High Seeds in the 2021 NCAA Men's Tournament That Won't Reach the 2022 Big Dance
After Duke and Kentucky both ended up missing the 2021 NCAA men's tournament, it has never been more clear that no one is guaranteed a spot in the March Madness field.
Between graduation, transfers and NBA departures, the college basketball landscape always looks significantly different from one year to the next.
So which high-seeded teams from this year's tournament are in the most danger of missing the Big Dance entirely in 2022?
Ahead, we've highlighted seven teams that are at risk of a big enough step backward to miss the field, based on how their roster is expected to change. For the sake of this exercise, a "high seed" was anyone seeded Nos. 1-6 in this year's tournament.
A lot could change based on late recruiting and the transfer portal, so look at this as a fluid process with the teams mentioned here needing to make the biggest splashes in the coming months.
2021 Tournament Seed: No. 6
The BYU Cougars have not made it out of the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament since 2011, and this year's group was the highest-seeded team they've had since that Jimmer Fredette-led squad reached the Sweet 16.
Seniors Alex Barcello (16.1 PPG), Brandon Averette (11.7 PPG) and Matt Haarms (11.3 PPG) are expected to depart despite the extra year of available eligibility. Those three accounted for a little more than half of the team's offense this year, and replacing them won't be easy.
Forwards Caleb Lohner (7.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and Gideon George (5.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG) give the team two returning starters, and Lohner is capable of a significant step forward in his second season.
Cincinnati guard Mike Saunders Jr. is a potential transfer target to watch who would bring some needed experience to the guard position.
All of that said, with the three leading scorers set to graduate and no star-caliber player in the incoming recruiting class, it's hard to see how this team doesn't take a significant step backward.
2021 Tournament Seed: No. 5
The Colorado Buffaloes earned their highest NCAA tournament seed ever thanks to a nine-man rotation that featured five seniors.
Point guard McKinley Wright lV led the team in scoring (15.2 PPG) and assists (5.7 APG), and the three-time All-Pac-12 selection is going to be difficult to replace.
Jeriah Horne (10.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG) is transferring back to Tulsa, while former top 100 recruit D'Shawn Schwartz (9.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG) and 7'0" post Dallas Walton (6.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG) have both entered the transfer portal. All three are looking to take advantage of the additional year of eligibility that was granted.
The Buffaloes do have a pair of 4-star recruits in the 2021 class in 7'0" center Lawson Lovering (No. 58 overall recruit) and 6'7" forward Quincy Allen (No. 79 overall recruit), as well as a pair of 3-star recruits, but it could take some time for that new core to reach its full potential.
With the Pac-12 on the rise after showing out in the NCAA tournament, a young Colorado team could slide down the standings next season.
2021 Tournament Seed: No. 2
How does a team replace a player like Luka Garza?
The all-time leading scorer in Iowa Hawkeyes history, Garza won Naismith Player of the Year honors while averaging 24.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for a 22-9 team that earned a top-two seed in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1987.
The Hawkeyes were 5-4 in games Garza scored fewer than 20 points, compared to 17-5 when he eclipsed that mark, and everything they did on the offensive end of the floor ran through him.
Jordan Bohannon (10.6 PPG, 39.0 3PT%) has indicated he will return for another year if the NLI bill passes and fellow sharpshooter Joe Wieskamp (14.8 PPG, 46.2 3PT%) was only a junior, but even if both return, open looks on the perimeter are going to be harder to come by without Garza drawing attention.
The X-factor is Keegan Murray, a 3-star recruit who exceeded expectations as a freshman by averaging 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds in 18 minutes of action per game. He showed some flashes of star potential, and a big step forward from him would change Iowa’s outlook.
That's a lot of moving parts for a team that plays in an extremely competitive conference, and anything close to last year's level of success would be a surprise.
San Diego State Aztecs
2021 Tournament Seed: No. 6
The 2019-20 San Diego State team that went 30-2 and was on track to be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the 2020 NCAA tournament will go down as one of the biggest "what ifs" in college basketball history.
With star guard Malachi Flynn moving on to the NBA, it simply wasn't the same team this year, but it still played well enough to snag a No. 6 seed on the strength of one of the best defenses in the country.
The Aztecs ranked among the national leaders in points allowed per game (61.2, eighth), two-point field-goal percentage allowed (44.0 percent, 12th) and total field-goal percentage allowed (39.2 percent, 12th), and that helped them go 14-3 in the Mountain West Conference and 23-5 overall.
Picked by many as a potential bracket buster thanks to that stingy defense, they instead fell to No. 11 seed Syracuse in the opening round when they allowed a season-high 78 points. Now what?
Seniors Matt Mitchell (29.8 MPG), Jordan Schakel (29.2 MPG), Trey Pulliam (26.1 MPG), Terell Gomez (24.4 MPG) and Joshua Tomaic (15.6 MPG) played significant minutes, leaving 6'10" forward Nathan Mensah (8.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG) as the only key contributor not set to graduate.
Expect head coach Brian Dutcher to be combing the transfer portal in the weeks and months to come, as the top spot in the Mountain West seems up for grabs.
2021 Tournament Seed: No. 5
Was there a more confounding team this past season than Tennessee?
The Volunteers entered the year with lofty expectations thanks to 5-star freshmen Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson and several complementary pieces around them.
They played well enough to snag a No. 5 seed, finishing with an 18-9 record overall and a 10-7 record in conference play, but they never seemed to unlock their full potential.
Springer (12.5 PPG) and Johnson (11.3 PPG) led the team in scoring, and the defense limited opponents to just 40.1 percent shooting on the year, but they were ousted from the NCAA tournament by upstart Oregon State in the first round.
Springer and Johnson are both projected lottery picks and likely to move on to the NBA, while fellow starters John Fulkerson (9.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG) and Yves Pons (8.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG) were both seniors and have yet to decide on returning for their additional year of eligibility.
They are set to add 5-star point guard Kennedy Chandler (No. 13 in 2021 class) and 4-star Jahmai Mashack (No. 62 in 2021 class). But assuming the SEC bounces back from a down year as a whole, the Vols could be poised for a rebuilding year of sorts.
2021 Tournament Seed: No. 3
The Shaka Smart era is over in Austin.
After six seasons as head coach at Texas, Smart moved on to Marquette following the Longhorns’ loss to No. 14 seed Abilene Christian in the first round. The Longhorns were ousted in the first round in each of their three trips to the Big Dance under Smart.
With four rotation players having just finished their senior seasons, Donovan Williams in the transfer portal, Kai Jones already declared for the NBA draft and Greg Brown potentially following him, significant roster turnover is coming.
The good news is new coach Chris Beard consistently did an excellent job on the transfer market during his time at Texas Tech. He could add multiple players to the Texas roster this offseason as he looks to reshape the program.
The Beard hire could be exactly what the Texas program needs to finally get over the postseason hump, but it's going to take him some time to rebuild the roster.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
2021 Tournament Seed: No. 6
Texas Tech has plenty of questions to answer now that Chris Beard is gone. The program has already seen a mass exodus of talent.
After 2020 4-star recruit Nimari Burnett entered the transfer portal in January, Marcus Santos-Silva (8.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG) and Micah Peavy (5.7 PPG) joined him recently.
Add to that list the likely departure of sophomore wing Terrence Shannon Jr. (12.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG) to the NBA draft, and new coach Mark Adams has his work cut out for him making the move up from the associate head coach role.
The good news is Kyler Edwards (10.1 PPG) announced his return Monday.
It would be a major boon if leading scorer Mac McClung (15.5 PPG) decided to return next season, and that's on the table. But this roster is essentially going to have to be rebuilt from the ground up around him this offseason.
All stats courtesy of Sports Reference.