Top Men's College Basketball Programs in Danger of Missing 2022 NCAA Tournament

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 14, 2022

Top Men's College Basketball Programs in Danger of Missing 2022 NCAA Tournament

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    Michigan's Eli Brooks
    Michigan's Eli BrooksRich Schultz/Getty Images

    The Michigan Wolverines opened this season ranked in the AP Top 10 and had earned a No. 4 seed or better in six of the past nine NCAA tournaments, but they feature prominently on our list of top teams most likely to miss this year's Big Dance.

    By "top teams" we mean programs who fit within at least one of the two following pools of candidates:

    • Preseason AP Top 25 teams, or
    • Teams who have competed in at least seven of the past eight NCAA tournaments.

    The first pool allows us to consider teams like Arkansas, Maryland and St. Bonaventure, who haven't necessarily been tournament mainstays in recent years but were certainly expected to get there this March.

    The second pool factors in Cincinnati, VCU and Wichita State, who weren't expected to be great this year, but who we're used to hearing called on Selection Sunday.

    Either way, all 10 of these teams were supposed to be better than this. Some are still in the mix for a bid, but most of them wouldn't even sniff the field if the tournament started today.

    Teams are listed in alphabetical order. Statistics and resume data are current through the start of play Thursday. 

Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Arkansas' JD Notae
    Arkansas' JD NotaeMichael Woods/Associated Press

    Tournament Resume: 11-5, NET: 83, KPI/SOR AVG: 90.0, BPI/KP/SAG AVG: 41.3

    Three Best Wins: Kansas State, Cincinnati, Northern Iowa

    Three Worst Losses: Hofstra, Vanderbilt, at Texas A&M

    Current Bracket Matrix Projection: Out (Appears in 2 of 74 projections)

    Arkansas is this year's most poignant example of how quickly things can spiral out of control.

    One month into the season, the Razorbacks were 9-0 and ranked No. 10 in the AP poll. It wasn't a daunting schedule, but they largely breezed through it, winning by an average margin of 16.1 points.

    In the season's second month, however, they went 1-5 with bad home losses to Hofstra and Vanderbilt and an embarrassing 20-point loss to Oklahoma.

    The offense got sloppy, committing more than 15 turnovers on average during that six-game stretch. But the real problem has been a defense allowing 83.8 points per game in those five losses.

    It'd be one thing if the Hogs were struggling to slow down the likes of Alabama, Auburn or Kentucky, but they haven't even faced any of the SEC's top offenses yet. 

    The "glass half full" takeaway is Arkansas still has games remaining against those three opponentsas well as LSU and Tennessee—to potentially bolster this disappointing resume. But if you can't beat Texas A&M or Vanderbilt, you probably aren't going to win multiple games against tournament-caliber teams.

Cincinnati Bearcats

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    Cincinnati's David DeJulius
    Cincinnati's David DeJuliusDylan Buell/Getty Images

    Tournament Resume: 12-5, NET: 67, KPI/SOR AVG: 87.5, BPI/KP/SAG AVG: 82.3

    Three Best Wins: Illinois, SMU, at Miami-Ohio

    Three Worst Losses: Tulane, Monmouth, Arkansas

    Current Bracket Matrix Projection: Out (Appears in 0 of 74 projections)

    Cincinnati has actually been better than expected.

    Fresh off a 12-11 mess in 2020-21, the Bearcats opened the year ranked 117th on KenPom. But they have gotten back to their "Mick Cronin years" roots with aggressive defense and turnover-averse offense that has enabled them to largely make up for poor shooting across the board.

    They still have quite a bit of work to do in order to make this year's dance, though.

    On the plus side, a 71-51 neutral-site win over Illinois back in November figures to be a gift that'll keep on giving. The Illini have since won 10 of 11 games and may well be the best team in the Big Ten, so that's a major feather in the Bearcats' cap.

    The problem is the subsequent home losses to Monmouth and Tulane. Neither is (currently) a Quadrant 4 loss, but they are bad enough to effectively undo that marquee win over the Illini. And that means Cincinnati is going to need to find some quality wins (and avoid more bad losses in the process) in a conference that doesn't have many to offer.

    If the schedule holds, Cincinnati will play consecutive home games against Memphis and Houston in early February. Win at least one of those games and maybe there's a realistic shot at a bid.

Florida State Seminoles

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    Florida State's Caleb Mills
    Florida State's Caleb MillsMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Tournament Resume: 9-5, NET: 72, KPI/SOR AVG: 59.5, BPI/KP/SAG AVG: 51.3

    Three Best Wins: Louisville, Miami, at NC State

    Three Worst Losses: at South Carolina, Syracuse, at Wake Forest

    Current Bracket Matrix Projection: Out (Appears in 1 of 74 projections)

    When things go poorly for Florida State's offense, they go really poorly.

    In their five losses, the Seminoles have averaged 59.8 points, compared to slightly better than 80 points per game in their nine wins. In their recent 22-point blowout loss at Wake Forest, they shot just 24.2 percent from the field.

    By some miracle, the "quality" metrics (BPI/KP/SAG) still rate the 'Noles as a bubble team. But prior to Saturday's win over Louisville, Florida State was 0-3 vs. Quadrant 1, had not yet played a game against Quadrant 2 and had a pair of Quadrant 3 losses.

    Pretty ugly stuff from a preseason Top 25 team which had made it to the Sweet 16 in each of the past three NCAA tournaments.

    Plain and simple, Florida State isn't as dominant in the post as we're used to seeing. The 'Noles lead the nation in average height, but they aren't doing anything with it, ranking outside the top 80 in the country in both offensive rebound percentage and two-point field-goal percentage. And unless they can find enough offense to steal at least one win against Duke, there might not be a path to this year's NCAA tournament.

Maryland Terrapins

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    Maryland's Fatts Russell
    Maryland's Fatts RussellCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Tournament Resume: 9-7, NET: 107, KPI/SOR AVG: 94.0, BPI/KP/SAG AVG: 61.7

    Three Best Wins: Florida, at Northwestern, Richmond

    Three Worst Losses: George Mason, Northwestern, Louisville

    Current Bracket Matrix Projection: Out (Appears in 0 of 74 projections)

    Here's an interesting factoid about Maryland's frustrating season: In each of their losses to Iowa, Illinois and Louisville, the Terrapins led by the exact score of 47-42 at some point in the second half. They also led Virginia Tech 46-42 with eight minutes remaining in the second half and held a 50-47 lead with less than 10 minutes to go in regulation against Wisconsin before letting both of those games slip away.

    If they had been able to hold onto even one of those five leads, they would have a legitimate at-large pulse. Additionally, if they had been able to hold onto all five of those leads, they would be a borderline AP Top 10 team right now.

    Instead, they blew all of those games, sinking like a lead balloon since opening the year at No. 21 in the AP poll.

    Maryland's shooting has been a colossal disappointment compared to recent years, especially from the perimeter. In 2020-21, the Terps averaged 8.2 made triples per game with a success rate of 35.7 percent. This year, those numbers have dropped to 6.4 and 31.8, respectively. And it's certainly not because they've been dominating in the paint instead. Rather, their team two-point percentage has also dropped from 53.9 to 48.8.

    That is particularly maddening because after not having a point guard last year, they went to the transfer portal to get a veteran in Fatts Russell to run the show, but it just hasn't worked out as planned.

    One parting thought: Maryland has a nice, neutral-site victory over Florida and just the one bad loss to George Mason. As disappointing as the first two months have been, the Terrapins could storm right back into the tournament conversation with one big week in the Big Ten.

Michigan Wolverines

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    Michigan's Caleb Houstan
    Michigan's Caleb HoustanPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    Tournament Resume: 7-6, NET: 52, KPI/SOR AVG: 83.0, BPI/KP/SAG AVG: 29.0

    Three Best Wins: San Diego State, Buffalo, at Nebraska

    Three Worst Losses: Minnesota, at Rutgers, at UCF

    Current Bracket Matrix Projection: Out (Appears in 12 of 74 projections)

    The predictive metrics refuse to throw in the towel on Michigan, even though its six losses have come by a combined margin of 73 points.

    In those six games, Michigan shot a combined 26-of-105 (24.8 percent) from three-point range while allowing its opponents to shoot a combined 50-of-131 (38.2 percent). That's 72 of the 73 points right there.

    But the Wolverines' woes run deeper than just bad luck from downtown. The two-point defense that carried them to a No. 1 seed in last year's tournament is nowhere to be found, their turnover rate on offense is higher than it has been since 2007-08 and their turnover rate on defense is worse than it has been in KenPom history.

    Even though Hunter Dickinson's individual numbers are (for the most part) better than last year, the team as a whole is (for the most part) significantly worse.

    I do still believe Michigan has a chance to right the ship if Caleb Houstan figures things out. The highly touted freshman has a commendable average O-rating of 118.1 in Michigan's wins, but an atrocious average O-rating of 59.8 in losses. But until that potential lottery pick starts to deliver with the consistency of a Paolo Banchero or Jabari Smith, Michigan will continue to flounder.

Oregon Ducks

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    Oregon's Eric Williams Jr.
    Oregon's Eric Williams Jr.Associated Press

    Tournament Resume: 10-6, NET: 91, KPI/SOR AVG: 105.0, BPI/KP/SAG AVG: 61.0

    Three Best Wins: at UCLA, SMU, Utah

    Three Worst Losses: Arizona State, at Stanford, Saint Mary's

    Current Bracket Matrix Projection: Out (Appears in 0 of 74 projections)

    Note: The metrics above and the analysis that follows do not include Thursday night's massive overtime road win over UCLA. Beating the AP No. 3 Bruins obviously helps Oregon's cause, but it's still an uphill battle for a team that was nowhere near the tournament conversation 24 hours ago. 

    Oregon had won at least 21 games in each of the previous 11 seasons under Dana Altman, but this year's team might need a minor miracle to keep that streak going.

    At least the Ducks have been competitive as of late. Their pre-Thanksgiving losses to BYU, Saint Mary's and Houston came by a combined margin of 73 points, and they were held to 50 points or fewer in each of those duds. Compared to that, an overtime loss to Arizona State, a last-second loss to Stanford and an eight-point loss to Baylor don't look so bad.

    Still, we're talking about a team that is 0-4 in Quadrant 1 games, and that home loss to the Sun Devils is teetering on the border between Quadrant 3 and Quadrant 4.

    Normally, Altman is one of the best at combining returning players, new transfers and top-100 freshmen into a cohesive, Pac-12 crushing machine. But it just hasn't worked out this year.

    Transfers Jacob Young, Quincy Guerrier and De'Vion Harmon have been fine, but nowhere near the best collection of transfers outside of Texas that we were expecting. Returning starter Eric Williams Jr. has taken a sizable step backward in production from last year. And 5-star freshman Nate Bittle has been a complete non-factor.

    Add it all up and Oregon is hurtling toward its worst season since the Pac-12 was still the Pac-10.

St. Bonaventure Bonnies

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    St. Bonaventure's Jalen Adaway
    St. Bonaventure's Jalen AdawayNoah K. Murray/Associated Press

    Tournament Resume: 9-3, NET: 110, KPI/SOR AVG: 57.5, BPI/KP/SAG AVG: 73.0

    Three Best Wins: Clemson, Boise State, Marquette

    Three Worst Losses: Northern Iowa, Virginia Tech, Connecticut

    Current Bracket Matrix Projection: Out (Appears in 10 of 74 projections)

    St. Bonaventure brought back all five starters from a team that earned a No. 9 seed in the 2021 NCAA tournament. It also added a noteworthy transfer in former Pittsburgh big man Abdoul Karim Coulibaly.

    As such, the Bonnies opened the year at No. 23 in the AP poll and climbed as high as No. 16 after starting out 5-0 and winning the Charleston Classic.

    But they have since suffered a bad home loss to Northern Iowa and an ugly 39-point loss to Virginia Tech, tumbling all the way onto the wrong side of the bubble. In both of those games, their usually solid defense was obliterated by a perimeter assault, as the Panthers and Hokies shot a combined 28-of-59 from downtown.

    Life in the A-10 isn't going to give the Bonnies many opportunities to improve their resume, either. Games at Saint Louis (Feb. 11) and VCU (March 1) are the only ones that would count as Quadrant 1 games based on current NET rankings, so they might need to go something like 13-2 the rest of the way in order to make a legitimate push for an at-large bid.

Virginia Cavaliers

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    Virginia's Kihei Clark
    Virginia's Kihei ClarkRyan M. Kelly/Getty Images

    Tournament Resume: 10-6, NET: 82, KPI/SOR AVG: 67.5, BPI/KP/SAG AVG: 59.0

    Three Best Wins: Providence, at Clemson, at Syracuse

    Three Worst Losses: Navy, at James Madison, Clemson

    Current Bracket Matrix Projection: Out (Appears in 2 of 74 projections)

    Few teams were as gutted by offseason departures as Virginia was. Last year's three leading scorers are now in the NBA. Key reserve Thomas Woldetensae went pro overseas. Three other reserves (Casey Morsell, Justin McKoy and Jabri Abdur-Rahim) transferred to other major-conference programs.

    Tony Bennett did bring in a couple key transfers in Jayden Gardner and Armaan Franklin, but the Cavaliers simply have not been able to make up for all the three-point shooting they lost.

    Save for Kihei Clark, this team is a mess from the perimeter, averaging just 5.6 triples per game (compared to 8.5 last year). The Cavaliers shot 8-of-42 (19.0 percent) between the two bad losses to Navy and James Madison.

    But the vaunted pack-line defense is also a shell of what it used to be. Virginia was top seven in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency in eight of the past 10 seasons, but this year's team is merely ranked 50th in AdjDE.

    That combination of factors has already led to a 20-point loss to Houston, a 17-point loss to Clemson and a 16-point loss to North Carolina. That's the first time since 2010-11 that Virginia has lost three games by at least 15 points in an entire season, and there's still plenty of time left for a few more blowout losses.

Virginia Commonwealth Rams

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    VCU's KeShawn Curry
    VCU's KeShawn CurryIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Tournament Resume: 10-4, NET: 53, KPI/SOR AVG: 59.0, BPI/KP/SAG AVG: 55.3

    Three Best Wins: at Vanderbilt, at Dayton, Syracuse

    Three Worst Losses: Wagner, Chattanooga, Connecticut

    Current Bracket Matrix Projection: Out (Appears in 14 of 74 projections)

    Compared to the rest of these teams, VCU is actually in decent shape for a bid.

    Not great shape, mind you, or even good shape. But for a team that started out 3-4 with home losses to Wagner and Chattanooga, things could be a whole lot worse.

    They can thank a stout defense for that.

    In every game this season, VCU has held its opponent below one point per possession. (Even the 69-61 loss to Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis was a 70-possession game.) The Rams are, per usual, relentless along the perimeter, ranking second in the nation in three-point field-goal defense and third in turnover percentage.

    The reason they're on the wrong side of the bubble is they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn early on in the season, averaging 50.8 points through their first four games. They're at a much more respectable 68.5 points per game since then, and they may be able to pick up some key wins over the likes of Davidson, Saint Louis and St. Bonaventure if that continues.

Wichita State Shockers

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    Wichita State's Tyson Etienne
    Wichita State's Tyson EtienneDavid Becker/Associated Press

    Tournament Resume: 9-6, NET: 87, KPI/SOR AVG: 99.0, BPI/KP/SAG AVG: 87.3

    Three Best Wins: at Oklahoma State, at UNLV, at Missouri

    Three Worst Losses: Tulane, North Texas, Kansas State

    Current Bracket Matrix Projection: Out (Appears in 0 of 74 projections)

    Wichita State entered 2022 with at least a modicum of hope for an at-large bid.

    As of Jan. 1, the Shockers were 9-3 with a Quadrant 1 win (at OK State) and no terrible losses. They also took Arizona to overtime on a neutral court back in Novembera "moral victory" over a potential No. 1 seed that could come up in the discussion if Wichita State ends up anywhere near the cut line.

    However, after opening AAC play with consecutive losses (each by double digits) to Memphis and Houston, Wichita State has already exhausted two of its limited opportunities for quality conference wins. And then the Shockers made things so much worse for themselves with Wednesday night's home loss to Tulane.

    As has been the case for most of the season, offensive execution was severely lacking. Shooting 23-of-86 from three-point range while committing 24 live-ball turnovers is a great way to guarantee a three-game losing skid. Unless they plan on winning the late-February rematches with the Tigers and Cougars, they'll need to just about run the table against the likes of Cincinnati, SMU and UCF in order to have a case for an at-large bid.

    This program is all too familiar with photo finishes, though. Wichita State played in the First Four last year, earned double-digit seeds in both 2016 and 2017 and was on pace for a similar result when the tourney was canceled in 2020. Maybe they'll be able to squeak in yet again.