MLB 2021 Predictions: National League

April is almost here, and when the month begins, so will the MLB season. Just like in my last 7 years writing this blog, I have put together predictions for the season. We only got 60 MLB games last year, but for this year we’ll have a full 162 game season. I just went on my cousin Michael Philipkosky’s podcast, the Master Plan, to discuss all 30 teams, with one episode for the AL and one episode for the NL. Monday, I posted the AL podcast alongside my predictions. You can check out the NL podcast here, and I have my full NL predictions below.

NL East

  1. Atlanta Braves (100-62, #2 seed)
  2. New York Mets (91-71, #5 seed)
  3. Philadelphia Phillies (89-73)
  4. Washington Nationals (82-80)
  5. Miami Marlins (78-84)

This might be the best division in baseball. The Braves and Mets will be competing for the division title most likely. Atlanta has a great duo of star hitters in first baseman Freddie Freeman and outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. Their rotation is also starting to come together between younger pitchers like Ian Anderson and veterans like Charlie Morton (signed this offseason). The Mets were purchased by Steve Cohen this offseason, and he told Mets fans that the Mets would leave mediocrity behind them and act like the big market team they are. Cohen hired a new GM, and the team made a ton of moves, highlighted by a trade for shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco. You also can’t forget that they have Jacob deGrom who’s arguably the best pitcher in baseball.

That doesn’t mean the other teams won’t be competitive. It will be difficult to secure a playoff spot in the NL, but the rest of these teams will at least fail trying. Philadelphia has their flaws, but between outfielder Bryce Harper, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, and a nice top two starting pitchers in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, they have a lot of talent. This should be a somewhat competitive team, but the bullpen among other minor problems could hold them back, similar to how the Celtics have struggled this season in the NBA. The Nationals experienced a World Series hangover last year, and I think they’ll see some improvement in 2021 even though that will be tough in this division. They brought in first baseman Josh Bell alongside outfielder Juan Soto and an amazing rotation. Washington has as much star power as most teams in baseball, but they lack the depth to make a run in this NL East.

The Marlins were the joke of the division back in 2019, but they saw many young pitchers break out and lead them to a 2020 playoff spot. The outfield has really come along as well with Adam Duvall joining Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson. I think the Marlins have definitely made progress in their rebuild, more so than the Tigers and Orioles who saw surprising starts to the season last year. However, it will be hard for Miami to make the playoffs again now that they are back down to 10 teams (you never know though).

Even though the Mets and Braves are frontrunners, I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of these teams in the playoffs.

NL Central

  1. Cincinnati Reds (88-74, #3 seed)
  2. St. Louis Cardinals (87-75)
  3. Chicago Cubs (80-82)
  4. Milwaukee Brewers (65-97)
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates (53-109)

I doubt more than one team makes the playoffs out of this division. Compared to the depth of the NL East and the star power of the NL West, the NL Central is not in a good spot. I think the Reds and Cardinals will be competing for that spot. The Reds lost starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, but the lineup is still strong and the rotation is still serviceable despite depth problems behind Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo. The Cardinals were already decent last year. Now they brought in star third baseman and MVP candidate Nolan Arenado. That could put them in a position to contend, but I still don’t see them dominating this division.

The Cubs were looking like they were in for a long rebuild after cutting contracts early in the offseason. However, after lots of rumors they decided to hold on to third baseman Kris Bryant and add some rotation depth. If they were trying to rebuild, they halted that effort. If they’re trying to contend, I don’t see them achieving that goal. The Cubs haven’t really chosen what direction to go in, and I expect that they will decide by the time the Trade Deadline rolls around. If not, they’ll be stuck in the middle for now.

The Brewers may have 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich in their lineup, but this rotation is not anywhere close to the other teams in this division. They’ll need to add pitching before they think about contending again.

They’ll still be better than Pittsburgh, a rebuilding team in their own realm. They already traded first baseman Josh Bell and I bet outfielder Gregory Polanco will be gone by midseason. That will leave an inexperienced roster with no sign of improvement anytime soon. They’ll need some prospects to develop before they contend again. That development will start by letting the MLB ready prospects like third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes start.

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers (107-55, #1 seed)
  2. San Diego Padres (94-68, #4 seed)
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81)
  4. San Francisco Giants (77-85)
  5. Colorado Rockies (65-97)

The Dodgers are another team that will be in their own realm: a realm of dominance. This lineup is highlighted by outfielders Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger but has a lot of talent and depth around those two including Corey Seager and Justin Turner. The lineup isn’t even the best part here. The Dodgers have David Price, Dustin May, and Julio Urias competing for their final two rotation spots! That’s because they have Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, and Walker Buehler as their top three. No team in baseball has a rotation that can compete with that. The Dodgers are the closest thing I’ve seen in a while to a lock for the best record in baseball. The question is whether the Dodgers will choke in the playoffs like they did in 2017, 2018, and 2019 before winning it all in 2020.

Everyone’s been debating whether the Dodgers or Padres will win this division. I don’t understand how you can have that debate. The Padres are a really good baseball team. In some other divisions they’d come out on top. In this division they seem to be a lock for a Wild Card spot. The Padres rotation went from inconsistent at best to one of the better rotations in baseball. This offseason they brought in Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove to bolster the pitching staff. The lineup was already strong, headlined by third baseman Manny Machado and the young Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop. However, you can’t put them on the same level as the Dodgers.

Behind those two teams, this division isn’t anything spectacular. The Diamondbacks might be the definition of average. They don’t have many standout players, but they have a serviceable lineup and a serviceable rotation. This is a high floor, low ceiling team. They will most likely be close to, if not exactly .500. They should beat up on the Giants and Rockies but cannot come anywhere close to competing with the Dodgers and Padres.

The Giants have improved between developing young talent and bringing in a couple of veterans. This isn’t their year though. Maybe next year they’ll see more improvement and cook up some even year magic. The Rockies have actually regressed since last year. They dealt away Arenado and shortstop Trevor Story and outfielder Charlie Blackmon could be gone soon too. The core of the lineup is beginning to disband and though the rotation saw some success last year, it’s nothing spectacular.

That’s all for my MLB predictions this year. Stay tuned for more baseball coverage soon, including my MLB playoff bracket which I’ll be posting at some point on Twitter.

MLB 2021 Predictions: American League

April is almost here, and when the month begins, so will the MLB season. Just like in my last 7 years writing this blog, I have put together predictions for the season. We only got 60 MLB games last year, but for this year we’ll have a full 162 game season. I just went on my cousin Michael Philipkosky’s podcast, the Master Plan, to discuss all 30 teams, with one episode for the AL and one episode for the NL. You can check out the AL podcast here, and I have my full AL predictions below.

AL East

  1. New York Yankees (96-66, #2 seed)
  2. Toronto Blue Jays (89-73, #5 seed)
  3. Tampa Bay Rays (84-78)
  4. Boston Red Sox (80-82)
  5. Baltimore Orioles (58-104)

I think the Yankees are in a good position to win this division. They lost some of the pitching depth they had last year, but this lineup is still on another level compared to the other teams in the AL East. Even with some injuries last year, the Yankees were able to dominate the AL East, and I expect the same this year. The question is whether they have the pitching staff to go all the way.

This should be a competitive division behind the Yankees. The Blue Jays, Rays, and Red Sox should all finish somewhat close in the standings. The Jays are really starting to come together. The young talent in the lineup is improving and they’ll be supplemented by new outfielder George Springer and new middle infielder Marcus Semien. Their rotation is also really starting to look sharp.

Tampa was the AL pennant winner last year, but this was a team that was highlighted by its dominant rotation and the Rays lost two of their top three starting pitchers. As a small market team, they tend to subtract in the offseason as opposed to adding. As they lose a key element of their 2020 team, they will see a significant World Series hangover.

The Red Sox should get Chris Sale back towards the end of the year, and when they do they could force the Rays into 4th place. After bringing back Alex Cora and making some underrated signings, I see the Sox finishing around .500 like they did back in 2019. However, this team is hard to read. They have a low floor (they could be a repeat of last year), and a high ceiling (they could potentially contend for a Wild Card). The signings by GM Chaim Bloom have included multiple utility players. Bloom, a University of Pennsylvania alumnus, explained some of his reasoning behind this in a Q&A at a UPenn event on Wednesday. He stated that in the past, utility players were often limited to utility role because they weren’t good enough to play a position every day. However, in modern baseball, there are utility players who can play every day at a variety of positions, like Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez who he signed. These players likely flew under the radar due to the fact that they’re utility guys.

I can’t really see the Orioles competing with these teams. The Orioles have improved since 2019, but their early 2020 success was a bit of a fluke. I think the young talent is starting to come along but it won’t be enough to make a noticeable difference just yet.

AL Central

  1. Chicago White Sox (101-61, #1 seed)
  2. Minnesota Twins (90-72, #4 seed)
  3. Kansas City Royals (77-85)
  4. Cleveland Indians (75-87)
  5. Detroit Tigers (66-96)

The White Sox are really starting to come together. They have a good ace in Lucas Giolito. The lineup is looking great between young talent like Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, and Nick Madigral and more experienced players like Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal. I think they have what it takes to make a deep playoff run this year. I have them ahead of the Twins, who choked in the playoffs last year. Minnesota has a strong rotation headlined by Jose Berrios, Kenta Maeda, and Randy Dobnak, but their lack of elite lineup talent compared to other top teams is going to hold them back from more than a Wild Card. The Twins should be able secure 2nd place though, as the rest of this division is unlikely to compete.

The Royals have added talent, including starting pitcher Mike Minor, and they have a decent core led by Hunter Dozier and Whit Merrifield. However, I don’t think they have quite enough firepower to contend. I think they will get third place over the Indians, who dealt away Carlos Carrasco and Francisco Lindor in an effort to lower payroll. Star hitter and third baseman Jose Ramirez is still in Cleveland, but the Indians don’t have any other big name hitters. They also lack rotation depth behind defending Cy Young winner Shane Bieber. Aside from Bieber and Ramirez, the Indians lack star power. The Tigers got off to a strong start last year thanks to the emergence of outfielder JaCoby Jones. They should perform better than they did in 2019, but I still don’t think they’ll be anywhere close to playoff contention in a 162 game season.

AL West

  1. Los Angeles Angels (87-75, #3 seed)
  2. Houston Astros (84-78)
  3. Oakland Athletics (76-86)
  4. Texas Rangers (65-97)
  5. Seattle Mariners (63-99)

This division is not nearly as strong as it was last year. The Angels always tend to disappoint with a lack of success surrounding star outfielder Mike Trout, but I think they’ll be able to win this weakened division. That doesn’t necessarily imply playoff success. The Angels did add some pitching help and that should put them in position to win the AL West but taking down the Yankees or White Sox will be a difficult feat. The Astros should come close as well, even though they lost outfielders George Springer and Josh Reddick. This lineup’s success between 2017 and 2019 was likely boosted by sign stealing, and the depth of the rotation is slowly dwindling, so I have the Angels edging out Houston here, but it will be close.

The A’s will probably have the biggest drop off in the division. They have a very talented young rotation, but without shortstop Marcus Semien and designated hitter Khris Davis, this lineup is lacking standout hitters. Corner infielders Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are improving at the plate, but that’s not enough lineup talent for a playoff team. I have them falling to third place, but finishing ahead of the Rangers and Mariners.

The Rangers failed to contend last year with an awkward mix of young talent and older players, so they’ve torn it down and prepared for a rebuild headed into this season. Joey Gallo is still here but I don’t expect him to stay for long. Seattle has some young talent that is starting to develop and could have a very strong outfield soon once Kyle Lewis and top prospect Jarred Kelenic fully develop alongside Mitch Haniger. Even with the outfield and the rotation improving, this isn’t the year for Seattle to contend.

That’s all for these American League predictions. I’ll have my NL predictions out in the next couple days. In the meantime, feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Celebrating 7 Years of Boston Sports Mania

Today marks 7 years since I took a book out of the library and decided to start this blog, posting an MLB 2014 Preview. That’s pretty fitting considering my sports fandom began with baseball.

Just like I did in 2014 and have done in every year since, I’ll be posting my MLB season predictions before the season begins. For the second year in a row, I collaborated on these predictions with my cousin Michael. I made an appearance on his podcast, The Master Plan. I’ll have a post up about those this weekend. In the meantime, I have some special announcements to make.

I designed this new logo in commemoration of this 7 year blog anniversary as well as the upcoming Autism Acceptance Month this April:

When I was first diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, my parents were told I may never speak. I have made lots of progress since then, from learning to talk, read, and write, to discovering my passion for sports, to starting this blog. After starting this blog, I realized I wanted to become a professional sports journalist, and I have been lucky enough to have some experiences in the industry thanks to connections I’ve made through this blog.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the supportive communities that helped me along the way. That’s why I’ve launched a apparel fundraising campaign featuring this new logo to help give back to the autism community this April.

Click here or watch the video below for more information on this campaign:

I’m excited to be celebrating 7 years of Boston Sports Mania and Autism Acceptance Month with this campaign, and I look forward to keeping this website active for many years to come.

2021 NFL Free Agency Predictions: Defense

Free agency is underway. If you’ve been following my Twitter, you’ve seen updates on the free agents who have signed so far and my defensive free agency predictions. I’m writing this article to take a deeper dive into those defensive predictions. Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

It’s going to be tough this offseason for teams who need d-line help due to a shallow draft class and shallow DL market in free agency. I have the Lions and Titans, two teams with big DL needs, bringing back familiar faces in Suh and Casey. Short, the long time Panther, was recently released. I have him taking a cheaper deal with the Vikings.

Guy and Gotsis will sign a second contract with their 2020 teams, while Jones leaves Tennessee with Casey back and heads to Tampa Bay, replacing Suh.

I think Fletcher Cox will either be released or traded by the Eagles, so he could be another hot commodity on the DL market.

I have the Chargers re-signing Ingram. They’ll need Ingram and Henry back plus more if they want a playoff spot this year. The Jets and Bengals, who have lots of cap space, will also get in on this pass rush market. I have Dupree leaving the Steelers for New York and Ngakoue staying in the AFC North as he heads to Cincinnati to replace Carlos Dunlap.

I see Clowney back in Tennessee, but on a much cheaper deal. Houston and Kerrigan will also need to take cheaper deals, and I think they will get them on new teams. The Browns can bring in Houston as a slight upgrade over Olivier Vernon, and signing Kerrigan is only the beginning of what this Atlanta pass rush will need.

Note: I was unable to update these predictions after Tampa Bay’s signing of Shaquill Barrett

The Dolphins just acquired Benardrick McKinney in exchange for Shaq Lawson, but that won’t be enough to fulfill the LB corps. Barrett can play a mix of OLB and ILB for the Dolphins. Judon is asking for a lot of money, but the Ravens have the cap space to afford him. I also think Wright returns to his long-time team.

Reddick will be the Kerrigan replacement in Washington, getting reps at 4-3 OLB and DE. Van Noy heads to Cleveland to headline an underwhelming LB corps there. Davis would simply be a depth signing for the 49ers, but they need more around Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner to complete their LB corps.

This is one of the best cornerback markets in a long time. I think Rhodes and Jackson both sign back with their 2020 teams, but other top corners will move around. I have two veterans switching teams: Peterson heading to the Jets and Sherman heading back to Seattle. The Jets could really use a big name corner, and Peterson isn’t in his prime but would be the best corner on the Jets roster.

Two corners formerly from a strong Chargers secondary, Hayward and King, have also hit the open market. I have Hayward heading to the Bay Area to replace Sherman and King headed to the Raiders to supplement Trayvon Mullen in the Vegas secondary.

I see a lot of movement happening in the remaining free agent safety market. Two elite safeties in Justin Simmons and Marcus Maye received the franchise tag, and I don’t see any other notable safeties aside from Gipson returning to their 2020 teams.

I have Neal heading from Atlanta to the 49ers, a team that could use more flare to their secondary. I have the Vikings moving on from Harris and signing a cheaper option in Vaccaro. Harris will head to Arizona to form a star-studded duo with Budda Baker.

Hooker will head to Detroit after the rise of Blackmon set up Indy for a bright future at safety. Joseph would be replaced in the lineup by a young, healthy Grant Delpit if he stayed, so I have him headed to Jacksonville, a team that could use more defensive depth all over the place.

That’s all for my defensive free agency predictions. I’ll have more NFL coverage soon. In addition, the 7-year anniversary of my site is coming up, and I have a big announcement coming that day, so stay tuned.

2021 NFL Free Agency Predictions: Offense

One of the busiest weeks in sports is upon us. NFL free agency is around the corner, March Madness will be starting in just a few days, and Spring Training is in action as MLB teams prepare for the season. Today, I’m here with the first half of my NFL free agency predictions. This article will cover all offensive players, while I’ll be covering defensive players in the next one. As always, feel free to comment with your thoughts, and keep reading for my predictions below.

The NFL draft is the best route for teams who are in need of QBs, but some teams will settle for a free agent or bring in a free agent QB as a backup or bridge.

I have Winston resigning in New Orleans and getting a chance to start, but none of these other QBs are a sure thing to get a starting job. I have Fitzpatrick headed to Denver to compete with Drew Lock, but there’s no guarantee he’ll end up starting. Smith and Brissett both secure backup roles in the NFC East, while Dalton will remain in the NFC East and compete for the Washington Football Team QB job. He’ll probably compete with both Taylor Heinicke and a rookie in an open battle. Trubisky will also be limited to a backup role this year, but in Pittsburgh, he can learn from QB Ben Roethlisberger and potentially get a chance to succeed him as QB of the Steelers in 2022.

Note: Aaron Jones has signed with Green Bay, and it was too late for me to modify my RB predictions accordingly.

The only free agent RB I could see earning a workhorse role with a new team is Aaron Jones. Some of the teams who need a RB most will want to wait for the NFL Draft and target RBs like Travis Etienne, Najee Harris, and Javonte Williams. I have the Steelers, Jets, and Falcons waiting for the draft.

I have Carson headed to Buffalo to lead the committee with Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, giving the Bills an extra flare to their run game when he’s healthy. I had the Seahawks replacing Carson with a RB who’s arguably better in Jones. The rest of these backs, like Carson, will be in time shares. Bell will take the third down role in New England with James White and Rex Burkhead leaving. Fournette will head to Philly, who wants a RB to pair with Sanders. Drake will head back to Arizona for a committee with Chase Edmonds.

Gallman, who I have back in New York, should get some reps early in the season as Saquon Barkley recovers and replace Barkley in the case of an injury. The Giants don’t have a backup for Barkley on the roster right now so bringing back Gallman or bringing in someone else is important.

The free agent WR market will be one of the most active parts of this free agency, as several high profile wide receivers capable of #1 roles hit the open market. I have Golladay headed to Jacksonville as they bulk up the offense for Trevor Lawrence. I also think Allen Robinson will be traded to resolve his dissatisfaction with the franchise tag (I have him headed to Miami). Those two aren’t even the only significant names available.

The Patriots are another team that could use a #1 receiver, and I think Fuller fits the bill. He really proved himself in his contract year with the Texans despite a PED suspension cutting his season short. I have AB headed to the Ravens to form a duo with his cousin Marquise. Davis heads to Detroit, as they have limited money but only have 2 WRs on the current roster (I do also expect the Lions to draft 1-2 receivers). The Colts will probably be in the mix for guys like Golladay, but I have them signing a cheaper former Lion in Marvin Jones to play next to Michael Pittman Jr. and Parris Campbell.

Smith-Schuster heads to Washington, as he was good in a #2 role with Pittsburgh when AB was there and would be good in a #2 role with the team who needs it most. It would take pressure off Terry McLaurin and make the offense easier to work with for whoever the new QB is.

In addition to these guys, Zach Ertz and David Njoku could receive attention on the trade market, and Kyle Pitts could easily land a starting job via the draft. I think the Patriots and Cardinals will wait on a tight end in hopes of landing one of those guys.

Meanwhile, expect the Chargers and Titans, two other teams with a big tight end need, to resign their 2020 tight ends to new contracts. I also have Tonyan, a restricted free agent, returning to his 2020 team, the Packers. The second tier of tight ends will see more movement in the free agent market. I have Everett leaving his time share with Tyler Higbee for the Jaguars starting TE job. Similarly, I have Burton, who was part of Indianapolis’ TE trio, headed to Carolina. The Panthers could still easily pair Burton with Pitts from the NFL draft. I have Cook, an older tight end, headed to Cincinnati to add depth to young QB Joe Burrow’s offense.

I have a lot of top offensive linemen resigning with their 2020 teams, including Linsley, Williams, Mack, and Andrews. If they resign Andrews, they probably won’t need Thuney as they can run with a starting o-line of Trent Brown, Michael Onwenu, Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Isaiah Wynn. I have Thuney headed to the Chargers, who probably need to sign multiple interior o-linemen this off-season. It will be hard for Fisher, who was released by the Chiefs, to land another left tackle job over guys like Orlando Brown (who will probably be traded to a team in need of a LT). I have him landing in Seattle and playing the right side.

That’s all for this portion of my free agency predictions. Stay tuned for my defensive predictions in the next 24 hours.

Final March Madness Bracketology: Where teams stand with conference tourneys in action

We’re just a few days away from Selection Sunday, and several tickets to March Madness have been punched already. What’s not clear is where these teams will be seeded, and which teams will make it on at-large bids. Below I have my final projection of the March Madness bracket. Teams that have already punched their ticket are included, and the rest of the conference winners are based off my predictions. Feel free to comment with your thoughts and keep reading to see which teams could be in and which teams could be out.

The Bracket

Gonzaga is the first team to enter the tourney undefeated since Karl-Anthony Towns and the Kentucky Wildcats in 2015. This Gonzaga team has plenty of experience between Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, and Drew Timme and a top NBA prospect in Jalen Suggs. The Bulldogs often fall short in March but it’ll take another powerhouse to defeat Gonzaga this time around. Iowa might very well be that powerhouse. After a rough patch in early February, Iowa has rebounded thanks to dominant performances by Luka Garza and improvement from Joe Wieskamp. They recently got revenge on Ohio State and have found their way back to the 2 line.

The Jayhawks have looked like their usual selves of late, and they are the only team to defeat Baylor this year. The loss of David McCormack could hurt but I still have them as a 3 seed. The defending champion Cavaliers struggled in late February as they fell to Duke and NC State but they still look to be a top 16 team. Texas Tech, who lost the title to Virginia two years ago, has failed to stand out so far this year. However, they’ve kept up with an extremely competitive Big 12 and that is impressive on its own.

Tennessee has seen some rough losses lately but I still think they have the depth to make a deep tournament run and should end up as a 6 or 7 seed. Oregon, on the other hand, has rebounded after mid-season struggles. This week they took down UCLA and got revenge on Oregon State. Led by Will Richardson and Chris Duarte, Oregon is my pick to win the Pac-12. That’s not a huge feat this year but should be enough for the top half of the bracket.

Saint Louis is seen as a bubble team by most but I think their wins over LSU and St. Bonaventure (in the regular season) should secure them a safe spot in the tourney. They did get swept by Dayton and were a little tripped up by the long COVID pause but other than that they posted a strong season. I have them against Wisconsin, a middle of the pack B1G team, in the 8-9 game. Drake may have lost to Loyola-Chicago in the Arch Madness final but I think their undefeated start and competitiveness with a ranked Loyola team warrants a spot in the tourney. I have Western Kentucky here on an autobid; their upset of Alabama is the reasoning behind their high seed. They end up with a higher seed than Big East teams Xavier and Providence, who I have meeting in the First Four. A 22-1 Winthrop squad gets the 13 seed here after punching their ticket, and fellow ticket punchers Morehead State and Oral Roberts have lower seeds. Norfolk State and Siena should come out on top of their conferences as well.

Illinois has lost more games than the other 1 seeds in this bracket, but considering they have wins over Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State and their worst loss is against Maryland, they deserve to be on the 1 line. Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn could lead them on a very deep run. Houston has a better record than Illinois but has faced lighter competition and has a loss to AAC basement dwellers East Carolina.

I have Texas as the third ranked Big 12 team in this projection, as they swept Kansas and have many other significant conference wins. Arkansas is also one of the best in their conference. They had a light schedule early on, but now have wins over Alabama, LSU, Florida, and Missouri. Speaking of the Gators, I have them as a 7 seed after an up and down but overall strong SEC performance.

UConn is another team that I’m higher on than most. With James Bouknight back, UConn has appeared to be unstoppable. I think they are absolutely capable of topping Creighton and a banged up Villanova team in the Big East tournament. Led by the Mobley brothers, I have USC securing the highest Pac-12 seed, but don’t be surprised if they fall short in the Pac-12 tournament.

In the 8-9 game, I have Clemson and BYU. Clemson has been rather inconsistent this season, but led by Aamir Simms they have enough quality wins to be in the top half of the bracket. BYU came very close to upsetting Gonzaga in the WCC final. Even without that win they have a solid resume. Nah’Shon Hyland has taken a huge step up this year to lead VCU all the way to the Atlantic 10 finals. Whether or not they win that game, the Rams should make the tournament. They’re a safer bet than teams like Louisville or Colorado State, who have posted solid seasons but lack the big name wins for a tournament resume that stands out. Rounding out the region I have Liberty, UNC Greensboro, Appalachian State, and Mount St. Mary’s (already punched tickets) as well as Prairie View who I see joining them.

Baylor had a rough patch coming off their COVID pause when they fell to Kansas. Other than that, Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Mark Vital have led the Bears to Big 12 dominance. Florida State suffered a rough loss against Notre Dame, and they also have a UCF loss on their resume, but their ACC success and impressive record convinced me to keep them on the 2 line. Ohio State has declined from their top 5 status after losses to Iowa and Michigan State, but should still secure a pretty high seed barring any B1G tournament upsets. Purdue has won when they’re supposed to win and they swept Ohio State, so that secures them a safe spot in the top half of the bracket. They still don’t have the kind of resume the Buckeyes have. Villanova, who was at one point on the 1 line, has had a rocky second half and just lost Collin Gillespie for the season. They’re down to a 4 seed and could be prone to a first round upset.

LSU lacked standout wins early in the year, but recently took down Tennessee and Missouri, so they’re safely in the tournament now. Missouri, meanwhile, has fallen to the 10 line after extreme inconsistency. Yes, Missouri has a great veteran core led by Xavier Pinson. Yes, Missouri’s wins include Tennessee, Oregon, Florida, and best of all Illinois. However, they’ve also lost to teams like Mississippi State that are barely even NIT material and have failed to improve as the season progresses like some other teams have.

I have Missouri taking on a 7 seed that has also fallen down the bracket, Oklahoma. The Sooners were among the Big 12’s elite teams until a loss to Kansas State that was only the beginning of a 4 game skid. Oklahoma is now just 14-9 and seventh place in the conference. In the 8-9 game, I have McKinley Wright-led Pac-12 contender Colorado and A10 contender St. Bonaventure. Both these teams have been competitive in their conference, but being competitive in a conference like the A10 isn’t the same as being competitive in the B1G or Big 12.

Syracuse had a rather underwhelming start to the season, but topped UNC and Clemson this week to give their resume a major boost. They secure one of the last four byes, while Ole Miss and Boise State will have to meet in the First Four. I have Abilene Christian, Grand Canyon, and UC Irvine winning their conferences to join UMass Lowell in rounding out this region.

Michigan has struggled down the stretch, dropping 2 of their 3 games last week, but they still deserve a 1 seed after winning the B1G regular season title. Alabama won the SEC regular season title, but they have some non-conference losses that stand out and drag their resume down. Herbert Jones could lead them on a deep tourney run but I’m concerned that they will struggle against unfamiliar opponents in the tournament. Creighton has also had an up and down season. They’ve come close in every game, which has led to a mix of impressive wins and disappointing losses.

I’m not huge on the Mountaineers; I don’t feel they’re as good as Big 12 counterparts Kansas and Texas but I do have them in the top 16 as most people do. They have kept up with the Big 12 but I feel like their resume is similar to Purdue’s. It’s solid but it doesn’t stand out. I do have them above Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State is still waiting on a verdict in a case that would have banned them from this tournament but they are eligible for the tournament until evidence against them is proven. Despite a strong Big 12 season and impressive performances by Cade Cunningham, they got swept by a bottom tier Big 12 team in TCU. In between those two is San Diego State, who won the regular season title in the Mountain West and also has a victory over UCLA. They may have lost Malachi Flynn but they could still make a run after disappointment from the cancellation of last year’s NCAA tournament.

Loyola-Chicago came out on top of a Missouri Valley Conference that’s stronger than usual. I don’t have them in my top 25 like AP does but I do think they’ll secure a strong seed in the tournament. They’ll secure a higher seed than Virginia Tech and Wichita State, who I have meeting in the 8-9 game. Both those teams pulled off major upsets but lack other good wins around it. The Hokies topped Villanova and Virginia, while the Shockers picked up a win when they hosted Houston.

Blue bloods UNC and Michigan State have had a harder time securing a tourney spot than they do most years, but after strong finishes I think both will make it. UNC recently beat Florida State and Sparty now holds wins over three of the top four B1G teams. Not far behind the blue bloods is Colgate, who has excellent advanced metrics and a 12-1 record. Akron and Eastern Washington should win their conferences and line up behind Colgate, while Cleveland State and Drexel already clinched a spot.

Bubble Watch

The Terps just barely miss the field of 68. They have a good handful of wins including one over Illinois but they had a rough week, losing to Northwestern and for the second time, Penn State. Utah State is also very close. They were definitely competitive in the Mountain West, but struggled a bit in non-conference games, the worst of which was a loss to South Dakota State. Georgia Tech has crafted a decent tournament resume after significant ACC success, but they are just 13-8 after beginning the season with two losses to mid-major squads: Mercer and Georgia State. UCLA has been alright, but they have not had many opportunities for big wins in the Pac-12, and they have not stood out like Oregon, Colorado, and USC have. UCLA’s biggest win by far is over Colorado, and they’ve dropped games to bottom half Pac-12 teams that are nowhere near tourney material.

Memphis has also had a fairly bland resume. They topped Wichita State, but that’s by far their biggest win, and it’s not enough for March Madness. Rutgers’ road struggles have continued this year, and they fell to teams like Penn State and Nebraska on the road. St. John’s took down Villanova, UConn, and others, but has been wildly inconsistent, so it’s unclear how good they truly are. NC State has a win over Virginia that boosted them onto the edge of the bubble but that alone won’t be enough for a bid.

Most of these teams still have a chance to make the tournament if they make a run in their conference tournaments. It will be harder for teams like Utah State, UCLA, and Memphis than B1G teams like Maryland and Rutgers, but it’s possible. NC State already lost to Syracuse in the ACC tourney, but the other 7 teams all still have a realistic chance to secure an at-large bid or even an automatic bid.

I can’t wait for March Madness to begin, and I’m sure many of you feel the same way.