Top College Basketball Programs in Danger of Missing the 2021 NCAA Tournament

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2021

Top College Basketball Programs in Danger of Missing the 2021 NCAA Tournament

0 of 8

    James Crisp/Associated Press

    While conference play is typically the most important time to fortify a resume, many well-known programs head into league action needing a strong performance.

    Otherwise, several top college basketball teams may end up missing the 2021 men's NCAA tournament.

    What exactly defines a top program is subjective. Our focus is on historically "top" teams. After narrowing the possibilities to the 25 schools with at least 30 all-time NCAA tournament appearances, we took a look at their current BracketMatrix outlook. Any team seeded ninth or worse is considered a risk.

    The list is ordered alphabetically.

Indiana Hoosiers

1 of 8

    Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

    NCAA appearances: 39

    BracketMatrix seed: 10

    Falling to Northwestern at home is a bad outcome, but Indiana doesn't have a dreadful loss. The problem is the Hoosiers keep falling frustratingly short of picking up excellent wins.

    They lost to Florida State 69-67 in overtime, fell apart in the second half at Illinois and lost to Wisconsin in double overtime.

    On the bright side, IU won't be short on opportunities the rest of the way! The Big Ten could have a half-dozen ranked teams at any moment. On the other hand, then, the Big Ten is stacked with tournament near-locks and hopefuls.

    Indiana will have to pull out a few of its close games in league play.

Kentucky Wildcats

2 of 8

    James Crisp/Associated Press

    NCAA appearances: 59

    BracketMatrix seed: none

    After a ghastly 1-6 start, Kentucky pulled off three straight winsincluding an 18-point rout of potential NCAA squad Florida.

    But we're not rushing to praise here, especially after a 20-points loss to Alabama. Kentucky is running dangerously thin on chances to turn around the season.

    While the roster is full of talent, as usual, Kentucky is one of the nation's worst perimeter groups. The Wildcats rank 321st in three-point attempts per game and just 258th in three-point percentage. This offense may be a work in progress all season.

    The sky isn't yet falling in Lexington. It's not close to sunshine, either.

Marquette Golden Eagles

3 of 8

    John Peterson/Associated Press

    NCAA appearances: 33

    BracketMatrix seed: none

    At this rate, Marquette will be yet another study of whether quality wins can offset a large number of losses.

    Though the Golden Eagles are 6-6, they defeated Wisconsin at the buzzer and clipped Creighton. Those results, in all likelihood, will remain Quadrant 1 victories. And in the Big East, Marquette still has several chances to pad its Q1/2 list.

    But how many losses is too many?

    Marquette may be awfully nervous if that category hits double digits.

Michigan State Spartans

4 of 8

    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    NCAA appearances: 33

    BracketMatrix seed: 9

    What a difference one month can make.

    After beating Oakland on Dec. 13, Michigan State held a 6-0 record and had climbed to No. 4 in the AP poll. The Spartans picked up a marquee win at Duke along the way, too.

    Since the beginning of Big Ten play, however, the Spartans have stumbled. They lost to Northwestern by 14, Wisconsin by nine and Minnesota by 25. They recovered to beat Nebraska and Rutgers but then collapsed in a stunning loss to Purdue.

    As the calendar hits Jan. 13, MSU is 2-4 in the league with two games against each of Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State to play.

    So, similar to Indianathe Spartans also have them twicethere are many opportunities for resume-building wins. But it's a bunch of potential losses for an inconsistent team, too.

North Carolina Tar Heels

5 of 8

    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    NCAA appearances: 50

    BracketMatrix seed: 11

    Although the Tar Heels are 8-4 overall, they have a 5-3 record in games decided by six points or fewer. They're playing too many close games for comfort, particularly in a down ACC.

    This is basically a glass-half-full/empty debate.

    Wins are most important, and UNC is generally winning. Simultaneously, it's a dangerous way to play a season. North Carolina barely beat a Miami team without Chris Lykes and edged Notre Dame, a struggling program we'll cover next. That doesn't exactly inspire a ton of confidence the rest of the way.

    Yet the ACC doesn't have a dominant tier of schools expected to smack the Heels. North Carolina can scrape out a handful of tight victories to build a decent resume, too.

    Either way, it could be nerve-wracking to watch.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

6 of 8

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    NCAA appearances: 36

    BracketMatrix seed: none

    Mike Brey challenged his team in nonconference play, but Notre Dame only managed an unusually meh victory over Kentucky. The Irish also fell to Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue.

    And the ACC slate hasn't gone much better.

    Notre Dame has dropped all four league contests, losing to Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. The Irish are 3-7 and have the least efficient defense in the conference, per

    Considering the results so far, it would be stunning to see Notre Dame in the 2021 NCAA tournament.

Syracuse Orange

7 of 8

    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    NCAA appearances: 40

    BracketMatrix seed: 12

    Syracuse should be more optimistic about its NCAA tournament chances, but the Orange need to beat someone of note.

    Like, literally anyone.

    Yes, this is largely a product of COVID-19 protocols disrupting the schedule. Still, per WarrenNolan, all seven of Syracuse's wins are against Quadrant 3 or 4 teams. The best victory is over Bryant or Buffalo, and that's not going to attract much attention.

    The reason for a lighter schedule is basically out of Syracuse's control. But with a potentially smaller sample size, the 7-3 Orange have a reduced margin for error, too.

Others in Danger

8 of 8

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Arizona Wildcats: 35 NCAA appearances; self-imposed ban

    Arkansas Razorbacks: 32 NCAA appearances; BracketMatrix seed: 9

    Cincinnati Bearcats: 33 NCAA; BracketMatrix seed: none

    Georgetown Hoyas: 30 NCAA; BracketMatrix seed: none

    Kansas State Wildcats: 31 NCAA; BracketMatrix seed: none

    Oklahoma Sooners: 32 NCAA; BracketMatrix seed: 12

    Purdue Boilermakers: 31 NCAA; BracketMatrix seed: 11

    St. John's Red Storm: 30 NCAA; BracketMatrix seed: none

    Temple Owls: 33 NCAA; BracketMatrix seed: none