The college basketball landscape has shifted quite a bit since the last NCAA Tournament began 20 months ago. Back then, the sport was enjoying the presence of players like Ja Morant and Zion Williamson and programs like Dayton and San Diego State weren't in the NCAA Tournament, let alone the top 10.
As the 2020-21 season approaches, there is a new wave of stars in the sport, and a new crop of teams looking to play the breakout role that the Flyers and Aztecs did last season. Our team of writers has projected how things will go in the major conferences and who will make the Final Four.
Now it's time for a bleaker topic. Which teams that secured at-large bids to the 2019 NCAA Tournament are least likely to return to the Big Dance this season? There will undoubtedly be more than seven that end up fitting the bill, but those identified here are the programs with the steepest uphill climbs to keep their NCAA Tournament streaks going.
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As colleague Matt Norlander noted in a similar piece, this exercise provides bulletin board material for teams. But the fact remains that the ebbs and flows of the sport will claim the postseason aspirations of several teams this season. So without further ado, here are the seven 2019 NCAA Tournament teams most likely to miss out this time around.
2019 seed: No. 4
Buzz Williams left for Texas A&M soon after directing the Hokies to a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Virginia Tech's top five scorers all departed from the 2018-19 team as well, which left first-year coach Mike Young with quite a rebuild last season. The former Wofford coach led the Hokies to a somewhat miraculous 13-4 start. Eventually, the grind of the ACC wore down the undersized roster Young cobbled together and Virginia Tech finished 16-16 (7-13 ACC). Seeing what Young does with this program over the long haul will be fun -- last season's flashes were encouraging -- but the Hokies don't have the talent yet to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
2019 seed: No. 5
The Bulldogs were quietly among the SEC's most-efficient offensive teams two seasons ago when veteran coach Ben Howland directed the team to a 23-11 record and a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But there's been an egress of talent since that leaves Mississippi State in the position of replacing its top four scorers from last year's 20-11 team that appeared likely to end up on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. So returning to the field of 68 this season will be a tough proposition as Howland welcomes five freshmen and two transfers to the program.
2019 seed: No. 8
The 2018-19 Rams won the Atlantic 10 regular season crowd with an impressive 16-2 league record but actually qualified for the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team after losing in the conference tournament. The Atlantic 10 seems to have gotten significantly deeper over the last couple of seasons, though, and VCU regressed to the pack while dealing with injuries last season. Now the roster is in a state of transition. Barring a run through the league tournament, the Rams are unlikely to be back in the Big Dance this season as an at-large bid seems out of reach with such a young team.
2019 seed: No. 9
The arrivals of Oregon transfer C.J. Walker, a former five-star prospect, and Louisville graduate transfer Darius Perry provide reason for optimism as the Knights try and bounce back from last season's 16-14 campaign. But the loss of leading scorer Collin Smith, who is stepping away from basketball, is a blow that could make finishing in the top half of the AAC tough. UCF took Duke down to the wire in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament in a classic game that showed how the program has grown under Johnny Dawkins. It's not reasonable to expect this rendition of the Knights to be the team that returns the program to the big stage, but the program has nonconference games against Oklahoma, Auburn, Michigan and Florida State on the schedule that could change the narrative.
2019 seed: No. 11
A lot has changed since the Owls made the First Four of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Legendary coach Fran Dunphy stepped down and left the program to former Owls star Aaron McKie, and McKie will be relying on a bevy of young players this season after a disappointing 14-17 season. There is room for someone to emerge from a crowded middle tier in the AAC and make the NCAA Tournament. But it's hard to imagine a team as youthful as UCF or Temple fitting the bill. However, the Owls will have a nice early opportunity in the Hall of Fame Tip Off to prove otherwise as they are scheduled to face Virginia Tech and Rhode Island.
2019 seed: No. 4
The Wildcats have dealt with a staggering amount of roster turnover since peaking at No. 12 in the AP poll two seasons ago and securing a No. 4 seed in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. But there was a precipitous drop-off last year as Kansas State struggled to an 11-21 record. It's hard to imagine Year Two of the rebuild going significantly better as the Wildcats must replace their top three scorers.