Anyone who enjoys college basketball understands this is the closest one can get to sheer chaos in sports. The tournament's playoff structure is quite literally designed to be unpredictable. That doesn't make it any less surprising to see preseason favorites fall flat, either due to one bad game during March Madness or a string of poor performances during the regular season.
A quick look at the 2021 preseason AP Poll illustrates college basketball's absurdity all too well. One-fifth of all top-25 squads failed to make the postseason, all of whom had reached the big dance a season prior. With over three hundred programs itching for a chance to make history, some are bound to fall. Here are three NCAA Tournament teams that might be at home next March.
You might have forgotten Rutgers even made the NCAA Tournament last season, their second appearance in a row. However, there was no shame losing to Notre Dame in a double-overtime classic, as the Scarlet Knights still showed they belonged. That might not be the case in 2022; gone is leading scorer and two-way player Ron Harper Jr., who also acted as the team's emotional leader. Ditto for Geo Baker, the team's third-leading scorer, and potentially Caleb McConnell, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
That's a whole lot of talent for Steve Pikiell to replace, even if McConnell does decide to return. Incoming freshmen Derek Simpson and Antwone Willfork should carve out solid roles on the team, but neither should be expected to be difference-makers in year one. Center Cliff Omoruyi and guard Paul Mulcahy are quality starters, but finding other scoring options on the roster is tricky. This could be a rebuilding year for Rutgers in the top-heavy Big Ten.
Sticking in the state of New Jersey, Seton Hall may be due for a bit of a setback in year one of the Shaheen Holloway era. While fans should be excited about their new head coach, building a program takes time. That's especially true when a roster loses their three best players. Jared Rhoden, an All-Big East Team selection, is headed for the NBA. Other departures include guards Myles Cale and Bryce Aiken; combined with Rhoden, that's more than half of Seton Hall's scoring production, although Aiken's concussion issues forced him to miss half the season.
Holloway has been active this offseason, bringing aboard three four-star recruits and transfers Al-Amir Dawes (Clemson) and Dre Davis (Louisville). The additions will keep the Pirates competitive, but is this a better team than last season, especially with a coach going against Power 5 competition for the first time ever? In addition, experienced guard play is essential to make a run in college basketball. Losing three quality starters at the position immediately puts the Pirates at a disadvantage compared to some of the more experienced groups in the Big East. A solid foundation is being built, but is it enough to make Seton Hall a true contender? It's hard to see happening next season.
The Hawkeyes had a Hawkeyes-type season last year, winning a ton of games in the regular season thanks to their offense, only to get eliminated in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. All-American Keegan Murray, the nation's leading scorer, is a future NBA lottery pick, while supporting players such as Jordan Bohannon and Joe Toussaint are gone as well. Of the returning players on the roster, only Patrick McCaffery, son of head coach Fran, is a former top-100 prospect. The team's incoming recruiting class is ranked just 53rd in the nation according to 247Sports, below schools like New Mexico and BYU.
There's still some ability here for Iowa, but it's hard to hype up a Murray-less team with no clear replacement to be found on the roster. Keegan's brother Kris could be the answer, but his decision to go to the NBA is still up in the air. The Hawkeyes have a lack of depth and senior experience, and have heavily relied upon gargantuan solo efforts from Murray and Luka Garza over the past two seasons. Is there an offensive dynamo that McCaffery can lean on in 2022? If the answer is no, it's hard to view this team as anything more than average in the Big Ten.