The 2021 NCAA Tournament is almost upon us, with all the drama and wonder that is March Madness. It will look a bit different this year, with empty stadiums and a new Friday-Monday schedule for the first two rounds of the event instead of the traditional Thursday-Sunday.
But it’s still the underdogs and Cinderella’s that make this one of the best events in American sports each year. And there’s one way for mid-major teams and those on the precipice of the bubble to ensure they’ll have nothing to worry about come Selection Sunday: Win your conference tournament.
As teams lock up a spot in the field, we’ll list them all here. Some of these teams could come out of nowhere and knock off a team that already has a strong enough resume to make the field as an at-large, so the other teams on the bubble will be rooting against these “bid stealers” who will take away a spot an at-large team would otherwise have.
This year there are 30 teams that will earn an automatic bid, and 38 at-large slots available in March Madness. The Ivy League has chosen not to play a tournament this year, so their spot will now be allocated to an at-large team.
Here is the full list of teams that have earned an automatic bid to the 2021 NCAA Tournament:
American Athletic Conference: Houston
The Cougars likely locked up at least a three-seed in the NCAA Tournament with the win, and will look to make a deep run with senior Quentin Grimes at the point. The Coogs have the No. 1 defense in Division I in terms of eFG%, and will be favored to get out of the first weekend.
ACC: Georgia Tech
The Ramblin’ Wreck win their first ACC Championship in 28 years, and are heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010. Jose Alvarado and Moses Wright will be a tough out for anyone in their bracket.
America East: Hartford
The Hawks were the No. 4 seed in the AE Tournament, but came away with a 64-50 victory over UMass Lowell to secure their spot. Hartford can defend the perimeter, holding opponents to just 29.3% from long-range.
Atlantic 10: St. Bonaventure
The Bonnies are back in the field of 68 for the first time since 2012. With five players scoring double digits, they also bring a Top 20 defense that can disrupt plenty of teams. It’s possible they’re seeded as the favored team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Atlantic Sun: Liberty
The Flames won their second-straight A-Sun championship, and didn’t even need to beat North Alabama in the conference final due to the North Alabama Lions being ineligible because of their transition to Division I. But they did anyway 79-75.
Big 12: Texas
It’s the first Big 12 Championship for the Longhorns in 24 tries, as they win what was possibly the toughest league in America this season. Shaka Smart’s job was in jeopardy when this season started, and now his team is likely a two-seed or better in the NCAA Tournament. What a turnaround.
Big East: Georgetown
What amazing story for the Hoyas, who entered Madison Square Garden as a No. 8 seed in an 11-team tournament, and walk out with an NCAA Tournament bid led by Knicks legend Patrick Ewing. If there was a crowd allowed at MSG, it would have blown the roof off the place. The Hoyas winning by 25 points over Creighton in the final shows they’ll also be a tough out in The Big Dance.
Big Sky: Eastern Washington
The Eagles are the champions and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. They’re 0-2 in the event so far, but should have a good enough power ranking to avoid the First Four.
Big South: Winthrop
The Eagles made it two in a row in the Big South, and will be one of the most entertaining teams in the auto bid pool; they’re 12th in possessions per game, and average 79.5 points per outing.
Big Ten: Illinois
The Illini complete the in-season turnaround and will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There’s probably not a more potent duo anywhere in college basketball than Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, and they’ll be a game for any team they face because of their ability to score and style.
Big West: UC Santa Barbara
The Gauchos get back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2012. UCSB was only 13-3 in the conference this year, but the advanced statistics had them light years over every other team in the conference. Senior guard JaQuori McLaughlin is the best player in the league, and will be the key if Santa Barbara can steal a game in the bracket.
Colonial Athletic: Drexel
It’s now the Big Six in Philly, at least for this season. The Dragons get back to The Dance for the first time since reaching the second round in 1996 after a win over Memphis, their only NCAA victory ever.
Conference USA: North Texas
The Mean Green make it back to The Big Dance for the first time since 2010 when they were a member of the Sun Belt Conference. The program is 0-3 in NCAA Tournament play, and will be looking for their first win behind guard Javion Hamlet
Horizon League: Cleveland State
The Vikings were the No. 1 seed, and held serve to reach the field for the third time in school history. In their other two appearances, they made the Sweet 16 in 1986, and then knocked off Wake Forest as a #13 seed in 2009.
Metro Atlantic: Iona
The Gaels return to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive time, this one under Rick Pitino after four straight via Tim Cluess. The Gaels shoot 36% from three-point range, and had to win four games in the MAAC Tournament to advance because of the conference basing seeds on total games won. Iona was just 6-3 in the league, with some teams playing a full 18-game schedule.
Mid-American Conference: Ohio
The Bobcats are dancing for the first time since 2012, where they lost to North Carolina in overtime in the Sweet 16 after a fantastic sub-regional in Nashville. They are one of the more potent offense in college basketball, with an eFG of 55.8% and are 29th in adjusted efficiency according to KenPom.com.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference: Norfolk State
The Spartans continue to outperform their league. After a loss in the MEAC title game in 2019, they went on to beat Alabama in the first round of the NIT. This year they’ll get their dance card since 2012, and their first under head coach Robert Jones.
Missouri Valley: Loyola-Chicago
The Ramblers were going dancing with or without the auto bid, but there are players on the team were there in 2018 as well when the squad reached the Final Four in one of the best Cinderella runs in NCAA history. This is their first Dance Card since.
Mountain West: San Diego State
The Aztecs had been the dominant team in the league the last few seasons, but had dropped two straight MWC finals to Utah State. But Sam Merrill finally graduated, and SDSU does the double by winning both the regular season and tournament. They should expect to be in the 6-7 seed range in The Big Dance.
Northeast Conference: Mount St. Mary’s
The Mount gets to their sixth D1 NCAA Tournament, the first one guided by legendary Hall of Fame coach Jim Phelan in 1995. In their five previous appearances, they have two First Four wins but none in the main draw.
Ohio Valley: Morehead State
The Eagles were the No. 1 team in the OVC, and get back to the tournament for the first time since 2011. They are 2-0 in the First Four, but haven’t won a game in the main field since 1961.
Pac-12: Oregon State
The Beavers needed to win the Pac-12 Championship to get into the NCAA Tournament, and they did it. Knocking off UCLA, rival Oregon, and Colorado, they stole a bid from an at-large team and earned their way into the field. Jarod Lucas will be a player to watch on a team playing their best basketball the right time of year.
Patriot League: Colgate
The Raiders head back to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight time. They are 0-3 lifetime in the event, with two appearances as a No. 16 seed and one as a No. 15. But they also have two losses that are in single-digits.
The Crimson Tide are SEC Champions for the first time since 1991, and Nate Oats has likely put his team on the No. 2 seed line for the NCAA Tournament. Jaden Shackelford and the Tide will be a tough out for anyone in Indianapolis, where they should be seeded to finish the tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium by making the Elite Eight.
Southern Conference: UNC Greensboro
The Spartans have now made the tournament four times since 1996, but are yet to win a game. This might be their best chance with a team that likes to play in the paint and protect the rim.
Southland: Abilene Christian
The Wildcats get an assist on over two-thirds of their made baskets, and their ability to share the ball is how they got this far. Two blowout wins in the Southland Tournament shows they’re in form, and will have a chance to steal a game or two on the opening weekend using a deep bench.
Summit League: Oral Roberts
The No. 4 Golden Eagles were up 25 in the second half of the Summit Final over North Dakota State, and gave it all back before pulling out the win. It’s their first appearance since 2008, and they’ve lost their last four NCAA games dating back to 1984. But in 1974 they won two games before falling to Kansas 93-90 in overtime, just seconds from the Final Four.
Sun Belt: Appalachian State
Appy is more known for their upsets in football than basketball, and they get back to the tournament for the first time this century. It’s a surprise run, as they were the No. 4 seed in the Sun Belt’s East Division entering the conference tournament. As a school they’re 0-2 with losses in 1979 & 2000 in the first round, and are likely for the First Four.
SWAC: Texas Southern
The Tigers win nine in a row and upset a heavily-favored Prairie View A&M in the championship game to reach the field of 68. They’re a lock for the First Four, but an amazing in-season turnaround for head coach Johnny Jones and TSU.
Western Athletic Conference: Grand Canyon
The Antelopes break their maiden and gets to the NCAA Tournament for the first time. They have a team eFG of 52.9% and played a pretty soft schedule in the WAC this season, but scored an 87-77 win over the Mountain West’s Nevada earlier this season. The team only became eligible for the NCAA’s in 2018, and appeared in five combined CIT’s and CBI’s during their Division I transition.
West Coast Conference: Gonzaga
They’re really, really, really, really good.