The 2020-21 college basketball season has been a wild ride so far. That was to be expected given the state of the world and the ongoing pandemic. However, non-conference play has finished up for just about all programs as the calendar turns to 2021. That means it’s time for LWOS’ first installment of college basketball bracketology. This will be one of the toughest years to forecast a bracket for a variety of reasons. Metrics will try their best to rank teams, but with so much variability in scheduling and games played, the eye test may have to play a bigger role than in years past.
With all that said, you can find the first edition of our bracket and seeds right here.
2020-21 College Basketball Bracketology 1.0
The metrics love the Big Ten, so it should come as no surprise that it is the league leading all tournament bids with 11. This case has been strengthened with the recent rise of teams like Minnesota and Northwestern. The ACC follows with eight bids. It feels like it’s been a down year for the league, but that’s only because there hasn’t been a team that has emerged as a favorite quite yet. The Big 12 is in third with six bids. The top of that league is extremely strong, as you’ll see in a moment. The Big East, Pac 12, and SEC each have five teams in the initial bracket, while the American Athletic Conference and the Atlantic 10 each have two teams.
Bear in mind that the NCAA Tournament is expected to be played entirely in Indianapolis, Indiana, meaning traditional regions are out the door for this season. That leaves regions to be categorized numerically, with region one having the top seed and so on. With that said, the top overall seed belongs to the Gonzaga Bulldogs, and it’s not even close. Gonzaga has blown through the likes of Kansas, Iowa, and Virginia already, and is making a case for an undefeated season. There is no reason to think they shouldn’t handle the WCC with ease.
The Big 12’s strength starts its display with the Texas Longhorns ending up as the two-seed here. It feels like Shaka Smart has been on the hot seat forever in Austin. However, so far it appears as if he finally has the team that has people declaring that Texas is back.
Duke finds itself in this region as a surprising five-seed. The Blue Devils have had an uncharacteristically poor start by program standards. That includes two non-conference home losses. Still, it would be foolish to count out Mike Krzyzewski and his ability to make adjustments. Duke may find itself back as a top-16 team by season’s end.
The ACC also finds Clemson and Virginia Tech as a six and seven seed respectively. Both teams have been pleasant surprises so far and may be emerging as dark horses for the league title.
The Baylor Bears find themselves as the second-best team in our college basketball bracketology, taking the top seed in this region. We missed out on an opportunity to see them and Gonzaga play due to COVID, but the strength of the Big 12 at the top may allow them to jump the Zags anyway. The Bears’ first big test in league play will come against West Virginia on January 12.
The Houston Cougars continue the strong brand of basketball coming out of the state of Texas this season, earning the two-seed here. Houston made a statement early by defeating Texas Tech, while also earning a solid win over Boise State. They suffered their first setback at the buzzer against Tulsa the other day, but the Cougars are still a formidable team moving forward.
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights check-in as the four-seed in this region. Rutgers hasn’t seen basketball success of this magnitude in quite a while, so forgive alumni if they are extremely eager. The Scarlet Knights’ best win is over Illinois, but for this squad to remain highly-rated, they will need to prove they can win outside of their home gym, something they struggled with last season.
On the flip side, the Michigan State Spartans are a seven-seed here. Tom Izzo’s guys are on a three-game losing streak and are 0-3 in the Big Ten for the first time in almost two decades. That may a tough hole to climb out of if MSU wants to have any hope of winning the league this season.
Villanova checks in as the third top seed in our initial bracket. The Wildcats only have one blemish on the year to a Virginia Tech Hokie squad that we have already touched on. The program is currently one on pause due to COVID protocols, including head man Jay Wright testing positive. Still, Villanova is already off to a 3-0 start in Big East play and appears to be hitting their stride heading into 2021.
The Iowa Hawkeyes are the two-seed in this region and have the best player in the entire country in Luka Garza. However, the team has shown they are more than just Garza, averaging a little over 94 points per game as a group. There is no question that Iowa is one of the best teams in the nation. However, they will have to improve defensively if they have Final Four aspirations.
One of the biggest surprises of the season so far has been the Missouri Tigers. They check-in as a seven-seed in this region. The Tigers started 6-0, including wins over Oregon and Illinois, before being brought down to earth in a 20-point loss in their league opener to Tennessee. Still, it looks like Missouri is here to stay.
Let’s give a warm welcome back to the Connecticut Huskies! UConn is back in the Big East for the first time in seven years, and that has already helped them in terms of bracket position. The Huskies slot in just inside the bubble at an 11-seed right now, but should do enough to make the cut this season.
Our final top seed in our college basketball bracketology is the Kansas Jayhawks. This position could’ve been had by a handful of teams, but the Jayhawks have earned it thus far. They have ripped off eight straight wins since losing their opener to Gonzaga, including a 2-0 Big 12 start against Texas Tech and West Virginia. The battle between Baylor and Kansas for the Big 12 crown will be a fun one this season.
The Tennessee Volunteers slot in as the final two-seed in our bracket. The Vols had to pause before their season even started with a COVID outbreak, but are now 7-0 and showing why they are going to be a force in the SEC this season. Don’t be surprised if Tennessee can find itself on the one-line by Selection Sunday.
The San Diego State Aztecs find themselves as a higher-seed once more this season. SDSU won’t be pushing for a one-seed like they were last season. However, it appears they haven’t missed much of a beat thus far this season. Wins over UCLA and Arizona State have boosted their profile, putting them at a six-seed right now.
Checking in as a nine-seed are the Saint Louis Billikens. Saint Louis has quietly flown under the radar of the Atlantic 10. However, they already have quality wins over LSU and North Carolina State and played Minnesota tough in their only loss. This is a team on the rise and one that can be a sleeper to make it to the Sweet 16 and possibly beyond.
The bubble will be an interesting storyline to follow this season, at least more than usual. There’s a real possibility that teams with less than ideal records get in this season due to the special circumstances surrounding scheduling. Keep in mind that a team only needs 13 games played to qualify this year.
The last four teams into our first bracket this year are Northwestern, Oklahoma, SMU, and USC. Northwestern is rising fast after some big wins over Michigan State and Ohio State. Oklahoma is still searching for a signature win, but the metrics like them. SMU looks like the team that can challenge Houston the most in the AAC. USC barely makes it but will need to show much more if they want to remain in.
The first four teams left out of our college basketball bracketology are Maryland, Mississippi, Providence, and Alabama. Maryland got their first big win of the season against Wisconsin earlier this week, and benefit from the Big Ten’s strength in the metrics. Mississippi can find their way in but has yet to secure a noticeable win. Providence has started Big East play at 3-1, but the only noteworthy win in that stretch is Seton Hall. Alabama has wins over fellow bubble teams Providence and Mississippi, but also have missed opportunities for better wins against Stanford and Clemson.