NCAA Tournament Regulars in Danger of Missing the Big Dance in 2017
Providence, Colorado and Iowa have had a solid run in men's college basketball over the past half-decade, but significant roster turnover puts them atop our list of NCAA tournament regulars we don't expect to see on Selection Sunday 2017.
To be defined as a tournament regular, a program must have either gone to the last three NCAA tournaments or at least four of the last five NCAA tournaments.
Using that criteria, there were 34 eligible candidates for this list. Half of them are teams like Duke, Kansas or Villanova that are likely to open the season ranked in the Top 25, so they wouldn't make much sense for this list.
However, there are plenty of teams—both from minor and major conferences—that do seem to be headed for a less successful season than usual.
Teams on the following slides are ranked in ascending order of confidence that they won't make the 2017 NCAA tournament.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Thad Matta's strong 2015 recruiting class was decimated by the transfer market, as Austin Grandstaff, Daniel Giddens, A.J. Harris and Mickey Mitchell all transferred elsewhere.
Yet the Buckeyes retain their top six scorers from last year's 21-win team and add a couple of players—6'9" freshman center Derek Funderburk and 6'1" JUCO combo guard C.J. Jackson—who should contribute immediately. Basically, the players who left did so because they knew they still wouldn't be regular starters in 2016-17.
Will Wade hit a home run on the recruiting trail with the addition of 2016 commit De'Riante Jenkins, but the Rams lose Melvin Johnson, Korey Billbury and Michael Gilmore from a roster that barely crept into the 2016 NCAA tournament as a No. 10 seed. It's unlikely that VCU will win the A-10, so its fate will depend on how many teams from that conference get to go dancing.
Iowa State Cyclones
They still have great guard play in Monte Morris, Matt Thomas, Deonte Burton and Naz Long, but they desperately need graduate-transfers Darrell Bowie (Northern Illinois) and Merrill Holden (Louisiana Tech) to make a splash landing in the frontcourt. This is already going to be a short rotation in both height and depth. If either of those forwards struggle, Iowa State might not have the strength to win 22 games.
Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
The 'Jacks had five players average better than 16 points per 40 minutes last season, but they're all gone now, along with head coach Brad Underwood. In just about any other conference, they would be doomed to a rebuilding year.
However, the Southland has been so dreadful over the past few seasons that there's no good reason to assume Stephen F. Austin can't win it again.
10. Wichita State Shockers
2012: No. 5 seed (lost opener)
2013: No. 9 seed (Final Four)
2014: No. 1 seed (round of 32)
2015: No. 7 seed (Sweet 16)
2016: Last four in (round of 32)
Players Lost: Ron Baker (14.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.2 APG); Fred VanVleet (12.2 PPG, 5.5 APG, 3.2 RPG); Anton Grady (7.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG); Evan Wessel (3.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG); Ty Taylor II (3.0 PPG)
Players Added: Darrlyn Willis (JUCO PF); Daishon Smith (JUCO CG); Peyton Allen (Texas A&M transfer); C.J. Keyser (3-star CG)
Projected Starting Lineup: Smith, Landry Shamet, Markis McDuffie, Shaquille Morris, Willis
Top Reserves: Conner Frankamp, Zach Brown, Rashard Kelly, Allen, Eric Hamilton
Given the lack of other options in the Missouri Valley Conference, Wichita State probably deserves more of the benefit of the doubt than this. Of the 22 players in the conference to score at least 340 points last season, only nine are returning, and the only team with multiple players on that list is Missouri State. (And the Bears went 13-19 last year.)
Thus, despite losing Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet after what felt like their 32nd combined season of college hoops, the Shockers aren't exactly looking up at a juggernaut in their projected conference standings. In fact, they're still our projected MVC champion with room to spare.
However, should they fail to win "Arch Madness" yet again—hardly a stretch, considering they've won the MVC tourney precisely once in the past 29 years—it's at least questionable whether they would have the resume to get invited as an at-large team.
Gregg Marshall has done well in the JUCO market in the past—Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early were indispensable pieces of that Final Four roster in 2013—and he's hoping to strike oil again this year with Darrlyn Willis and Daishon Smith. Willis averaged 18.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, while Smith put up 16.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists on a nightly basis.
There's no telling how well JUCO numbers will translate at the D-I level from one player to the next, but if either one delivers anything close to that, it's a huge win for the Shockers.
Yet this team is lacking in star power. There's plenty of depth, but who do the Shockers turn to when they absolutely need a bucket? Unless Markis McDuffie makes a big sophomore-year leap, that might be a question we're asking of Wichita State all season long.
9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2012: No. 7 seed (lost opener)
2013: No. 7 seed (lost opener)
2014: Missed tournament
2015: No. 3 seed (Elite Eight)
2016: No. 6 seed (Elite Eight)
Players Lost: Demetrius Jackson (15.8 PPG, 4.7 APG); Zach Auguste (14.0 PPG, 10.7 RPG)
Projected Starting Lineup: Gibbs, Steve Vasturia, Matt Ryan, V.J. Beachem, Bonzie Colson
Top Reserves: Rex Pflueger, Matt Farrell, Mooney
The Fighting Irish haven't been on a tear like this since the 1970s when Digger Phelps led them to six straight Sweet 16s—including a Final Four appearance.
But unless V.J. Beachem builds on his strong finish to the 2015-16 season and Steve Vasturia gets back to shooting like he was in 2014-15 (41.1 percent from three), they might be on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday 2017.
Replacing Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste will not be easy. Auguste was a machine on the glass, finishing the season with more rebounds (386) than Notre Dame's second- and third-leading rebounders combined (379). And though Colson was a good secondary rebounder, the 6'5" forward would have a rough go as the primary big man for the grueling 18-game ACC schedule.
As a result, 6'9" Mooney is the biggest X-factor for this team. If he's good enough to start and bang bodies in the paint for 25 minutes per game, coach Mike Brey would have a rotation that could finish within the top half of the ACC standings, which would be good enough for a tournament bid this season. If Mooney struggles to make an immediate impact, though, Notre Dame likely will, too.
8. San Diego State Aztecs
2012: No. 6 seed (lost opener)
2013: No. 7 seed (round of 32)
2014: No. 4 seed (Sweet 16)
2015: No. 8 seed (round of 32)
2016: Missed tournament
Players Lost: Winston Shepard (11.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3.1 APG); Skylar Spencer (3.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG); Angelo Chol (3.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG)
Players Added: Valentine Izundu (Washington State transfer); Montaque Gill-Caesar (Missouri transfer); Max Hoetzel (Indiana transfer); Jalen McDaniels (4-star PF)
Projected Starting Lineup: Trey Kell, Jeremy Hemsley, Gill-Caesar, Zylan Cheatham, Malik Pope
Top Reserves: Nolan Narain, Dakarai Allen, McDaniels, Izundu, Hoetzel
This ranking isn't so much about San Diego State as it is the state of the Mountain West Conference.
After a disappointing start to the season that included losses to San Diego and Grand Canyon, the Aztecs finished strong with a 16-2 record in conference play. In any other year, that would have been a lock for a bid. Since the inception of the MWC in 1999, 17 teams had won more than 75 percent of their conference games, and all 17 went to the NCAA tournament.
But San Diego State's 88.9 percent win rate in conference play was only good enough for the NIT because it came with just one RPI Top 100 win.
Maybe New Mexico and Nevada will improve enough to provide SDSU with a few more opportunities for quality wins this year, but the Mountain West is not the hotbed for at-large bids that it once was.
Moreover, San Diego State lost just about its entire frontcourt—hence the number of forwards on its list of players added and the possibility that a redshirt freshman (Nolan Narain) could start at center. With the exception of Malik Pope, every other player taller than 6'7" is gone. So even though the Aztecs have a lot of quality guards, finding the proper balance in the paint could prove to be their undoing.
7. Michigan Wolverines
2012: No. 4 seed (lost opener)
2013: No. 4 seed (advanced to title game)
2014: No. 2 seed (Elite Eight)
2015: Missed tournament
2016: Last four in (lost in round of 64)
Players Lost: Caris LeVert (16.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.9 APG); Aubrey Dawkins (6.5 PPG); Ricky Doyle (3.8 PPG); Kameron Chatman (2.8 PPG); Spike Albrecht (1.7 PPG)
Projected Starting Lineup: Derrick Walton, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Zak Irvin, Duncan Robinson, Mark Donnal
Top Reserves: Moritz Wagner, Simpson, Davis
Like Ohio State, the transfer market ripped Michigan's bench to shreds. Aubrey Dawkins, Ricky Doyle and Kameron Chatman each made some starts early in the season before begrudgingly settling into reserve roles for the next couple of months. It was hardly a surprise that each one opted to fill out the transfer paperwork shortly after the season ended.
But unlike the Buckeyes, the Wolverines also lost their best player to graduation. Granted, they had already adjusted to life without Caris LeVert, who only appeared in one game during the 2016 calendar year, but he was a major factor in two key wins early in the season (over Texas and North Carolina State) that the Wolverines needed on their resume to make the tournament.
In a way, they still need to figure out how to replace him.
Yet, despite what looks like a ton of shake-up, they still have the starting five with which they finished the season. They also get Moritz Wagner back, who played more minutes in the final four games of the season than the prior 18 games combined. Few other tournament teams bring back the top six guys from their rotation.
Still, this is a team that just barely made the tournament last year, so even a slight drop in bench production could be enough to bump it to the wrong side of the 2017 bubble. Whether the incoming freshmen are able to provide the same amount of value as the outgoing transfers should determine Michigan's tournament fate.
6. Syracuse Orange
2012: No. 1 seed (Elite Eight)
2013: No. 4 seed (Final Four)
2014: No. 3 seed (round of 32)
2015: Missed tournament
2016: No. 10 seed (Final Four)
Players Lost: Michael Gbinije (17.5 PPG, 4.3 APG, 4.1 RPG); Malachi Richardson (13.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG); Trevor Cooney (12.9 PPG); Kaleb Joseph (0.9 PPG, 0.7 APG); Chinonso Obokoh (1.1 PPG, 1.6 RPG)
Projected Starting Lineup: Gillon, Battle, Moyer, Tyler Roberson, Tyler Lydon
Top Reserves: DaJuan Coleman, Chukwu, Franklin Howard
Let's start by noting that it isn't uncommon for a team to miss the tournament the year after reaching the Final Four. Heck, four of the past 10 national champions (2007 Florida, 2009 North Carolina, 2012 Kentucky and 2014 Connecticut) failed to make the tournament in their attempts to defend those titles. Thus, if you want your objection to Syracuse's appearance on this list to be taken seriously, try starting it with something other than "but the Orange were just in the Final Four, you dumb-dumb!"
Moreover, this team looks nothing like it did in March, losing all three of its leading scorers and a couple of seldom used bench players. All in all, head coach Jim Boeheim gets back only four of the nine guys who logged at least 10 minutes in 2015-16—and if you're betting on another season in which DaJuan Coleman is healthy enough to start every game, you're braver than we are.
And don't forget that Syracuse barely made it into the 2016 tournament in the first place. Only 55 of the 144 bracketologists tracked by the Bracket Matrix felt the Orange were deserving of a bid—which is less than the number that had St. Bonaventure (124), Saint Mary's (94), San Diego State (83) or Monmouth (61) in their fields, even though those teams received NIT invites.
But here's what Syracuse's season boils down to: Is Tyus Battle going to shine immediately in this backcourt?
Top 50 freshman guards have been hit or miss for the Orange over the past half-decade. Tyler Ennis was great from day one, but Kaleb Joseph never amounted to anything. Michael Carter-Williams was outstanding as a sophomore, but he barely touched the court as a freshman. Malachi Richardson blossomed into a first-round draft pick, but he was inefficient for most of the year.
Where Battle lands on the spectrum from Ennis to Joseph will determine the fate of the Orange, because they don't have a plan B at shooting guard. (Franklin Howard shot 2-of-20 from three as a freshman.)
5. New Mexico State Aggies
2012: No. 13 seed (lost opener)
2013: No. 13 seed (lost opener)
2014: No. 13 seed (lost opener)
2015: No. 15 seed (lost opener)
2016: Missed tournament
Players Lost: Pascal Siakam (20.2 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 2.2 BPG)
Players Added: Reginald Todd (3-star SG), Chance Ellis (JUCO SG)
Projected Starting Lineup: Ian Baker, Matt Taylor, Jalyn Pennie, Johnathon Wilkins, Tanveer Bhullar
Top Reserves: Braxton Huggins, Sidy Ndir, Eli Chuha, Todd, Ellis
The good news for the Aggies is that Grand Canyon remains ineligible for postseason play for one more season, due to the four-year reclassification process to join D-I hoops. The Antelopes would likely be the biggest challengers to New Mexico State—they were the only WAC team to win a regular-season game against the Aggies in 2015-16—but we'll never know.
GCU's ineligibility means this already small, eight-team conference has a seven-team tournament where the No. 1 seed gets a bye into the semifinals to blow out a terrible team. No, really. It's probably going to be a blowout. According to KenPom.com, the Western Athletic Conference has ranked No. 1 in blowout percentage in each of the past two seasons.
However, NMSU lost its head coach (Marvin Menzies) to UNLV and, more importantly, lost the 27th pick in the NBA draft (Pascal Siakam).
Since the conference realignment of the 2013 offseason—when Denver, Louisiana Tech, Utah State and several others left for better conferences—New Mexico State has been the cream of the WAC crop. But the Aggies take a big step back toward the pack by losing Siakam.
They should still win the conference, but can they avoid being upset in the conference tournament like they were this past March? Their bid will likely come down to whether they can beat Seattle's senior-laden roster in the WAC finals, which is anything but a guarantee.
4. Harvard Crimson
2012: No. 12 seed (lost opener)
2013: No. 14 seed (round of 32)
2014: No. 12 seed (round of 32)
2015: No. 13 seed (lost opener)
2016: Missed tournament
Players Lost: Agunwa Okolie (10.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.0 APG); Patrick Steeves (9.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.4 APG); Evan Cummins (6.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.2 APG)
Players Added: Siyani Chambers (torn ACL); Bryce Aiken (4-star PG); Chris Lewis (4-star PF); Seth Towns (3-star SF); Robert Baker (3-star PF); Justin Bassey (3-star SG); Henry Welsh (3-star C); Christian Juzang (2-star PG)
Projected Starting Lineup: Aiken, Chambers, Corey Johnson, Lewis, Zena Edosomwan
Top Reserves: Tommy McCarthy, Corbin Miller, Weisner Perez, Chris Egi
Can you believe Harvard has the 23rd-best recruiting class in the country, per 247Sports? The Crimson have been regularly in the top 100 and typically No. 1 in the Ivy League since Tommy Amaker became the head coach, but sneaking into the top 25 nationally is incredible.
But is it enough to beat Princeton this year?
Save for one senior who scored a total of 15 points last season, the Tigers bring back everyone from a team that went 22-7. With Columbia and Yale both ravaged by top scorers graduating, Princeton should be the favorite to win the Ivy League regular-season title.
Fortunately for Harvard, the Ivy League is finally adding a conference tournament this year, so the top four teams will battle for the conference's automatic bid. And by the time that tournament begins, there's a good chance Harvard will look the part of the most talented team, following four months of getting star point guard Siyani Chambers back up to speed and implementing its pair of 4-star recruits into the rotation.
Still, this has always been a one-bid league, and that's unlikely to change. Harvard will probably need to get through Princeton in the Ivy League championship game, which is considerably less likely to happen than New Mexico State beating Seattle for the WAC title. Thus, Harvard is our "top" team from a one-bid league.
3. Iowa Hawkeyes
2012: Missed tournament
2013: Missed tournament
2014: Last four in (lost opener)
2015: No. 7 seed (round of 32)
2016: No. 7 seed (round of 32)
Players Lost: Jarrod Uthoff (18.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG); Anthony Clemmons (8.9 PPG, 3.7 APG); Mike Gesell (8.1 PPG, 6.2 APG); Adam Woodbury (7.6 PPG, 8.3 RPG); Andrew Fleming (2.0 PPG)
Projected Starting Lineup: Bohannon, Peter Jok, Nicholas Baer, Dom Uhl, Cook
Top Reserves: Dale Jones, Moss, Pemsl, Brady Ellingson, Ahmad Wagner
Iowa bounced all over our top 10 before finally settling in at No. 3.
Common sense would suggest the Hawkeyes are destined for a rebuilding year. They overachieved for the first few weeks of Big Ten play but crumbled to pieces over the final six weeks before losing four of their five leading scorers to graduation.
Peter Jok is great, but he's the only returning starter from a team that lost seven of its final 10 games. And though they have a lot of incoming recruits, Tyler Cook is the only one who ranks in the top 230 nationally or in the top 28 among Big Ten freshmen.
Yet, recent history would suggest it's foolish to write this team off. Iowa seems to always have a star waiting in the wings and ready to make a big leap when teammates graduate and the opportunity presents itself.
Jok will be the star of this team. The pecking order behind him is anybody's guess. Dom Uhl seems like the most likely candidate to emerge as Jok's second fiddle and primary post presence, but this team is one great big mystery. It's packed to the gills with small forwards and big guards and lacks a true point guard or center.
Even though the Hawkeyes drew a favorable Big Ten schedule with two games apiece against Illinois, Nebraska and Rutgers, it's tough to see this roster coming together for the necessary 10 or 11 conference wins to make the tournament.
2. Colorado Buffaloes
2012: No. 11 seed (round of 32)
2013: No. 10 seed (lost opener)
2014: No. 8 seed (lost opener)
2015: Missed tournament
2016: No. 8 seed (lost opener)
Players Lost: Josh Scott (16.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG); Tre'Shaun Fletcher (7.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG); Xavier Talton (4.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG), Kenan Guzonjic (1.5 PPG)
Projected Starting Lineup: Dominique Collier, Josh Fortune, George King, Johnson, Wesley Gordon
Top Reserves: Tory Miller, Thomas Akyazili, Siewert, Peters
Though technically a tournament regular, Colorado hasn't exactly been sashaying its way into the Big Dance. With a pair of No. 8 seeds and two bids as a double-digit seed (including one for winning the 2012 Pac-12 tournament), the Buffaloes have epitomized life on the bubble.
What happens now that they lost one of the better big men of the past four years?
Josh Scott averaged 18.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per 40 minutes over the course of his collegiate career and was Colorado's go-to weapon this past season. He was the KenPom MVP of 13 games in 2015-16, including the NCAA tournament loss to Connecticut, where he had 23 points and 11 rebounds.
If the Buffaloes couldn't beat a No. 9 seed with those numbers, it could pretty ugly without them.
Then again, they might be OK if Xavier Johnson returns at full strength. The small forward averaged 16.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per 40 minutes as a junior in 2014-15 before missing this past season due to injury.
But even if Johnson is good enough to replace Scott's production and the backcourt trio of Dominique Collier, Josh Fortune and George King continues to shoot lights out from beyond the arc (42.7 percent combined last year), that merely gets Colorado back to where it finished last year as a bubble team. A lot of things need to go right just for this team to teeter on the brink of tournament inclusion.
1. Providence Friars
2012: Missed tournament
2013: Missed tournament
2014: No. 11 seed (lost opener)
2015: No. 6 seed (lost opener)
2016: No. 9 seed (round of 32)
Players Lost: Kris Dunn (16.4 PPG, 6.2 APG, 5.3 RPG, 2.5 SPG); Ben Bentil (21.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG); Junior Lomomba (5.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG); Quadree Smith (1.7 PPG)
Projected Starting Lineup: Kyron Cartwright, White, Ryan Fazekas, Rodney Bullock, Holt
Top Reserves: Jalen Lindsey, Diallo, Drew Edwards, Jackson, Young
That Providence even qualifies as a tournament regular is a testament to the incredible job Ed Cooley has done as the head coach of this program. Prior to 2014, the Friars had gone nine years since their last NCAA tournament appearance and 16 years since their last tournament win.
But after losing Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, it's unlikely they'll go dancing for a fourth straight year.
The Friars will still be competitive. Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright should fare well as veteran juniors. Ryan Fazekas could be a big source of points if he gets back to shooting like he did for the first month of the season before battling mononucleosis. And former Indiana Hoosier Emmitt Holt might do some damage after spending one year with Indian Hills Community College.
The Friars simply won't have the same punch without Bentil and Dunn—a pair of NBA draft picks with whom they merely earned a No. 9 seed last season.
And while Providence lost some firepower, its competition got even fiercer. Villanova and Xavier are both legitimate candidates to win the title. Butler should still be solid. Creighton and Georgetown will both be considerably better than they were last year and should vie for tournament berths. Even St. John's is well-positioned to make a little bit of noise in getting out of the basement of the conference standings.
Suffice it to say, a top-five finish in the Big East isn't anywhere near as feasible as it was in 2015-16 for the Friars, and anything short of that likely won't be enough for a tournament bid. Providence will be back in 2018, though, as there's not a single senior on the roster for this coming season.
Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @kerrancejames.