though Baylor vs. Texas Tech was unfortunately postponed due to COVID issues.
— St. Bonaventure @ VCU (Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN2)
— Georgia Tech @ Clemson (Friday, 8 p.m., ACCN)
— Loyola-Chicago @ Drake (Saturday, Noon / Sunday, 3 p.m., ESPN2)
— UConn @ Xavier (Saturday, Noon, FOX)
— Oklahoma @ West Virginia (Saturday, 1 p.m, ESPN+)
— Tennessee @ LSU (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
— Arkansas @ Missouri (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2)
— Villanova @ Creighton (Saturday, 5 p.m., FOX)
— North Carolina @ Virginia (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
— Michigan @ Wisconsin (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)
— Pitt @ Georgia Tech (Sunday, 4 p.m., ACCN)
— Minnesota @ Maryland (Sunday, 7 p.m.)
Note: If you’re really into bracketology and projecting the field, you have to check out bracketmatrix.com. 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!