ESPN’s bracketology efforts are focused on projecting the NCAA tournament field, as we expect the NCAA Division I basketball committee to select the field in March. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi uses the same data points favored by the committee in his projections of the field, including schedule strength and other indicators for the entire season, including NET and team sheet data similar to those available to the NCAA stand. Visit the NCAA website to learn more NCAA Selection Criteria.
68 team bracket
The 68-man group is the standard version of the NCAA tournament field, which has existed since 2011. When the 2021 field consists of 68 teams, however, there will be some key differences compared to previous years.
Of course, the primary adjustment to a normal year is playing the entire NCAA tournament in one place. This eliminates geographical considerations when seeding. Additionally, there will be at least one less automatic qualifier this season as the Ivy League’s decision to forego the 2020-21 season reduces the number of AQ participants to 31 for this season.
48 team bracket
In this extrapolation, an abbreviated selection process would reduce the field by 10 teams at large and 10 automatic qualifiers (the latter still receiving a revenue unit). The four top seeds in each region would receive a bye to the second round, with four first-round matches per region — 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, and 8 vs. 9 — being played without fans tuned in to the home court of the higher seeds
To minimize travel costs, first round pairings will be guided by geography as much as possible. And the reduced field results in only 32 teams competing at the central site. All participants must post a conference record of at least .500 – the “Lunardi Rule” – for wide consideration.
16 team bracket
In this projection, the committee selects and seed the top 16 available teams. There are no automatic qualifiers, although all non-attendant conference winners will receive the designated unit of revenue.
To maintain a sense of national balance, conference attendance is limited to four teams. And no region may have more than one team from the same conference.