Predicting Which High Seeds in 2017 NCAA Tournament Won't Reach 2018 Big Dance
Think making the NCAA men's college basketball tournament is easy? Tell that to roughly half of the field from this past tourney that isn't likely to be included a year from now.
And we're not just talking automatic qualifiers from small conferences, as quite a few power-league teams that were in the 2016 NCAA tourney didn't make it back this time. That includes highly seeded teams such as California, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Utah, all of whom were seeded fourth or better last year.
All told, 11 schools seeded eighth or better in the 2016 field weren't in the 2017 tourney, the result of down seasons due to a mixture of factors such as graduation, transfers, NBA departures, injuries and coaching changes.
Which high-seeded teams from 2017 could be in line for a similar absence from the 2018 tourney? We've picked out a handful of candidates that are the most likely to be watching March Madness on TV next year instead of being part of it.
2017 NCAA Tournament Seed: 8th
If Arkansas fails to get back to the NCAA tournament in 2018, it will be due to factors similar to how the school went from being a participant in 2015 to observer a year later. That even includes how it exited the tourney, with a narrow second-round loss to North Carolina.
The Razorbacks led eventual champ UNC by five points late in their 72-65 second-round loss before going scoreless over the final 3:31. Had they managed to knock off the Tar Heels, it could have been them cutting down the nets in Glendale on April 3.
Instead, their offseason started early, which meant coach Mike Anderson had a few extra weeks to prepare for what could be another rebuilding year.
Two of Arkansas' top-three scorers (guard Dusty Hannahs and forward Moses Kingsley) are seniors, with Kingsley also its leading rebounder. The 2014-15 team saw top-scorers Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls turn pro, dropping from 27 wins to a 16-16 record the following season.
Arkansas hasn't made consecutive NCAA tourneys since being in the field three straight years from 2006-08.
2017 NCAA Tournament Seed: 6th
As much as it tried to prevent it from being so, Creighton's 2016-17 fate was sealed when senior point guard Maurice Watson tore his ACL in mid-January and was done for the season.
The Bluejays were 18-1 at the time and went 7-9 after losing Watson, losing to Rhode Island as a No. 6 seed in the first round of the NCAA tourney.
The squad we saw over the final two months looks set to be weakened after center Justin Patton decided to forgo his sophomore year and declare for the 2017 NBA draft, per CBS Sports' Gary Parrish.
Patton, who averaged 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 67.6 percent, is projected by DraftExpress as the No. 17 pick in the draft.
Creighton is already losing four seniors, including Watson, who accounted for nearly 30 percent of its scoring. Without Patton, guard Marcus Foster, who is coming back for his senior season, will have to improve on his 18.2 points-per-game average, but he might not have much help.
2017 NCAA Tournament Seed: 7th
Dayton made the NCAA tourney each of the last four seasons under Archie Miller, its longest appearance streak in program history. But that run is likely to end with Miller's departure, as Indiana hired him in March after winning 139 games in six seasons with the Flyers.
New coach Anthony Grant—who comes to Dayton from the NBA but who previously coached VCU and Alabama—will be inheriting a squad that has to replace four of its top four scorers.
The graduating quartet of guards Charles Cooke, Kyle Davis and Scoochie Smith and forward Kendall Pollard combined to average more than 47 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists per game while providing more than 52 percent of the Flyers' three-pointers.
Xeryius Williams, a 6'8" forward who averaged 8.2 points as a sophomore, will be Dayton's top returning scorer.
Dayton has a potential stud at its disposal in redshirt freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo, younger brother of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, while wing Josh Cunningham should be healthy after playing only 11 games as a sophomore, but the Atlantic 10 isn't the kind of conference that's assured of more than one team making the NCAA field each year.
Rhode Island and VCU will start the offseason ahead of the Flyers in the pecking order.
Florida State Seminoles
2017 NCAA Tournament Seed: 3rd
Florida State's first NCAA tourney appearance since 2012 didn't last very long, with the Seminoles getting bounced by Xavier in the second round. And most of the players who were essential to getting even that far won't be around next season thanks to the lure of the NBA.
Freshman forward Jonathan Isaac, sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon and junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes have all departed, with only Rathan-Mayes leaving open the option to come back by not hiring an agent.
Assuming Rathan-Mayes doesn't come back that means more than 47 percent of FSU's scoring will have left early in addition to the bench points from senior big men Michael Ojo and Jarquez Smith.
Guard Terance Mann, a sophomore who averaged 8.4 points per game—and had one point in 20 minutes in the loss to Xavier—will be the 'Noles' top scorer coming back.
FSU's incoming recruiting class is rated 18th but lacks the sizzle of this past group. And with as tough as the ACC is on a year-by-year basis, it will be difficult for the 'Noles to withstand any regression and get back into the NCAA tourney.
Iowa State Cyclones
2017 NCAA Tournament Seed: 5th
Though it didn't get as far as fellow Big 12 school Oklahoma did the year before, Iowa State is likely to experience a backslide similar to that of the Sooners after their 2016 Final Four appearance.
The Cyclones might not go 11-20 and win just five conference games next season, but anything close to tying for second place in the regular season and then winning the league tournament would be a major surprise considering how much they're losing from the current roster.
Iowa State says goodbye to seven seniors, four of whom were starters who combined to score 58.9 of the Cyclones' 80.8 points per game. That group includes do-everything point guard Monte Morris, who was second in the Big 12 in assists and ends his career as the NCAA record holder in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Morris, along with guards Deonte Burton, Nazareth Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas were a part of 10 NCAA tourney games and three Big 12 tournament champion teams over the previous four seasons.
The nation's No. 15 three-point shooting team only brings back one player—junior guard Donovan Jackson—who made more than eight three-pointers, with Jackson shooting 45.4 percent from deep in averaging 6.4 points per game.
He and 6'8", 240-pound freshman Solomon Young, who contributed 4.4 points and 3.3 rebounds, will be the foundation ISU builds around for 2017-18.
2017 NCAA Tournament Seed: 6th
Remember all those predictions of Maryland struggling to make the NCAA tournament in 2016-17 after reaching the Sweet 16? Turns out that forecast was just a year off.
The Terrapins still managed to win 24 games and tie for second in the Big Ten despite going with almost an entirely new starting lineup this past season. It helped they had Melo Trimble, the junior guard who averaged a career-high 16.8 points and was the grizzled veteran on a team that featured three freshmen scoring at least 9.3 points per game.
Now those youngsters—guards Anthony Cowan and Justin Jackson and forward Kevin Huerter—will have to become leaders in terms of both performance and experience. There isn't much of the latter since Maryland was bounced by Xavier in the first round of the NCAA tourney after falling to Northwestern in the Big Ten quarterfinals.
Maryland's roster could benefit from picking up a graduate transfer, preferably one to help with a relatively thin frontcourt. Adding such a player could keep the Terps from having their three-year NCAA tourney streak snapped.
South Carolina Gamecocks
2017 NCAA Tournament Seed: 7th
If you had one of the 0.6 percent of brackets in ESPN's Tournament Challenge with South Carolina in the Final Four, congratulations. You're either a Gamecocks alum who picked with your heart or got really lucky making what seemed like a pretty foolish move to have a team that was playing so poorly in February and early March go so deep.
And if you're expecting South Carolina to go anywhere near as far in next year's NCAA tournament, you're either the ultimate optimist or are in denial about the team losing its best player to graduation.
Reigning SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell is taking his 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game with him in pursuit of a pro career. He was South Carolina's leader in points, rebounds and steals and tied with sophomore guard PJ Dozier for assists.
Also gone is guard Duane Notice, who averaged 10.8 points and 3.0 assists during the NCAA tourney.
Freshmen Rakym Felder and Maik Kotsar emerged during South Carolina's run and should be in line for big performances in 2017-18, but unless Dozier takes a huge leap as a junior and forward Chris Silva (10.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game as a sophomore) can learn to stop fouling so much, it's going to be tough for the Gamecocks to even get back into the NCAA tourney, let alone be in line to go deep again.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.