2019 NCAA Tournament Teams All but Guaranteed to Miss Out This Year
With teams like Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas and Michigan State boasting active streaks of at least 20 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, we sometimes take for granted how difficult it is to get into the Big Dance.
However, there are 10 teams that earned single-digit seeds* in the 2019 NCAA tournament that already have almost no hope of hearing their names called this Selection Sunday.
For the most part, these teams simply weren't able to replace the substantial amount of talent they lost from last year's roster. Aside from North Carolina and perhaps Washington, it wouldn't have been much of a hot take to suggest in the preseason that these teams would struggle to finish .500.
Nevertheless, these are prominent squads from last season that aren't even factors this year.
Teams are listed in ascending order of seed in the 2019 NCAA tournament.
*We're excluding No. 6 seed Buffalo and No. 7 seed Wofford from this list because it's at least feasible that they could win their respective conference tournaments to secure auto bids. It's not likely, but it's a heck of a lot more probable than the likes of Kansas State or Virginia Tech pulling it off.
2019 NCAA Tournament: No. 9 seed
Current Resume: 12-14, NET: 67, KenPom: 63, SOS: 8
There might not be a more frustrating team in the country than Washington.
The Huskies should be NCAA tournament-bound. They have a pair of first-round talents in freshmen Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels. They opened their season with an incredible neutral-site victory over Baylor. And they have been right there at the end of seemingly every game.
Washington just can't get it done in the clutch.
Losing starting point guard and former 5-star recruit Quade Green to academic ineligibility after 15 games was a major blow to this team's potential, but the Huskies were already struggling to close out games prior to that roster shakeup.
In the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic, they led Houston by 14 in the first half before gradually letting that turn into a four-point loss. One week later, they lost 66-64 at home to UCLA during a seven-game stretch in which that was the Bruins' only victory.
But since losing Green, we've been able to just pencil in Washington for that type of result on a nightly basis. Since that marquee three-point win over Baylor, the Huskies have gone 0-10 in games decided by seven or fewer points, plummeting to 2-11 in Pac-12 play.
This conference doesn't have anything close to a juggernaut atop the standings, so it's at least within the realm of possibility that Washington could turn those close losses into close wins in the Pac-12 tournament and steal an automatic bid. But if you've watched them in the final five minutes of a close game, you know better.
2019 NCAA Tournament: No. 9 seed
Current Resume: 14-11, NET: 115, KenPom: 120, SOS: 77
Whereas Washington was expected to compete for first place in the Pac-12, it's no surprise at all that UCF has struggled.
The Knights lost six of their seven leading scorers—four graduates, one transfer and one early entrant to the NBA draft—leaving them with Collin Smith and not much else. And with all due respect to Smith, that's not much of a one-man foundation to build around. He led the team in fouls and turnovers while shooting 48.0 percent inside the arc, 27.3 percent beyond it and 63.1 percent from the free-throw line last year, and he has done pretty much the same this year.
Head coach Johnny Dawkins did what he could via the transfer portal, getting Dazon Ingram (Alabama), Brandon Mahan (Texas A&M) and Matt Milon (William & Mary) as immediately eligible pickups. But the Knights were never going to be able to replace Tacko Fall, let alone the entire trio of that 7'6" game-changer and three-point leaders Aubrey Dawkins and B.J. Taylor.
As a result, UCF has gone 2-9 against teams in the KenPom Top 120.
The good news is the Knights won't need to endure a similar bout of attrition this offseason, as only one of the six leading scorers (Ingram) is a senior. The Knights also have two big men (Moses Bol and Sean Mobley) sitting out this season who could make a major impact in 2020-21. Don't be surprised if UCF is back with a vengeance next year.
2019 NCAA Tournament: No. 8 Seed
Current Resume: 14-12, NET: 66, KenPom: 61, SOS: 37
Syracuse is still hovering somewhere within a stone's throw of the bubble, but there's nothing it can do to move the needle.
The Orange are 2-6 vs. Quadrant 1, but both wins were road games against conference foes in the 50-75 range (Notre Dame and Virginia). Moreover, one of the victories was by a two-point margin, and the other was an overtime game, so it's not like there's a statement victory in the bunch. Worse, they are 2-5 vs. Quadrant 2 with one blowout win over Georgia Tech and a bunch of close losses that should have been victories.
Normally, the rigors of ACC play would supply Syracuse with several great stretch-run opportunities. In a down year for the conference, though, the Orange will wrap up the regular season with two Quadrant 2 games (at Pitt; at Miami) and three Quadrant 3 games (vs. GT; vs. UNC; at BC).
Even if they go 5-0 against that slate to finish at 19-12, they would still have work to do in the ACC tournament. And considering Syracuse has lost five of its last six, expecting a five-game winning streak is probably a fantasy.
From 2003 to 2014, Syracuse earned a No. 5 seed or better in 10 NCAA tournaments. In the six seasons since, it has spent something like 2,000 consecutive days on the bubble. It seems playing a 2-3 zone and daring opponents to live and die by the three isn't as effective now that many teams have five shooters on the floor.
Ole Miss Rebels
2019 NCAA Tournament: No. 8 Seed
Current Resume: 13-13, NET: 86, KenPom: 86, SOS: 83
Ole Miss hasn't been as much of a disappointment as most of the teams on this list. The Rebels beat Penn State on a neutral floor in November. They recently knocked off South Carolina, Florida and Mississippi State in succession by a combined 56 points. And they've only suffered one loss that was relatively unforgivable (at Texas A&M).
But this team is still a far cry from the NCAA tournament.
After 18 games, the Rebels were 9-9, with eight of those wins coming against Quadrant 4 opponents. In several of those losses, they forgot to show up on offense, scoring 47 in the Texas A&M game, losing 73-48 at Tennessee and getting embarrassed 78-37 by Oklahoma State—just two days after that key win over Penn State.
What's strange about those offensive struggles is Ole Miss didn't lose that much from a team that ranked in the top 10 percent nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency last year.
Terence Davis and Bruce Stevens are gone, but Breein Tyree is still there and scoring 20 points per game, KJ Buffen and Blake Hinson both improved during their freshman-to-sophomore transitions and former Virginia Tech forward Khadim Sy has been a valuable pickup from the JUCO ranks. They have the pieces to put up points in bunches, but they haven't done it consistently.
Nevada Wolf Pack
2019 NCAA Tournament: No. 7 Seed
Current Resume: 17-10, NET: 82, KenPom: 75, SOS: 92
Much like UCF, Nevada was gutted this past summer. Eight players scored at least 30 points for the Wolf Pack in 2018-19, and the only returnee was sharp shooter Jazz Johnson. Even head coach Eric Musselman skipped town for the Arkansas job.
They did get senior point guard Lindsey Drew back, though. He missed all of last season while recovering from a torn Achilles suffered late in 2017-18. Nevada also added two key transfers in Jalen Harris (Louisiana Tech) and Johncarlos Reyes (Boston College). The former has been a scoring machine with 21.8 points per game, and the latter has been the starting center for all but one contest.
But it hasn't been enough to make up for losing the Martin twins, Jordan Caroline and others.
Nevada does not yet have a Quadrant 1 victory, and its lone Quadrant 2 win (against NET No. 124 UNLV) was nothing special. And unlike Buffalo and Wofford, who could still sneak into the field by winning their respective conference tournaments, there's little hope Nevada can knock off both Utah State and San Diego State to secure the Mountain West's auto bid.
It's not like they are laying a foundation for next year, either.
Johnson, Drew, Reyes and Nisre Zouzoua are all seniors. And while Harris (a junior) isn't a projected first-round pick, there aren't many examples of a guy who's averaged at least 21 points, six rebounds and four assists per game and returned for another year. If he leaves, the Wolf Pack will be more or less starting from scratch again next season.
Iowa State Cyclones
2019 NCAA Tournament: No. 6 Seed
Current Resume: 11-15, NET: 70, KenPom: 70, SOS: 13
Now in his fifth season coaching the Cyclones, Steve Prohm has had a solid run. They earned a No. 4 seed in his first year, a No. 5 seed in year No. 2 and a No. 6 seed last year.
But when they go belly up for a year, they mean business.
Iowa State lost all four of its leading scorers after the 2016-17 season and went 13-18 in 2017-18. It's been a similar story this season, as replacing Marial Shayok, Talen Horton-Tucker, Lindell Wigginton and Nick Weiler-Babb has proved too difficult.
They haven't had a winning streak of more than two games this season, and the last time they even strung together two straight W's was in early December.
At least they had Tyrese Haliburton (15.2 PPG, 6.5 APG, 5.9 RPG, 2.5 SPG) for the first three months of the season until he suffered a fractured wrist. But an elite point guard can only do so much with minimal support on a team that plays no defense. (See: Fultz, Markelle.)
The Cyclones had to play one game without Haliburton in late December, and it resulted in an embarrassing home loss to Florida A&M. In the first game after his wrist injury, they lost by 29 to Oklahoma. Even with him, though, they were a sub-.500 team and going nowhere fast. But at least they're getting a jump-start on figuring out how to replace him, since he'll probably be a lottery pick in June.
Virginia Tech Hokies
2019 NCAA Tournament: No. 4 Seed
Current Resume: 15-11, NET: 78, KenPom: 95, SOS: 159
It has been quite the roller-coaster ride for Virginia Tech.
In the preseason, everyone had the Hokies projected for the ACC basement. Then they opened the season with a six-game winning streak punctuated by a neutral-site victory over Michigan State and became everyone's breakout team of the year. They continued to tread water on the fringe of the projected NCAA tournament field until the wheels came off in late January.
The Hokies endured a five-game losing skid that included two games against Boston College, one against Miami and one against Georgia Tech. It's one thing to lose to teams like Notre Dame, NC State or Syracuse that might fall just short of reaching the Big Dance, but losing four games to the ACC's bottom tier is a fantastic way to vanish from the tournament conversation.
Virginia Tech simply picked an unfortunate time to struggle with its strong suit.
During the 6-0 start, the Hokies shot 42.9 percent from three-point range, averaging 13.0 makes per game. During that five-game skid: 27.9 percent and 6.8 makes. That's a night-and-day transformation, and not a good one.
Still, credit goes to head coach Mike Young for ever having this roster in the running for a spot in the top half of the ACC standings. The Hokies lost all five of last year's leading scorers and have five freshmen among this year's top six scorers. They won't dance this March, but the Hokies shouldn't be down for long.
Kansas State Wildcats
2019 NCAA Tournament: No. 4 Seed
Current Resume: 9-17, NET: 97, KenPom: 93, SOS: 34
In case you haven't picked up on the theme yet, it's hard to lose three or more of your best players and maintain tournament-level competence. It has been especially challenging for Kansas State, which has to try to compete in the Big 12 despite not signing a single 4-star or 5-star recruit in the past five years.
The Wildcats lost Barry Brown, Dean Wade and Kamau Stokes from last year's 25-win roster, and it's still unclear what the plan was for replacing them.
Both Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra have moved into higher-volume roles, but neither was all that efficient in the first place, and asking more of them hasn't gone well. Makol Mawien is also shooting a bit more often and converting at a lower percentage. The big man made 62.0 percent of his two-point attempts as a sophomore, but he's down to 45.7 percent as a senior.
So not only did KSU lose its three leading scorers from last year, but Nos. 4-6 on that list have struggled in their ascent to this year's top three spots. As a result, this offense has been just plain bad—outside one inexplicable 84-68 victory over West Virginia last month. That was the only game in 2020 in which the Wildcats scored more than one point per possession.
In its 17 losses, Kansas State has averaged just 61.1 points per game. At a Virginia-like pace of play, that wouldn't be a problem. However, the Wildcats play at a tempo only slightly below the national average.
2019 NCAA Tournament: No. 2 Seed
Current Resume: 15-11, NET: 64, KenPom: 62, SOS: 47
Tennessee is the one team on this list that could be a decent run away from storming into the projected field. The predictive metrics don't mind the Volunteers, who wrap up the regular season at Auburn, at Arkansas, vs. Florida, at Kentucky, vs. Auburn. A 3-2 record against that slate would be a big boost for a resume not that far away from consideration.
But Tennessee's lack of success against that caliber of opponent is why it has almost no chance of dancing. The Vols are 0-7 against the KenPom top 47, and five of those losses were by double digits. In particular, failing to beat Kansas when the Jayhawks were without David McCormack and Silvio De Sousa was a huge missed opportunity.
This is no huge surprise, though, considering Tennessee lost Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone and Kyle Alexander—four players who started all 37 games last year. It also lost Lamonte Turner (19 starts last year) to a season-ending shoulder surgery 11 games into this season.
John Fulkerson and Yves Pons have both taken huge steps forward into the starting lineup, but that's a lot of attrition to overcome.
If the Vols were going to remain a Top 25 squad, they needed Josiah-Jordan James to be more of an instant phenom than the 5-star combo guard has been. He hasn't been bad for a first-year player whose role changed in the middle of the season when Turner went out, but he's nowhere near the one-man wrecking ball that it was going to take to replace all of the lost production from last year's team.
North Carolina Tar Heels
2019 NCAA Tournament: No. 1 Seed
Current Resume: 10-16, NET: 92, KenPom: 90, SOS: 30
If you didn't realize teams like Tennessee and Kansas State have been playing this much worse than last season, it's probably because North Carolina has been monopolizing the "can you believe what a disaster this team is?" conversation for the past two months.
When the Tar Heels lost Cole Anthony for a few weeks to a knee injury, I wrote they could be destined for the worst season ever by a reigning No. 1 seed. It has turned into a foregone conclusion rather than a remote possibility.
There have been quite a few instances of teams missing the tournament the year after earning a spot on the top line, but not this emphatically. The worst records by a team one year after it earned a No. 1 seed were 15-16 by Purdue in 1988-89 and 16-17 by Florida in 2014-15.
North Carolina is on track for 12-20.
Injury luck has not been on UNC's side. Anthony missed 11 games. Brandon Robinson has been banged up since before the season began and has missed nine contests. Anthony Harris missed the first eight games, played well in five contests and then was lost for the year to a torn ACL. Leaky Black only missed one game, but it was the embarrassing loss to Wofford.
Roy Williams usually has a deep enough rotation to withstand the occasional bumps and bruises, but the Heels lost all five of their leading scorers from last season, plus Seventh Woods (transfer) and Sterling Manley (knee trouble). And with graduate transfers Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling not making the type of impact they were hoping to, this team hasn't had what it takes to win with any regularity against major-conference foes.
Get your shots in against the Tar Heels while you can, though, because they'll be back next year. Williams has signed three 5-star players and five top-60 guys in the 2020 recruiting class. While Anthony could declare for the NBA draft, the Tar Heels should also have a decent crop of returning talent to welcome those new guys.
But that doesn't change the fact that this has been one of the worst seasons in program history.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames. Recruit ratings via 247Sports. Stats via Sports Reference, WarrenNolan.com and KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.