- May 2, 2015
Sorry, Auburn....better luck next year. 🤣 It's Champ Week, which can only mean one thing: It's time once again to try to extend what has become known far and wide in college basketball circles simply as The Streak.
Yes, we're referring to the 350 teams that will not win the 2022 men's college basketball national title. Every year this storied feature selects eight contenders out of the 358 Division I members. And every year since this piece's inception in 2016, the NCAA champion has indeed been one of those eight teams.
Here are the 350 teams that will not win the national championship, divided into three categories: ineligible, near misses and no clear path.
Near misses (20 teams)
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Nate Oats has worked miracles programmatically and, possibly, overachieved in 2022 specifically. Last year we grew accustomed to the idea that the Crimson Tide will make 3s and play excellent defense.
This year the first half of that statement has gone missing and the second half has become markedly more sporadic. Yet here is Alabama once again, marching toward a really nice seed. Well done, Coach! But perhaps Bama doesn't quite measure up to magic-eight material this time around.
2. Arkansas Razorbacks
Well these picks became terrifying right away. Arkansas can very easily make this "near miss" classification look ridiculous, and in fact the Razorbacks have been one of the strongest teams in the country over the past seven weeks.
Still, even if we ignore the 0-3 start to SEC play, Eric Musselman's team was measurably less accurate from the field than the league average over the other 15 conference games, too. Then again, the Hogs did great work to offset that with shot volume. Again, this is a risky pick.
3. Auburn Tigers
Did someone just say "risky pick"? Auburn was No. 1 in the AP poll for three weeks. Jabari Smith is the presumptive No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft. Walker Kessler is arguably the best rim defender in the nation. Bruce Pearl took this program to the Final Four three years ago, and he might win 2022 national coach of the year. Worried? Who could possibly be worried about saying Auburn won't win the national title?
The only thing weighing against all of the above -- and maybe it shouldn't -- is that the Tigers have been surprisingly ineffective on offense away from home since late January. Pearl's group scored an anemic 0.96 points per possession over those six games, two of which were against the otherwise unprepossessing likes of Missouri and Georgia.
4. UConn Huskies
These are the best of days for a UConn program that's about to play in a second consecutive NCAA tournament for the first time since Jim Calhoun was head coach. The Huskies have reached this height in 2022 with a big three consisting of R.J. Cole, Adama Sanogo and Tyrese Martin.
Great players all, it's just that Sanogo gets into foul trouble from time to time. The sophomore has been whistled at least four times on each of the past four occasions he has stepped onto the floor. Fouling out in 18 minutes didn't matter against Georgetown, but it certainly would in the NCAA tournament. The Huskies' best attribute on offense is excellent shot volume, and that comes in no small part from Sanogo pulling down his teammates' missed shots.
Should bracket-fillers expect Illinois or Purdue to have long-term staying power in the NCAA tournament? Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire
5. Illinois Fighting Illini
Brad Underwood's group began Big Ten play 6-0 with some impressive scoring displays. Ah, we all said, so this is the post-Ayo-Dosunmu Fighting Illini. Surround Kofi Cockburn with well-spaced shooters, many of whom are older than Dosunmu and a fair portion of the rest of the NBA.
Then the scoring dropped precipitously, but the Illini still bobbed and weaved their way to the top seed at the Big Ten tournament. Ah, we're all saying, Illinois outscored its conference opponents by a total of seven points (1,011 to 1,004) over the final 14 games of the Big Ten season. It was riveting spectator sport, and several close wins included a Trent Frazier 3 in the 40th minute. But the template might prove difficult to replicate six straight times.
6. Iowa Hawkeyes
Keegan Murray found it difficult to wrest the Big Ten spotlight away from Wisconsin's Johnny Davis and Purdue's Jaden Ivey this season. Davis and Ivey deserve every ounce of the praise they get, but Murray has some advantages if you're scouting for a Midwestern Kemba Walker figure for the 2022 tournament.
Murray gets more spacing help from good 3-point-shooting teammates than Davis. Plus, unlike Ivey, Murray isn't obligated to share the ball with two exceptional talents in the paint. Iowa was the best per-possession team in the league in Big Ten play, and Murray could blow up huge in the tournament. There's no "but" here. Eight is just a really small number.
7. LSU Tigers
The LSU team that started the season 15-1 would not be found here in the "near miss" category. In truth, the current 21-10 version of the Tigers isn't all that far off its previous incarnation, it's just that the SEC really is that tough.
If there's one facet where the Tigers are suspect, however, it's 2-point accuracy. Well, that and turnovers. Actually, the defensive rebounding was a bit pedestrian in SEC play. Make no mistake, Will Wade's guys will absolutely force you to give the ball away multiple times. But maybe it's facets, plural, that are murmuring "near miss" here.
8. Murray State Racers
The Racers are happy they won't have to see Johni Broome in the bracket. The Morehead State big man wore out Murray State in the Ohio Valley title game to the tune of 32 points despite 6-of-11 shooting at the line. The Racers prevailed by four, but it was close.
Matt McMahon's big three of KJ Williams, Tevin Brown and Justice Hill manufactured points and wins in abundance all season long. That being said, Broome running amok highlighted one potential area of vulnerability for this somewhat undersized rotation. The OVC was outscored and outperformed by the Racers, yet the league still shot a pretty normal 48% on its 2s against Murray State.
9. Ohio State Buckeyes
E.J. Liddell is versatility personified, Chris Holtmann's men collectively are an accurate bunch (particularly on their 2s) and give OSU credit on defense. After some iffy defending in the paint over the first half of the Big Ten season, Ohio State improved markedly and held opponents to 44.6% shooting on 2s over the regular season's final nine games.
It's possible the renewed commitment to contesting shots at the rim, however, did no particular favors for OSU's defensive rebounding. No Big Ten team gave up a higher volume of shots in conference play, as the Buckeyes were subpar on the defensive glass and rarely forced turnovers.
10. Providence Friars
Providence gets to the line as often as an SEC team but fouls with the infrequency of an ACC member. This advantage in points when the clock isn't running has given a small but significant lift to Ed Cooley's close-game wizards.
No, an edge in free throw rate might not pack quite the same punch in the field of 68. It is rare that Final Four "how they got here" features start with tributes to this or that team consistently getting to the line over four tournament games. Still, it seems like the Friars are being slightly undervalued just for being clutch. These guys do make 3s and they are, after all, 22-2 against teams not named Villanova.
11. Purdue Boilermakers
Not to cut to the chase or anything, but, yes, the concern with Purdue is the defense. What else could it be? Jaden Ivey will thrive at the next level with the ball in his hands more often. Trevion Williams is Bob Cousy, just from a different spot on the floor. Zach Edey is quietly creeping up on Oscar Tshiebwe for the national offensive rebound percentage title. Basically, Purdue will outscore you even though you will never, ever turn the ball over against the Boilermakers.
The one thing this defense does superbly is rebound. You will be limited to one shot, but you will get an absolute ton of those first shots. Also, a fair share of those attempts will go in the basket.
12. Saint Mary's Gaels
If your default program stereotype for Saint Mary's centers on skilled veterans with an international flavor sharing the ball and scoring efficiently, your picture is incomplete. In its win at home over Gonzaga, SMC held the Bulldogs to their worst game on offense in three years (and that result was also recorded by the Gaels). The Zags were so bad that afterward Drew Timme trimmed a burgeoning handlebar mustache to erase the memory of a 2-of-10 outing.
You don't want to be an offense facing Randy Bennett, particularly in the round of 64 or Sweet 16 when he has had quality time to focus solely on your tape. You do, however, want to follow your shots. Saint Mary's was just average on the defensive glass in West Coast Conference play.
13. San Diego State Aztecs
If you haven't seen much of San Diego State, do yourself a favor and watch this team in the tournament. Nathan Mensah in particular is worth your attention on defense. If there were a stat combining block percentage with total and utter nonchalance, the 6-foot-10 senior would be the all-time leader.
Complete your bracket by selecting the winner for each game of the 2022 men's NCAA tournament. Play Tournament Challenge
Complete your bracket by selecting the winner for each game of the 2022 men's NCAA tournament. Play Tournament Challenge
It must be all the more maddening to have your shot swatted by a defender who imparts the sense that you're not even making him sweat. (At least Walker Kessler and Chet Holmgren caper about frenetically and look like they're expending effort.) But, yes, the worry with SDSU is the offense. What else could it be? Matt Bradley's a baller, but he needs help and perhaps 5% more discretion on shot selection.
14. San Francisco Dons
San Francisco is all about the shot volume, both on offense and on defense. The Dons pulled down a comparatively robust 31% of their missed shots in the ultra-low offensive-rebounding West Coast Conference. Todd Golden's team also takes very good care of the ball, and the result of all of the above was by far the highest shot volume in the league.
On defense, USF forces a fair number of opponent turnovers and holds its own on the glass. At least in WCC play, low shot volume for opponents outweighed forcing misses as an explanation for why this D gets the love at KenPom. This is a Sweet 16-level team and, at a program that hasn't reached the round of 64 since 1998, that's a notable achievement.
15. Tennessee Volunteers
If picking nine teams were allowed, you likely would not find Rick Barnes and his tenacious defensive stalwarts under "near miss." That's how close this was. Not only are the Volunteers capable of beating any opponent, they're peaking at the proverbial right time. Tennessee is 9-1 in February and March.
The question with UT is simply what to make of a surprising fact. This was easily the worst 2-point shooting team in the league in SEC play. Can a group that made just 44.9% of its 2s in conference play really win a national title? Come to think of it, Duke was really bad inside the arc in the 2010 ACC (45.0%), and look what happened. Who knows, maybe the Vols will follow that example.
16. Texas Longhorns
With the arrival of Chris Beard and a flock of big-name transfers coming to campus, Texas was discussed rather intensively in the preseason. Now that it's March, we find that the Longhorns performed ... more or less exactly as expected. Nice!
On their way to hitting their performance target, however, the Horns did foul with some gusto in Big 12 play. Beard has outdistanced the league in each of the past two seasons at each of his past two stops for the frequency with which opponents attempt free throws in conference play. Yes, Texas Tech also fouled now and then on its way to the 45th minute of the 2019 title game. But on the season as a whole, Texas is in the 300s, which is new terrain even for Beard.
17. Texas Tech Red Raiders
It has been an amazing five years for Texas Tech. For the balance of the 21st century prior to Chris Beard's hiring, the Red Raiders were topping out at a No. 6 seed once every decade or so. Now, Mark Adams is about to earn the program its third top-four seed in the past four tournaments.
This was the best defense in the league in Big 12 play, which is a rather incredible boast to be able to make. Nevertheless, the question that arises in March is whether all that tenacious effort has perhaps taken its toll? Texas Tech closed the season by playing three games in a row that came down to the final minutes against teams outside the top tier of the Big 12 standings.
18. UCLA Bruins
Let's see, now we're categorically dismissing the national-title hopes of a team that reached the 2021 Final Four, returned just about everyone and has improved measurably since last year. Right, no danger here.
The Bruins are so tough on both sides of the ball, it makes one wonder how in the world this team was swept by Oregon. Wait, that's it! The Ducks won the first game between the two teams in part because they matched UCLA's usual level of very-low-turnover ball. As for the second game, well, if you're a tournament opponent and you can make the Bruins shoot 4-of-24 on their 3s, by all means do so. But the "don't turn the ball over" bit feels more feasible.
19. USC Trojans
Few teams in recent memory have drawn less benefit from outstanding interior defense than USC. Pac-12 teams ran wild from beyond the arc, draining 39% of their 3s against the Trojans. The league as a whole shot just 33% from out there. Clearly, the hoops gods owe Andy Enfield's team a break or two on D.
On offense, Southern Cal's is an interior-oriented attack that is again excellent at cleaning the glass. (Take a bow, Chevez Goodwin.) The only quibble to be raised here is that an interior-oriented offense should perhaps make more of its 2s? Despite some nice 3-point shooting (35%), USC came in right at the Pac-12 average for accuracy from the field overall.
20. Wisconsin Badgers
The injury that Johnny Davis suffered in the regular-season finale against Nebraska reportedly will not prevent him from playing in the Big Ten tournament. That's great news for all who've enjoyed watching the sophomore record one of the more remarkable individual seasons in recent memory. He has elevated a team that is not without question marks.
It was hard to spot visually because the Badgers missed 3s all season long, but Wisconsin's Big Ten opponents also missed 3s all season long. Bad perimeter shooting by conference opponents was the strength of a UW defense that, in turn, was the strength of the team. If, for a change, those 3s should fall for an opponent in the NCAA tournament, Wisconsin could be in trouble.