NCAA Tournament Regulars in Danger of Missing the Big Dance in 2018
Dayton, Oklahoma State and New Mexico State have each played in four of the last five NCAA Division I men's basketball tournaments, but they are at the top of our list of tournament regulars most likely to miss the Big Dance in 2018.
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 30 eligible candidates for this list. However, most of those teams could be immediately removed from consideration, since they are more likely to play in the Sweet 16 than the NIT.
There are still plenty of teams—from minor, mid-major 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 2018 NCAA tournament.
Note: Tournament regulars we aren't worried about are Arizona, Baylor, Butler, Cincinnati, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Purdue, UCLA, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wisconsin and Xavier.
10. Providence Friars
2014: No. 11 seed (Lost opener)
2015: No. 6 seed (Lost opener)
2016: No. 9 seed (Round of 32)
2017: Last Four In (Lost opener)
Noteworthy Players Lost: Ryan Fazekas (3.0 PPG)
Projected Starting Lineup: Kyron Cartwright, Jalen Lindsey, Alpha Diallo, Emmitt Holt, Rodney Bullock
Key Reserves: Isaiah Jackson, Makai Ashton-Langford, Nate Watson, Dajour Dickens, Kalif Young, Maliek White
After losing Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil from the 2015-16 team, Providence was No. 1 on this list last offseason prior to sneaking into the First Four. At this point, we're officially done questioning whether Ed Cooley can guide his team to the NCAA tournament. However, we needed 10 teams for the list, and at least 20 of the other 29 tournament regulars are candidates to open the season in the AP Top 25.
Thus, once again, the Friars made the list, even though they should be significantly better than last year.
Kyron Cartwright was such a stud at point guard that we forgot all about how important Dunn was to this team's success the previous year. Cartwright had the fourth-highest assist rate in the country and shot 38.8 percent from three-point range. He dropped at least five dimes in 15 of his final 16 games, including a near triple-double (16 points, 11 assists, nine rebounds) in a win over Georgetown. He might be the best point guard that no one seemed to notice.
There were already signs that Cartwright could be a leader for the Friars, though. What made them a surprise success story was the play of Jalen Lindsey and Emmitt Holt. The former shot 46.0 percent from downtown after posting a 29.3 percent clip in his first two seasons, and the latter was a transfer (who started his career at Indiana) who immediately become a starter and key contributor. Who could have guessed that would be Providence's dynamic duo?
Cartwright, Lindsey, Holt and Rodney Bullock all played well as juniors and should remain the leaders as seniors, but at least they have some backups this season. All three of the above 4-star freshmen should get a lot of run in an eight- or nine-man rotation for what could be the second-best team in the Big East.
However, Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com has the Friars projected as a No. 9 seed, and ESPN's Joe Lunardi sees them as a No. 10 seed. Summer bracketology is what it is, but those two experts in the field see Providence as a bubble team.
9. Oregon Ducks
2013: No. 12 seed (Sweet 16)
2014: No. 7 seed (Round of 32)
2015: No. 8 seed (Round of 32)
2016: No. 1 seed (Elite Eight)
2017: No. 3 seed (Final Four)
Noteworthy Players Lost: Dillon Brooks (16.1 PPG), Tyler Dorsey (14.6 PPG), Chris Boucher (11.8 PPG), Jordan Bell (10.9 PPG), Dylan Ennis (10.9 PPG), Casey Benson (4.9 PPG), Kavell Bigby-Williams (3.0 PPG)
Noteworthy Players Added: Elijah Brown (New Mexico transfer), Troy Brown (5-star SF), MiKyle McIntosh (Illinois State transfer), Paul White (Georgetown transfer), Victor Bailey (4-star PG), Abu Kigab (4-star SF), Kenny Wooten (4-star PF), M.J. Cage (redshirt freshman PF)
Projected Starting Lineup: Payton Pritchard, Elijah Brown, Troy Brown, MiKyle McIntosh, Paul White
Key Reserves: Keith Smith, M.J. Cage, Victor Bailey, Abu Kigab, Kenny Wooten, Roman Sorkin
Oregon lost virtually everyone from last season except for Payton Pritchard. All told, the Ducks need to replace 86.4 percent of last year's points, making them a long shot to finish in the top three of the Pac-12 standings.
Unless you're Duke or Kentucky, it's almost impossible to remain competitive while replacing more than 80 percent of your scoring from the previous season. Tulsa, Milwaukee and Hawaii went a combined 68-31 in 2015-16, lost more than 80 percent of their scoring apiece and went 40-57 last year.
But at least Oregon added a ton of immediate-impact pieces who should keep things from going up in smoke.
Two-time transfer Elijah Brown scored 1,276 points over the last two years with New Mexico and should immediately become one of the better shooting guards in the Pac-12. And he isn't even the best Brown on the roster, as Troy Brown (no relation) is a gifted wing with legitimate one-and-done potential. Dana Altman also added three 4-star recruits and two more transfers, and he could have one of the best redshirt freshmen in the nation in big man M.J. Cage.
That's a lot of new pieces that need to come together in a hurry, but at least Oregon has one heck of a cushion to play with. The Ducks could suffer seven or eight more losses than last year's 33-6 campaign and still get into the NCAA tournament with a little room to spare. Moreover, the bottom six or seven teams in the Pac-12 might be terrible, which should mean enough wins to keep the Ducks on the right side of the bubble.
8. Maryland Terrapins
2015: No. 4 seed (Round of 32)
2016: No. 5 seed (Sweet 16)
2017: No. 6 seed (Lost opener)
Noteworthy Players Lost: Melo Trimble (16.8 PPG), Damonte Dodd (6.2 PPG), Jaylen Brantley (4.9 PPG), L.G. Gill (3.5 PPG)
Projected Starting Lineup: Anthony Cowan, Darryl Morsell, Kevin Huerter, Justin Jackson, Michal Cekovsky
Key Reserves: Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens, Ivan Bender, Bruno Fernando, Sean Obi
After missing the Big Dance in four consecutive years prior to Melo Trimble's arrival, Maryland had a solid three-year run with the combo guard leading the way. While pacing the Terrapins to 79 wins and three straight single-digit seeds, Trimble was one of just five Division I men's players to amass 1,600 points and 400 assists over the last three years.
Where do they turn without their offensive leader and defensive stalwart, Damonte Dodd?
The second part of the question might be tougher to answer. As far as the backcourt is concerned, Anthony Cowan should have no problem becoming the primary ball-handler while Darryl Morsell might be good enough to start at shooting guard as a freshman. If not, the Terps have plenty of other perimeter options in Kevin Huerter, Justin Jackson, Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens, provided the latter two can bounce back from awful 2016-17 seasons.
Big men and rim protection will be another story. Michal Cekovsky had a strong block rate last season, but injuries limited him to just 224 minutes and a third consecutive season with a minimal overall impact. Maybe Bruno Fernando can make some noise as a freshman center, but let's just say there's no Diamond Stone on this roster.
Sean Obi had a solid freshman year for Rice back in 2013-14, but he has played a grand total of 27 minutes over the last three years after transferring to Duke and riding the pine. If Maryland is counting on him for frontcourt depth, it probably means the streak of at least 24-win seasons and NCAA tournament berths is ending at three.
7. Oklahoma Sooners
2013: No. 10 seed (Lost opener)
2014: No. 5 seed (Lost opener)
2015: No. 3 seed (Sweet 16)
2016: No. 2 seed (Final Four)
Noteworthy Players Lost: Jordan Woodard (14.6 PPG), Dante Buford (3.8 PPG), Darrion Strong-Moore (3.8 PPG)
Projected Starting Lineup: Trae Young, Kameron McGusty, Rashard Odomes, Kristian Doolittle, Khadeem Lattin
Key Reserves: Christian James, Jamuni McNeace, Jordan Shepherd, Brady Manek
By going 11-20, Oklahoma set a school record for losses in a single season. (Granted, there are now more games per year than there used to be, but the .355 winning percentage was the team's worst since 1980-81.) From that mess, the Sooners lost Jordan Woodard, their leader in points, assists and steals per game.
And yet, they're one of the top candidates for a bounce-back year and should enter the season smack dab on the bubble in bracket projections.
Aside from Woodard, they get back all eight of their leading scorers, most of which were either playing significant minutes as freshmen or were thrust into new roles in an effort to replace Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler from the previous year. Even before Woodard suffered multiple leg/knee injuries and missed 11 games, it was always going to be a rebuilding year for Oklahoma.
The hope is that those seven returning guys experienced enough growth to win a lot of games now that stud freshman Trae Young will be running the show.
But what if Young is one of the 5-star recruits who needs a year or two to hit his stride? (There are always a few.) Or what if Kameron McGusty and/or Kristian Doolittle experience something of a sophomore slump rather than making a leap to becoming star players?
Considering this team needs to roughly double its 2016-17 win total to reach the 2018 tournament, it would probably only take one letdown for the Sooners to fall short of that goal.
6. VCU Rams
2013: No. 5 seed (Lost opener)
2014: No. 5 seed (Lost opener)
2015: No. 7 seed (Round of 32)
2016: No. 10 seed (Round of 32)
2017: No. 10 seed (Lost opener)
Noteworthy Players Lost: JeQuan Lewis (15.2 PPG), Mo Alie-Cox (9.5 PPG), Samir Doughty (9.0 PPG), Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed (5.9 PPG), Doug Brooks (5.6 PPG), Jordan Burgess (4.9 PPG)
Noteworthy Players Added: Issac Vann (Maine transfer), Khris Lane (Longwood transfer), Mike'l Simms (JUCO transfer), Xavier Jackson (JUCO transfer)
Projected Starting Lineup: Jonathan Williams, De'Riante Jenkins, Issac Vann, Khris Lane, Justin Tillman
Key Reserves: Malik Crowfield, Mike'l Simms, Xavier Jackson
For Nos. 7-10 on this list, we were looking at teams where things could conceivably go haywire, but at worst, they're in coin-flip situations to reach the NCAA tournament. For these "top" six teams, though, a trip to the NIT appears more likely than a ticket to the Big Dance.
It feels weird to say that about VCU, as the Rams are one of just eight teams that have competed in each of the last seven NCAA tournaments. (The others are Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Wisconsin and Cincinnati.) But with a new head coach and without six of the eight leaders in minutes played from last season, they might be up a creek without a paddle.
Jonathan Williams and Justin Tillman are the two noteworthy returnees, and that duo shot a combined 1-of-18 from three-point range last year. Williams should be a solid point guard (5.1 assists per 40 minutes) and Tillman is a potential nightly double-double (19.2 points and 13.7 rebounds per 40), but this team will be looking to fill a lot of holes with transfers who put up great numbers for not-so-great teams.
In 17 games for a Maine team that went 8-22, Issac Vann averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals. If those skills translate adequately from the America East to the Atlantic 10, he'll be a fine replacement for Jordan Burgess. Likewise, Khris Lane put up 17.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game for a 6-24 Longwood squad last year and will be expected to immediately serve as a featured piece in VCU's frontcourt.
The key to everything, though, is De'Riante Jenkins. One of the best high school recruits VCU has ever landed, Jenkins broke a bone in his foot and missed two months of action. But even before that, the top-50 freshman wasn't doing much to back up his ranking or suggest that he can dominate as a starting shooting guard. He did shoot 45.5 percent from three-point range, but he only took 33 shots and never strung together consecutive quality performances.
If he can make the leap and become a 15-point-per-game scorer, VCU has a shot. If not, the Rams might be banking on too many transfers who haven't played at this level of competition.
5. Michigan Wolverines
2013: No. 4 seed (Championship game)
2014: No. 2 seed (Elite Eight)
2016: No. 11 seed (Lost opener)
2017: No. 7 seed (Sweet 16)
Noteworthy Players Lost: Derrick Walton (15.5 PPG), Zak Irvin (13.0 PPG), D.J. Wilson (11.0 PPG), Mark Donnal (3.9 PPG)
Noteworthy Players Added: Jaaron Simmons (Ohio transfer), Charles Matthews (Kentucky transfer), Jordan Poole (4-star SG)
Projected Starting Lineup: Jaaron Simmons, Charles Matthews, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson, Moritz Wagner
Key Reserves: Xavier Simpson, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers
Between a plane crash, the Big Ten tournament championship and the subsequent impressive showing in the NCAA tournament, Michigan became the darling of March 2017. Unless you went to Ohio State or Michigan State, you almost couldn't help but root for the Wolverines. It didn't hurt matters that they were a delight to watch with one of the most prolific offenses in the country.
Prior to that flourish, though, this team was all sorts of bubbly, and it lost the three best players from that roster.
Derrick Walton is the most critical departure. The senior point guard was solid all season, but he was unstoppable over Michigan's final 18 games, averaging 18.7 points and 6.7 assists while shooting 42.5 percent from downtown. Moreover, he was the king of clutch, repeatedly coming up big in the closing seconds of games. To lose him, Zak Irvin and stretch 4/rim protector D.J. Wilson in the same offseason is a huge hit for this team.
The Wolverines did add a pair of potentially outstanding transfers in Jaaron Simmons (15.7 PPG and 7.2 APG in two seasons with Ohio) and Charles Matthews (2015 top-100 recruit who signed with Kentucky), but can that be enough?
Even if those two guys are able to immediately step in and replace Walton and Irvin, what in the world are the Wolverines going to do about losing Wilson? They also lost Mark Donnal as a transfer, meaning Moe Wagner is the only player taller than 6'8" left on the roster with any legitimate college experience. And he isn't much of a rim protector with 20 blocks in more than 1,100 career minutes played.
This team can still score like crazy. Simmons, Wagner, Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman all have proven, legitimate three-point range, and you have to think Matthews can drain more than his fair share of buckets as a shooting guard. But depth (especially in the frontcourt) and defense are going to be serious problems. On nights when Michigan doesn't make at least 10 triples, it might not have much hope of winning.
4. Iowa State Cyclones
2013: No. 10 seed (Round of 32)
2014: No. 3 seed (Sweet 16)
2015: No. 3 seed (Lost opener)
2016: No. 4 seed (Sweet 16)
2017: No. 5 seed (Round of 32)
Noteworthy Players Lost: Monte Morris (16.4 PPG), Naz Mitrou-Long (15.1 PPG), Deonte Burton (15.1 PPG), Matt Thomas (12.3 PPG), Darrell Bowie (5.8 PPG), Merrill Holden (2.4 PPG)
Noteworthy Players Added: Jeff Beverly (UTSA transfer), Zoran Talley Jr. (Old Dominion transfer), Hans Brase (Princeton transfer), Lindell Wigginton (4-star PG)
Projected Starting Lineup: Lindell Wigginton, Donovan Jackson, Nick Weiler-Babb, Jeff Beverly, Solomon Young
Key Reserves: Zoran Talley Jr., Hans Brase
Much like VCU, Iowa State will be forced to rely heavily on incoming transfers after losing a ridiculous amount of last year's core.
All four leading scorers graduated as the Cyclones lost six of the seven guys who started at least one game. Big man Solomon Young is the sole returning member of that group, and he only got a chance to start as a freshman after Merrill Holden lost the job for a second time.
Exclusively focusing on the starters is admittedly misleading, though. Donovan Jackson and Nick Weiler-Babb each averaged more than 16 minutes per game off the bench and should be major contributors in 2017-18. That said, there will be an undeniable plummet in both talent and experience after losing Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Deonte Burton and Matt Thomas.
If this team is going to tread water well enough to reach a seventh consecutive NCAA tournament, this year's batch of graduate transfers needs to be a heck of a lot better than last year's. Iowa State was able to survive with Darrell Bowie and Merrill Holden combining to score 249 points, but much more will be required from Zoran Talley Jr., Jeff Beverly and Hans Brase.
Talley and Beverly put up what look like solid numbers at first glance, but their efficiency in Conference USA was atrocious. Beverly needed 14 field-goal attempts to average 15.8 points, and Talley was even worse at 11 and 11.3, respectively. It's hard to fathom that those guys could be starters on a Cyclones team that had one of the most efficient point guards in college basketball history for the last four seasons. And while Brase used to be solid for Princeton, he has played in just five games over the past two years because of injuries.
And did we mention the Cyclones have little choice but to start a true freshman at point guard from day one? Steve Prohm is a great coach, but this could be a bottoming-out-type of year that Oklahoma went through last season.
3. New Mexico State Aggies
2013: No. 13 seed (Lost opener)
2014: No. 13 seed (Lost opener)
2015: No. 15 seed (Lost opener)
2017: No. 14 seed (Lost opener)
Noteworthy Players Lost: Ian Baker (16.7 PPG), Braxton Huggins (13.7 PPG), Matt Taylor (6.5 PPG), Marlon Jones (5.7 PPG), Chancellor Ellis (4.0 PPG), Jermaine Haley (3.9 PPG), Tanveer Bhullar (2.7 PPG), Jalyn Pennie (2.0 PPG)
Noteworthy Players Added: Zach Lofton (Texas Southern transfer), A.J. Harris (Ohio State transfer)
Projected Starting Lineup: A.J. Harris, Sidy N'Dir, Zach Lofton, Jemerrio Jones, Eli Chuha
Key Reserves: Johnathon Wilkins, Johnny McCants
Usually, there are several teams from one-bid leagues that qualify as tournament regulars. Belmont, Harvard and Stephen F. Austin have featured prominently on this list in years past. For 2018, though, only New Mexico State fits the bill, and the Aggies are in trouble.
For starters, they lost a ton of key contributors. Do-it-all point guard Ian Baker graduated and second-leading scorer Braxton Huggins transferred to Fresno State. In fact, with the exception of Baker, all of NMSU's losses were transfers. Heck, VerbalCommits.com added Marlon Jones as a transfer while I was doing the research for this list, pushing the number of Aggies transferring this offseason to eight.
If Sidy N'Dir is healthy (he only played in nine games last year because of a foot injury) and if A.J. Harris is as good at point guard as he was supposed to be when he originally committed to Ohio State, New Mexico State could have a respectable starting five. However, this team lost all of its depth and could be one sprained ankle away from crashing and burning.
The more noteworthy development is that WAC rival Grand Canyon is finally eligible for the NCAA tournament this year, and the Antelopes are probably the team to beat in this conference. Though they do lose Dewayne Russell (21.2 PPG, 5.4 APG, 3.8 RPG) and former Charlotte and USC transfer Darion Clark, Dan Majerle's guys have been preparing for this season for a long time. Joshua Braun, Keonta Vernon and Oscar Frayer are the headliners for a group ready for postseason play.
For the first time in a while, it's not a given that the WAC runs through New Mexico State. Factoring in the quarterfinal and semifinal prior to the presumed championship game against Grand Canyon, the Aggies probably have a 30 percent chance of winning the WAC tournament—which means a 30 percent chance of reaching the NCAA tournament.
2. Oklahoma State Cowboys
2013: No. 5 seed (Lost opener)
2014: No. 9 seed (Lost opener)
2015: No. 9 seed (Lost opener)
2017: No. 10 seed (Lost opener)
Noteworthy Players Lost: Jawun Evans (19.1 PPG), Phil Forte (13.3 PPG), Leyton Hammonds (8.1 PPG)
Noteworthy Players Added: Kendall Smith (CS Northridge transfer)
Projected Starting Lineup: Kendall Smith, Lindy Waters III, Jeffrey Carroll, Cameron McGriff, Mitchell Solomon
Key Reserves: Davon Dillard, Tavarius Shine, Brandon Averette, Lucas N'Guessan, Thomas Dziagwa
Oklahoma State does have one outstanding returning player in Jeffrey Carroll, but it gets ugly in a hurry from there.
Jawun Evans was everything for this team. He averaged 19.2 points, 6.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals while pacing an offense that ranked No. 1 in adjusted efficiency. He was about as valuable for the Cowboys as Marcus Smart was for his two seasons in Stillwater.
But they lost much more than just Evans. Starting shooting guard Phil Forte and starting power forward Leyton Hammonds are also out of the picture without much of a plan to replace either one. Freshmen Lindy Waters III and Cameron McGriff will likely be thrust into starting roles despite not returning much value as freshmen.
The plan for replacing Evans, you wonder? A one-year rental who put up solid numbers the last two years at CS Northridge, albeit for a team that went a combined 21-39 and struggled to win games in the Big West Conference. Kendall Smith averaged 16.7 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds last year, but will it translate to the Big 12? In four games against major conference programs—UCLA, Stanford, Texas A&M and St. John's—Smith averaged 13.8 points and 2.8 assists with 3.0 turnovers.
Also, Oklahoma State will be breaking in a new head coach for the second time in as many years after Brad Underwood bolted for the opening at Illinois. Can first-time head coach Mike Boynton Jr. really be expected to reach the NCAA tournament with this rebuilding situation?
1. Dayton Flyers
2014: No. 10 seed (Elite Eight)
2015: Last Four In (Round of 32)
2016: No. 7 seed (Lost opener)
2017: No. 7 seed (Lost opener)
Noteworthy Players Lost: Charles Cooke (15.8 PPG), Kendall Pollard (14.0 PPG), Scoochie Smith (13.8 PPG), Kyle Davis (8.1 PPG)
Noteworthy Players Added: Kostas Antetokounmpo (redshirt freshman)
Projected Starting Lineup: Darrell Davis, John Crosby, Ryan Mikesell, Xeyrius Williams, Josh Cunningham
Key Reserves: Kostas Antetokounmpo, Sam Miller, Trey Landers
In each of the past four seasons—maybe more, but four is where I grew weary of the research—at least one team has gone straight from 24 or more wins to 20 or more losses. Last year, Oklahoma and Saint Joseph's fit the bill. The year before that, it was South Carolina Upstate. Go back one more year and five teams (Delaware, Ohio, Saint Louis, Southern Miss and Towson) qualified for the club. And it was Temple that dropped off a cliff between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.
Dayton seems like one of this year's top candidates for this dishonor after losing four of its top five scorers and the head coach responsible for transforming this program annually into a national factor.
Archie Miller is now at Indiana, and outside of Xeyrius Williams, he didn't leave much behind for new head coach Anthony Grant. Darrell Davis, Ryan Mikesell and John Crosby were serviceable role players, but there's nothing close to a guarantee that any of them is about to put up 10 points per game—which would be an interesting backcourt situation, to say the least.
The one promising piece the Flyers are bringing in to replace all they lost is Kostas Antetokounmpo—younger brother of Milwaukee Bucks star, Giannis—but who knows what they're getting there after he was ruled ineligible for the 2016-17 season and suffered a bone bruise on his leg this summer?
The good news for Dayton is this should be a down year for a lot of A-10 teams. VCU appeared earlier on this list, and Rhode Island can't be that much of a favorite after losing Kuran Iverson and Hassan Martin. Perhaps by the end of the year, the Flyers will have grown enough to win this conference tournament. But a fifth consecutive at-large bid seems highly unlikely.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames. Recruiting information courtesy of Scout.com. Advanced stats courtesy of Sports Reference and KenPom.com.