Everyone knows that 68 teams make the NCAA field every season. That means 276 teams missed out on the fun and frivolity this past season.
Of the numerous schools that didn't make the NCAA tourney, here are 10 who look to be in good shape to do so next season. They are listed alphabetically.
| This past season: 23-12 overall, 12-6 in Pac-12; lost in NIT 1st round |
Why it will be in the NCAA tourney next season: A loaded recruiting class lends hope that the Wildcats will return to the top of the Pac-12 standings. Arizona loses two of its top three scorers, but brings in the nation's No. 2 class, headed by three five-star big men. C Caleb Tarczewski and PFs Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett should transform the Wildcats into a frontcourt-dominated team. There's also a solid incoming freshman guard in Gabe York. The key guy might be holdover G Nick Johnson, a five-star recruit last year who had an inconsistent freshman season. He may be asked to play point guard; can he handle the role? Coach Sean Miller looks as if he will have a big, athletic squad.
| This past season: 29-7 overall, 16-2 in Colonial; lost in NIT 3rd round |
Why it will be in the NCAA tourney next season: The Dragons had a strong case for an NCAA bid this past season but were bypassed. That should give them a huge chip on their shoulders next season, when they could be even better than they were this season. Drexel loses only one senior, and the guard duo of Frantz Massenet and Damion Lee should be one of the best in the mid-major ranks, if not the nation as a whole. Lee, who will be a sophomore, looks to have NBA potential. The biggest issue for coach Bruiser Flint is which big man is going to step up to replace Samme Givens, who was Drexel's only frontcourt player to average more than 5.6 points per game.
| This past season: 23-15 overall, 6-12 in Big Ten; lost in NIT final |
Why it will be in the NCAA tourney next season: The Golden Gophers were competitive in the Big Ten without F Trevor Mbakwe, their best player. Mbakwe has been granted a sixth season of eligibility, and his presence gives Minnesota a nightly double-double threat. Mbakwe, F Rodney Williams and Gs Justin Welch, Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins (though both are from the Memphis area, the Hollinses aren't related) would give the Gophers a potent starting five. The Gophers lose no seniors.
| This past season: 20-14 overall, 9-9 in Missouri Valley; lost in NIT 2nd round |
Why it will be in the NCAA tourney next season: The Panthers lose just one senior and return their top four scorers. UNI will be a solid offensive team, with numerous dangerous 3-point shooters, but the Panthers will have to get better on the boards. They were 1-3 this past season against the MVC's two tourney teams, with a win over Wichita State. Their biggest issue is the lack of a true point guard; no guard averaged more than 1.7 assists per game this past season. Still, this is a program used to winning, and it will be a prime contender for the MVC title.
| This past season: 15-16 overall, 5-13 in Big 12; no postseason play |
Why it will be in the NCAA tourney next season: The Sooners return their top seven scorers for coach Lon Kruger, who did a nice job in his first season with the Sooners despite the losing record. OU also has a solid recruiting class headed by Gs Buddy Hield and Jelon Hornbeak. The outside shooting must improve; outside of Steven Pledger, no one currently on the roster is a 3-point threat. Kruger is one of the nation's best coaches, and if he indeed gets the Sooners into the NCAAs next season, he would become the first coach in NCAA history to guide five schools to the tournament.
| This past season: 22-17 overall, 5-13 in Big East; won the CBI |
Why it will be in the NCAA tourney next season: Pitt is used to NCAA play; this was the first time in 11 seasons the Panthers did not make the NCAA field. They lose leading scorer Ashton Gibbs, but he was surprisingly mediocre this past season. Third-leading scorer Nasir Robinson also is gone. But G Tray Woodall will take over as the go-to guy, incoming freshman James Robinson should become the point guard and incoming freshman Steven Adams, the No. 5 recruit nationally, should provide a low-post scoring threat. Adams, a New Zealander, should be Pitt's best big man in a long time.
| This past season: 15-17 overall, 4-14 in Big East; no postseason |
Why it will be in the NCAA tourney next season: The Friars have a chance at making the biggest jump of anyone on this list. The biggest reason is that their recruiting class ranks eighth nationally. Providence returns its top eight players, including four double-figure scorers. The Friars add two five-star recruits in Gs Ricardo Ledo (the No. 6 player nationally) and Kris Dunn (No. 16). In short, there will be a ton of firepower. But the Friars need to undergo a defensive renaissance and do a much better job on the boards. The talent definitely will be in place; chemistry is another issue.
| This past season: 26-11 overall, 10-8 in Pac-12; won NIT |
Why it will be in the NCAA tourney next season: The Cardinal return five of its top six scorers from a team that caught fire late, and the backcourt of Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright is a good one. Both are solid 3-point threats. F Josh Owens will be missed, but four-star freshman F Rosco Allen, the No. 73 player in the recruiting class, could prove an able replacement. Free throw shooting must get better. The Pac-12 should be greatly improved next season, but the Cardinal has the talent to challenge for a top-four finish.
| This past season: 19-15 overall, 10-6 in SEC; lost in 2nd round of NIT |
Why it will be in the NCAA tourney next season: The Vols improved as the season progressed and finished tied for second in the SEC. The biggest reason for the improvement was the December enrollment of big man Jarnell Stokes, who was a member of the SEC's all-freshman team. Having Stokes for the entire reason is the biggest reason (literally and figuratively, as he is 6 feet 8 and 250 pounds) to expect improvement next season. But the Vols also return their top four scorers, as well as six of their top seven. The players adapted well to new coach Cuonzo Martin, and they should be even more comfortable with him next season. Truthfully, they shouldn't finish second in the league again; a third- or fourth-place finish seems more likely. But they also won't lose 15 games again, which means a 20-win season basically is a given.
| This past season: 19-14 overall, 11-7 in Pac-12; no postseason |
Why it will be in the NCAA tourney next season: The Bruins have signed two of the nation's top three prep players, F Shabazz Muhammad and G Kyle Anderson, and those two are expected to provide a massive infusion of talent to a team sorely in need of just that. That duo should be the focal point of a team that returns four of its top five scorers. There's a nice mix of size and athleticism, and if C Josh Smith, who will be a junior, gets serious about conditioning, this team could do some big-time damage in the NCAA tourney.
5 others to watch: Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oklahoma State, Richmond
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