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NCAA Tournament bracketology: Projecting all 68 teams in the field

Christyn Williams (13). (M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

There are still a few NCAA Tournament bids up for grabs this weekend, as the Big 12 and Missouri Valley open their conference tournaments Thursday and the Ivy League tournament gets underway on Friday. All three conferences have at least one at-large caliber team.

Most of the top leagues have wrapped up their postseason tournaments, however, so with the majority of at-large resumes signed and sealed, it’s time to take a look at where things stand before Selection Sunday.

Below, we project each of the 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament field and their seed lines based on a 1-68 S-curve. (Bracketing rules and geography may cause small fluctuations in these seed lines, which are based solely on best resumes.) For autobids yet to be decided, we’ve awarded them to the team most likely to win that conference tournament based on Her Hoop Stats win probabilities.

No. 1 Seeds

South Carolina, Stanford (Pac-12 autobid), NC State (ACC autobid), Louisville

Given that South Carolina beat both of the teams right behind them in this grouping, their loss to Kentucky on Sunday means nothing in terms of seeding. The Gamecocks are still the top team in every ranking or rating system and should undoubtedly be the No. 1 overall seed.

Stanford hasn’t lost to a team below them on the list since Thanksgiving weekend, and they rolled through a formidable Pac-12 without a loss. Their resume is almost as good as it was last season when they landed the top overall spot, so the only reason they aren’t in that spot this year is because of South Carolina’s absolute dominance. Like the first line, No. 2 overall is pretty much locked up.

The No. 3 overall is the last spot that’s all but set in stone before things start to get interesting. There’s a small chance NC State leapfrogs Stanford, but the committee’s most recent reveal had Stanford at No. 2 overall, and not enough has changed since then to project anything different. Any chance of the Wolfpack dropping below this line went out the window when Louisville lost to Miami in the ACC quarterfinals.

Speaking of that Miami loss, Louisville’s inclusion here looks much more precarious than it was before. The Cardinals will be rooting for someone other than Baylor to win the Big 12 tournament. One more loss for the Bears, and Louisville can feel a bit safer.

No. 2 Seeds

Baylor (Big 12 autobid), UConn (Big East autobid), LSU, Texas

Thanks to two blowout wins over Iowa State, including one on the road last week to win the Big 12 regular season, Baylor has the best resume of any team not on the top line. Theirs is the only one realistically good enough to catch Louisville, but they still might need to win their conference tournament this weekend to take that spot.

There was a time when it looked like UConn might be headed for its first No. 3 seed in over a decade. Instead, Paige Bueckers’ return has rejuvenated the team despite her limited minutes; since her first game back, UConn has looked every bit the part of a title contender and has vaulted itself back onto the No. 2 line. If the Huskies’ head-to-head matchup with Louisville back on Dec. 19 had gone their way, they’d probably have a shot at snagging the fourth No. 1.

Who thought LSU would be in this position when the season started? The Kim Mulkey Effect is real, and it’s been enough to put the Tigers in position to potentially land their first No. 2 seed since 2008. LSU is aided by the fact that at least one, and possibly both, of the two teams behind them will take another loss before Selection Sunday.

A lot of people have Texas on the No. 3 line, but owning the only true road win over a top-two team can carry weight. Add in the two blowout wins over Iowa State, who is competing for this spot as well, and Texas has a legitimate shot at a No. 2. The one thing holding the Longhorns down is a home loss to Texas Tech, so they’ll likely need a good showing in the Big 12 tournament to hang onto this spot.

No. 3 Seeds

Iowa State, Iowa (Big Ten autobid), Michigan, Indiana

While we’re on the topic of the Big 12 tournament, it’ll be important to watch Iowa State’s performance there as well. As the No. 2 seed, the Cyclones are lined up to face the No. 3 Longhorns in the semifinals if chalk holds. Their position here is really just a placeholder: That game, if it happens, will ultimately determine which of the two teams earns a No. 2 seed.

It wasn’t that long ago that Iowa was on the host bubble. Seven straight wins and Big Ten regular season and tournament championships will take you far. Iowa and Michigan split the regular season and are basically splitting hairs here, but both teams should be on this line.

Indiana has lost four of its last seven, but since all of those defeats have come to Iowa or Maryland, it shouldn’t be terribly damaging. There aren’t any bad losses on Indiana’s resume, which can’t be said of most teams below this line.

No. 4 Seeds

Tennessee, Arizona, Oklahoma, Maryland

Tennessee has come down to earth after it reached No. 5 in the AP Poll on the strength of several tight wins. Losses by some of the teams behind them have kept the Vols from sliding out of hosting range. Arizona is limping into the tournament as well, but did enough early on to stay home for the first weekend.

Maryland has more losses than anyone else in the top 16, but they are all to ranked teams (including to each of the top three) and mostly away from home. Oklahoma is the team most in danger of dropping given that they still have their conference tournament to play. A quarterfinal exit to Kansas on Friday may send them packing next weekend, but a deep run could solidify their hosting status.

No. 5 Seeds

Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, BYU, Oregon

Virginia Tech’s road loss to Liberty in December didn’t look great at the time, but the Flames’ memorable conference season helped Tech’s resume. Notre Dame has five losses to currently unranked teams, but none of them are outside of the top 60 in the NET and all happened away from home. Both teams will be pulling for Kansas to knock off Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament in the hopes they can move up and host.

BYU certainly deserves this spot, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see them fall to a No. 6 given the committee’s history of disrespecting mid-majors. Oregon is an interesting case; their placement will depend on how much the committee factors in the Ducks’ injury issues during the regular season.

No. 6 Seeds

Ohio State, North Carolina, Nebraska, Ole Miss,

Ohio State has a shiny record and a Big Ten regular season championship, but pulling them down is a non-conference schedule that featured a grand total of zero top-100 NET teams. North Carolina’s resume is a less extreme version of that.

Nebraska is a classic case of a team that does what it was supposed to do – for the most part, they’ve won games they were favored to win and lost games they were expected to lose. That lands them here. Ole Miss, two seasons removed from winning just seven games, finds itself here thanks to a remarkable turnaround led by Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin and star center Shakira Austin.

No. 7 Seeds

Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky (SEC autobid), Kansas State

Aside from sharing a home state, Georgia and Georgia Tech are in similar spots in other ways, too. The defensive-minded squads have comparable resumes buoyed by big wins over NC State (for Georgia) and UConn (for Georgia Tech), and both are losers of five of their last eight.

Much has been said about Kentucky’s magnificent turnaround, and this team deserves that praise and more. They managed to turn a sub-.500 resume that looked dead in the water into a top-30 resume in the span of about three weeks.

Kansas State is the only team on lines No. 5 through No. 7 that hasn’t completed its resume yet. There’s a chance a loss to Texas tomorrow drops the Wildcats into an 8 vs. 9 matchup.

No. 8 Seeds

FGCU (Atlantic Sun autobid), UCF (American autobid), Utah, Florida

FGCU would have loved to climb onto the No. 7 line and avoid a No. 1 seed in the second round, but a loss to Stetson on Feb. 12 probably eliminated that opportunity. If the committee overlooks that blip for the fact that Kierstan Bell was injured, they may have an outside shot.

UCF is in the midst of perhaps its best season in school history, and no one will want to face that grind-it-out defense next week. Utah is on the opposite end of the scoring spectrum, but is also an incredible story after recording just five wins last year.

The key for Florida’s seeding will be how the committee views a team that just lost its leading scorer for the season in Kiki Smith.

No. 9 Seeds

South Florida, Arkansas, Creighton, Miami

How much recency bias will the committee apply to South Florida? The Bulls lost by just seven points to a healthy UConn squad and beat Stanford on a neutral floor in November, but they haven’t beaten a tournament team since then. A win over UCF in the AAC title game Thursday night might be enough to switch lines with them, but that shouldn’t matter when both are in the 8 vs. 9 matchup.

Arkansas has an ugly number in the loss column (13), but the Razorbacks played one of the toughest schedules in the country and were the victims of some close losses.

One of those losses was to Creighton, the second Big East team safely in the field. Miami’s story is Kentucky-like: WNIT to NCAA Tournament lock in mere days.

No. 10 Seeds

Washington State, Colorado, South Dakota (Summit autobid), Kansas

Washington State and Colorado are both on this line for now, but if Princeton or Missouri State plays well enough this weekend to catch one of them, Washington State’s head-to-head victory over the Buffs may be key.

South Dakota was probably already in, but you never know with mid-majors, so Coyotes fans breathed a sigh of relief when they punched their ticket on Tuesday. Kansas should be in as well, but it wouldn’t hurt for them to win a game at the Big 12 tournament and eliminate any doubt.

No. 11 Seeds

Princeton (Ivy autobid), Missouri State (MVC autobid), Missouri, Northwestern, Dayton

Missouri joins Washington State, Colorado and Kansas in the last four byes. Lauren Hansen’s layup to beat South Carolina is looking more and more crucial every day.

Northwestern and Dayton are part of the last four in, so both of them will be rooting hard for Missouri State and Princeton to win their conference tournaments this weekend. If either loses, the Missouri Valley or the Ivy could become two-bid leagues, knocking one or two other teams out of the field.

No. 12 Seeds

Villanova, Boston College, Gonzaga (WCC autobid), IUPUI (Horizon autobid), UMass (Atlantic 10 autobid)

Villanova and Boston College round out the last four in and can do nothing but sit back and watch the bubble action around them this weekend. IUPUI won at Iowa, UMass hung with Iowa State and each team has a Hammon Award semifinalist, so either could give a No. 5 seed fits.

Don’t sleep on the Zags, either. After two losses to BYU in the regular season, Gonzaga showed it’s ready for March with a 12-point win over the Cougars in the third meeting on Tuesday.

No. 13 Seeds

SFA (WAC autobid), Belmont (OVC autobid), MTSU (C-USA autobid), UNLV (Mountain West autobid)

Belmont became the first team to punch its ticket on Saturday, and UNLV joined them with a win in the Mountain West title game Wednesday night. MTSU has work to do as it opens C-USA tournament play Thursday afternoon.

SFA was an overtime away from a 12-5 upset last year and would prefer another No. 12 seed this year in order to get its first-round opponent on a neutral floor. A home loss to UTRGV in the regular season finale, however, put that possibility in serious jeopardy.

No. 14 Seeds

Buffalo (MAC autobid), Drexel (CAA autobid), Fairfield (MAAC autobid), UTA (Sun Belt autobid)

Buffalo didn’t earn the No. 1 seed in the MAC, but the Bulls are slight favorites in the conference tournament since Toledo has a tougher matchup in the semifinals Friday against Ball State. Should Buffalo get in, the world will get to see Dyaisha Fair, who hung 22 on South Carolina’s stout defense back in November and is currently top five in the nation in scoring at 23 points per game.

No. 15 Seeds

Jackson State (SWAC autobid), Bucknell (Patriot autobid), Maine (America East autobid), Mercer (SoCon autobid)

Navy did Bucknell a favor by knocking off the Patriot League’s No. 1 seed on a miraculous shot. Jackson State is as battle-tested as they come on the No. 15 line, and no No. 2 seed should want to game-plan for them.

No. 16 Seeds

Montana State (Big Sky autobid), UC Davis (Big West autobid), Fairleigh Dickinson (NEC autobid), Houston Baptist (Southland autobid), Norfolk State (MEAC autobid), Longwood (Big South autobid)

For the first time in NCAA women’s basketball history, two teams on the No. 16 line will get to experience tournament wins as the First Four will pit four of these six against each other next Wednesday and Thursday. Watch out for Montana State’s Darian White, a dynamic point guard who can get it done in a variety of ways.

First four out

Alabama, Florida State, South Dakota State, UCLA

Next four out

Duke, DePaul, Marquette, Rhode Island

Like the last four in, these teams are big Missouri State and Princeton fans this weekend. None of these eight have a chance to help themselves anymore, as all fell last week in their conference tournaments.

Duke’s victory over Iowa is the best win among this group, but a brutal loss to Virginia and a 7-11 record in the ACC are tough to overcome.

South Dakota State is the best team of the eight, but at-large bids are about the best resume, not the best team. The Jackrabbits have a resume worthy of the tournament when only looking at the games they’ve played since star Myah Selland came back from injury, but the committee probably won’t be able to overlook their 3-7 start to the season.

Conferences with multiple bids

SEC – 9
ACC – 8
Big Ten– 7
Big 12 – 6
Pac-12 – 6
Big East – 3
AAC – 2
A10 – 2
WCC – 2

Calvin Wetzel is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering basketball and betting. He also contributes to Her Hoop Stats, CBS SportsLine and FiveThirtyEight. Follow him on Twitter at @cwetzel31.