Ten teams that made the NCAAs last season but could struggle to get back
Teams that made it to the Big Dance last year, but may have some trouble getting back
The NCAA Tournament consists of 32 automatic bids and 36 at-large bids. And it's not simple to get one of either. Which is why great coaches with solid programs miss the field of 68 annually.
And, yes, it's going to happen again this season.
Great coaches with solid programs will miss the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
So which 10 schools that earned bids last season are at a real risk of missing this season's NCAA Tournament? Here's one man's guess ...
The Big Ten is not the type of league where you can overcome losing four of your top five scorers without reloading with a heralded recruiting class. So the Hawkeyes are likely to slip significantly after earning a No. 7 seed in last season's NCAA Tournament. Peter Jok should be great and a possible All-American. But there probably won't be enough around him to allow him to lead the Hawkeyes to the NCAA Tournament for what would be the fourth straight season under Fran McCaffery.
It would be foolish to completely bet against Mike Brey considering he's made six of the past seven NCAA Tournaments, including the past two Elite Eights. But the Irish did lose their top two scorers in Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste, and Auguste also doubled as their best rebounder. Meantime, Notre Dame didn't reload with impactful freshmen or graduate transfers, at least not on paper. So while there's no doubt Brey will have the Irish back in the NCAA Tournament sometime soon, this season might be a season between seasons, if you know what I mean.
If you're wondering what team I'm most worried about making this list look silly, it is the Pitt Panthers. Because they do have some nice pieces returning, including Michael Young and Jamel Artis. Still, the losses of James Robinson and Sterling Smith are significant. And the ACC is just a monster that can eat you up. So I'll bet against Pitt making the NCAA Tournament. But, let the record show, I'm not betting much.
The Friars earned a No. 9 seed in last season's NCAA Tournament largely because of the excellent play of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. They combined to average 37.5 points, 12.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists, and there's just no way for a program not named Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas or Arizona to successfully endure the loss of two underclassmen of that caliber to the NBA Draft in the same year. So, yes, Ed Cooley has been terrific while returning Providence to respectability -- proof being three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. But the departures of Dunn and Bentil will almost certainly cause the Friars to slip to the wrong side of the Field of 68.
Saint Joe's made the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the past eight years last season thanks to Isaiah Miles, DeAndre Bembry and Aaron Brown combining to average 45.9 points and 19.1 rebounds. All three are now gone, though. And that's just too much for this Atlantic 10 program to lose in one offseason, which is why making a third NIT in a six-year span is probably about as ambitious as Saint Joe's can realistically be.
The Owls went 14-4 in the American Athletic Conference and earned a No. 10 seed in last season's NCAA Tournament. But three of the top four scorers from that team -- Quentin DeCosey, Jaylen Bond and Devin Coleman -- are gone. And there's no great way to immediately recover from those departures. Thus, Temple is at risk of missing the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the past four seasons.
Tubby Smith was named the Big 12 Coach of the Year after going 9-9 in the league, meaning people thought it was so amazing that he went to the NCAA Tournament with that roster that they gave him an award for making it happen. Now Smith is at Memphis. And Texas Tech's top two scorers (Toddrick Gotcher and Devaugntah Williams) are also gone. So while Chris Beard has done a nice job remaking the roster and adding respectable pieces, a trip to the NCAA Tournament in his first season at Texas Tech doesn't seem likely.
The Golden Hurricane snuck into last season's NCAA Tournament. And the fact that they did it with a senior-heavy roster meant this season would always be challenging. Seven of the eight players who averaged double-figures in minutes last season were in their final year of eligibility; they've all departed. That leaves Pat Birt as the only returning player who averaged more than 2.6 points last season, which leaves Frank Haith with an inexperienced roster that'll likely make it difficult to return to the NCAA Tournament.
The Trojans were a No. 8 seed in last season's NCAA Tournament, which suggests they were a top-32 team. But they actually finished ranked 55th at KenPom, and now three of the top five scorers from that roster are gone. Julian Jacobs and Nikola Javanovic entered the NBA Draft even though they weren't talented enough to get drafted. And Kaitin Reinhardt transferred for the second time in his college career, this time to Marquette. Consequently, Andy Enfield -- who lost six players total -- will have to significantly overachieve to have USC in NCAA Tournament contention again.
Vandy snuck into last season's NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed and were routed by Wichita Sate in the First Four. Then Kevin Stallings left for Pitt while Wade Baldwin and Damian Jones left for the NBA. So while I could envision Bryce Drew winning enough in what should be a so-so SEC to put the Commodores in the NCAA Tournament conversation, the more likely scenario has him needing to add his own recruits before returning Vanderbilt to the Big Dance.
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