Jason DeCrow/Associated Press
Last Team In: North Carolina State (2013-14 Record: 22-14)
It would certainly be comical if the Wolfpack were the last team into the field for a second straight season.
Their success will depend heavily upon the immediate impact of Abdul-Malik Abu.
The backcourt of Cat Barber, Trevor Lacey, Ralston Turner and Desmond Lee will be very solid. People will inevitably downplay NC State this season because of Tyler Lewis' decision to transfer to Butler, but Mark Gottfried's team is still in the hands of very capable ball-handlers.
It's in the frontcourt that the Wolfpack could be in trouble without T.J. Warren and Jordan Vandenberg. But if Abu plays well as a freshman power forward, he'll anchor a rotation that should be just good enough to go dancing.
2nd-to-Last Team: Cincinnati (2013-14 Record: 27-7)
As we addressed on Friday, Cincinnati is going through a ton of turnover this summer. The Bearcats were already a pretty low-scoring team, and they're now without Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles. Losing their top 2013 recruit, Jermaine Lawrence, to Manhattan so he could be closer to home and his ailing father didn't do much to help the program, either.
We're keeping them in the field after a great 2013-14 season—mostly as a gesture of good faith to Mick Cronin's coaching ability—but we're more than a little concerned about their ability to actually outscore opponents with any degree of regularity.
If it does happen, Jermaine Sanders and Kevin Johnson will need to be huge factors. Both played somewhat sparingly last season but ranked among the top three on the team in O-rating, according to KenPom.com (subscription required).
If they can maintain that efficiency with increased usage, Cincinnati might have enough firepower in a relatively weak AAC to make the tournament.
3rd-to-Last Team: UNLV (2013-14 Record: 20-13)
I'm going out on a pretty thin limb by projecting UNLV to make the tournament after the Rebels lost all five of their leading scorers from a team that didn't even make the tournament in 2014.
However, Dave Rice's club has one of the most intense nonconference schedules the selection committee could possibly ask for. Even if the Rebels don't end up playing Duke in the Coaches vs. Cancer championship game, they'll still have games against Stanford, Arizona State, Utah, Kansas and Arizona.
Those are tall tasks for Rashad Vaughn and Goodluck Okonoboh, who are two highlights of one of the best incoming classes in the country. But those RPI and strength-of-schedule (SOS) boosters should give UNLV enough wiggle room to get into the tournament.
4th-to-Last Team: St. John's (2013-14 Record: 20-13)
The Red Storm have a lot of great pieces. D'Angelo Harrison has been one of the most consistently good shooting guards over the past three seasons. Chris Obekpa is a shot-blocking machine in the paint. They lost Jakarr Sampson, but JUCO transfer Keith Thomas should do a lot to fill that void.
But if Rysheed Jordan doesn't play better than last season, neither will St. John's.
That isn't to say that Jordan was bad last year, but he was the third-highest-rated incoming point guard by ESPN and wasn't anywhere near as efficient or effective as Andrew Harrison, Tyler Ennis, Nigel Williams-Goss, Terry Rozier or Derrick Walton.
Should he actually evolve into one of the best sophomore point guards in the nation, coach Steve Lavin should have no trouble getting this team back to the tournament and keeping his job.
5th-to-Last Team: Northern Iowa (2013-14 Record: 16-15)
I'm not 100 percent convinced the Missouri Valley is ready to be a multibid conference again, but Northern Iowa certainly gives it the best chance of getting there.
The Panthers bring back all six of their leading scorers from last season, most notably among them Seth Tuttle. If they're going to make a leap, they'll need Matt Bohannon to become a deadlier assassin.
Northern Iowa's version of Brady Heslip attempted more than 200 three-pointers and fewer than 50 two-pointers, but he "only" shot 37.4 percent from downtown. In order to make an effective living as little more than a bomber, he'll need to get that percentage at least into the low 40s.
Those extra triples—and the added defensive attention that comes with them—could make a world of difference for a team which lost eight games decided either in overtime or by six or fewer points last season.