No two NCAA Tournament fields are alike. They never have been and never will be. Each year the best bracket in the sports universe gets a makeover from the year before, which looks markedly different from the year before that one and on down the line.
For this upcoming season, we'll dish out the bad news before the good news. Later in the week I'll be publishing which teams that didn't make it into the 2018 NCAA Tournament will break through for 2019. But here, let's get to the programs that I'm forecasting to the NIT (or worse). It's not a joyous thing, but it's unavoidable. Certain schools, no matter how optimistic their fan bases or coaches are in the preseason, won't be punching their tickets to the Big Dance next March.
I did this last preseason and wound up going. I'm adding a ninth this time around and am drawing from the conferences from last season that earned multiple bids: the American, the A-10, the ACC, the Big 12, the Big East, the Big Ten, the Mountain West, the Pac-12 and the SEC.
To coaches who will read this and use it as bulletin board material, you're welcome.
Last season's seed: No. 4
Outlook: Arizona got uppercutted out of the 2018 tournament by No. 13 Buffalo, which delivered one of the most overwhelming, lopsided upsets by a double-digit seed in tournament history (89-68). While it's true that Sean Miler's program , the roster for the upcoming season is a sharp drop-off from the talent a year ago. Gone is No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton. Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier also left college eligibility on the table to chase pro dreams. The team's two other starters from last season, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic, graduated. There is still some talent in Tucson, but this is asking a lot and Arizona's non-conference schedule is so challenging that it might be submerging.
Last season's seed: No. 4
Outlook: This could be a foolish pick. Wichita State last missed the NCAA Tournament in 2011. The last time it failed to win 25 games was a decade ago, in Gregg Marshall's second season there. But with the early NBA departure of Landry Shamet and the graduations of Shaq Morris, Conner Frankamp, Zach Brown and three other seniors, a few steps back from last season's No. 4 seed is a virtual guarantee. Marshall's a fiery, apt coach. Maybe he makes me look dumb here, but heading into the season it's hard to justify WSU as a top-four team in the AAC and if that's the case, finishing fifth or lower in that conference doesn't assure you NCAA Tournament inclusion.
Last season's seed: No. 6
Outlook: First off, take a look at all of Miami's non-league schedule. It's poor. This is what a coach does when he knows his talent is taking a drastic dip from one year to the next. (Miami lost top-20 pick Lonnie Walker in addition to Bruce Brown, who was taken 42nd in the NBA Draft.) So even if the Hurricanes play well in November and December, barring a one- or two-loss total by Christmas, Miami's not going to be building up a top-tier résumé. That's going to hurt, because it's unlikely the Hurricanes turn up as a top-six team in the ACC. If and when that is the case, a weak non-con is going to be anchoring this team in a bad way. The good news for Jim Larranaga is his program was quietly absolved of wrongdoing by the FBI when it released superseding indictments in the offseason.
Last season's seed: No. 7
Outlook: The Aggies went the opposite way of Miami. Billy Kennedy lost his three best players before they could graduate in order for them to chase the NBA, but scheduled up anyway. Robert Williams went 27th to the Boston Celtics and was never coming back. D.J. Hogg could have been a top-30 player in college hoops this season, but instead he's in Philadelphia's system. Tyler Davis would have gone down as one of the most statistically accomplished big men in program history if he'd come back, but school was just not his thing. Davis is now with Oklahoma City. Credit to Kennedy for building this type of slate in November and December. If A&M manages to be on the bubble, the committee should reward him for not playing scared.
Last season's seed: No. 7
Outlook: Well, now we find out what this program is after the departure of Dan Hurley. With Hurley off to UConn, David Cox was promoted from within to take over. Rhody, which may well still be in the top half of the A-10 this season, lost too much to reasonably be expected back into the NCAA Tournament. Five critical seniors, led by E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell, moved on. Fatts Russell is back, though, and it's just so college basketball that college basketball has a guy named Fatts Russell. The big challenge ahead for Cox is to keep URI relevant within its region and competitive near the top of its conference in the next three seasons.
Last season's seed: No. 8
Outlook: Greg McDermott's Creighton's a bubble team that will come up short. I absolutely loved Khyri Thomas' game. He left college a year early and is now a member of the Detroit Pistons. Marcus Foster, the team's best player last season, graduated. The Big East is sort of a cluster this season. I don't think Creighton has more talent than at least five teams (Villanova, St. John's, Marquette, Providence, Butler) in the league. McDermott's coaching can overcome some of that, but what about the tall tasks in the non-con?to worry about , but five months from now? I think
Last season's seed: No. 10
Key non-conference opponents: vs. Florida (Battle 4 Atlantis, Nov. 21-23, with potential games against Wisconsin, Stanford, Butler or Virginia), vs. Notre Dame (Dec. 4 at Madison Square Garden), vs. USC (Dec. 15 in Tulsa)
Outlook: The Sooners' infamous swoon from one-time projected No. 2 seed all the way down to No. 10 was one of the most dominant story lines heading into Selection Sunday last season. In fact, Trae Young's (oddly) polarizing style brought on a hating bandwagon for OU that outdid anything the frenzied college football crowd could provide against Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. The Sooners bled out to a 3-8 finish leading into Selection Sunday. But you'll recall the roster wasn't productive outside of Young. I need to see how this team responds without having the most all-around productive freshman in college basketball history (Young accounted for a sport-leading 38.5 percent of Oklahoma's scoring possessions and roughly 44 points per game) before thinking it can make the NCAA Tournament. However, be on the lookout for Brady Manek, who will gladly take on a bigger role.
Last season's seed: No. 11
Outlook: St. Bonaventure is a fun team, but loses its most talented backcourt in program history. Jalen Adams and Matt Mobley made for an awesome pair. They got Bona to a 26-win season, the highest in school history. It was just the second Dance appearance in Mark Schmidt's 11-year tenure. But he's doing more there than most coaches would. That fan base is extremist in the most fun, basketball-type ways. But this year will be a drift back to the middle of the A-10. Hey, at least there's the win at Syracuse, the triple OT home victory classic against Davidson and a defeat in the NCAAs of UCLA. What a fun team that was.
Last season's seed: No. 11
Outlook: Arizona State didn't lose anyone to the NBA Draft, but the three-guard senior attack of Shannon Evans, Tra Holder and Kodi Justice is going to loom over this team this season, I think. ASU got off to that nobody-saw-it-coming start last season, remember? Won at Kansas, beat Xavier and K-State and started 12-0? Then went 8-12 the rest of the season. Bobby Hurley scheduled his team fairly this upcoming season; the Sun Devils will have their proper chances. I'm not seeing enough probable quality wins in November and December to pair with a good finish in an OK Pac-12. Even still, Hurley's doing well in Tempe and in theory should have ASU set up in 2019-2020 for a return to the Big Dance.