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Jason Canlas

Jason Canlas

Five teams in danger of missing March Madness

We’re just one month away from one of the biggest sporting events on the calendar: March Madness. The 2024 tournament is shaping up to be an exciting one in a year with a lot of uncertainty surrounding the top contenders in college basketball. February is a time when some teams are starting to make a late-season push to determine seeding for the tournament while others are scrambling to improve their chances of getting into the tournament. Here are five teams in danger of missing March Madness in 2024.

 

1. Miami Hurricanes

Less than a year ago, the ‘Canes made a surprising run to their first Final Four in school history. They kept three out of the five starters from last year’s squad and even ranked as high as 8th this season. Unfortunately, they’ve gone into a downward spiral. Miami is just 2-5 in Quad 1 while also suffering disastrous home losses to Florida State and Louisville. It also dropped three of its last four games (one of them being a loss to Virginia after scoring a season-low 38 points). It’s safe to say the issues of the small-ball formula have finally caught up to the ‘Canes. A lack of size, injuries, and the perks of having one of the lowest-scoring benches out of any Power 6 team have plagued them from day one. Losing Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller to the NBA left Miami without a primary iso ball-handler and someone who could force tough shots around the rim. Without a tall frontcourt, Miami is struggling on the boards, leaving a lot of vulnerability in the paint and allowing opponents to get easy buckets inside. The ‘Canes have also been struggling to get to the free-throw line (16.5 FTA per game, 307th in D-1). Norchad Omier has been able to fill in the scoring gap left by Wong, but the inconsistencies of Wooga Poplar and FSU transfer Matthew Cleveland on offense haven’t provided enough help for an experienced roster. The expectations were sky-high for Miami heading into the season, but at 15-9, the path to the NCAA tournament doesn’t look promising.

2. Kansas State Wildcats

Last year, Kansas State went on an emotional run to the Elite Eight that saw Markquis Nowell have one of the best performances by a PG in NCAA tournament history. This season, we expected the Wildcats to regress after losing a lot of talent on last year’s squad. Cam Carter and David N’Guessan were the only players to return, leaving the Wildcats without any bit of chemistry that we saw last year. In a difficult Big 12, they’ve struggled against the best of the conference (5-6 in Big 12 play). The good news is that there will be plenty of Quad 1 opportunities for them to make a late push in the final weeks before conference tournaments begin (road games against Texas, Cincinnati, and Kansas before closing the season at home against Iowa State). Unfortunately, this offense just doesn’t look good enough to go on a late run. The Wildcats turn the ball over a lot (15 a game) and don’t shoot the three well (31% from 3), and if you’re not good in either of those categories, that’s a recipe bound for disaster. Coach Jerome Tang lives off the transfer portal and can easily rebuild this roster with better prospects in the future, but right now, the offensive woes are proving too much for K-State to overcome.

 

3. Memphis Tigers

As of February 14, the Tigers are riding on a three-game win streak and seemingly on track to repair the damage they did to their resume over the last month. That being said, they still have plenty of work to do over the next few weeks to ensure they don’t end up on the wrong side of the bubble. Penny Hardaway’s group lights up the scoreboard every week. St. John’s transfer David Jones is averaging nearly 22 points per game in this fast-paced offense and his teammates are experts at drawing a lot of fouls. On defense, the Tigers rank in the top 35 in both steals and blocks, but they can be overzealous, often trying to go for the steal and allowing opponents to find the open man on the wing or in the paint. Memphis has the veteran presence and talent to make a run (their starting lineup is all seniors), but it’ll need to maintain its momentum in these last seven games. The Tigers have three Quad 1 opportunities left (an away game at SMU before facing Florida Atlantic twice) and they’ll need to make the most of those opportunities before other teams on the bubble start to cut in front of them.

 

4. Gonzaga Bulldogs

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Gonzaga in this peculiar situation. Since Mark Few took over as head coach in 1999, the Zags have made the NCAA tournament 23 straight times. With one month left in the 2023-24 regular season, Gonzaga is on bubble watch. This obviously isn’t the strongest Gonzaga team we’ve seen in years past, but this isn’t to say we didn’t expect some sort of regression from the Zags. Drew Timme left for the NBA G League, Julian Strawther ended up being a first-round pick in the 2022 NBA draft, and Hunter Sallis transferred to Wake Forest. Even with transfers Graham Ike and Ryan Nembhard arriving in Spokane, this is still a talented group. But when it comes to the resume, the Zags don’t have many “good” wins to back it up. Before Saturday’s win against Kentucky, Gonzaga had zero Quad 1 wins all season. It squandered opportunities to rack up the two biggest wins in the country against UConn and Purdue. Had the Zags won both games, they wouldn’t even be in this discussion right now. The win against Kentucky was a good start, but now they’ll likely need to win out to keep pace with Saint Mary’s in the WCC race. With the way the Gaels have been playing all season, it’ll be challenging for Gonzaga to cruise through the WCC tournament and earn the automatic bid. Its chances at an at-large bid will likely be determined in its final two regular-season games against San Francisco and Saint Mary’s on the road. Things are getting interesting.

 

5. St. John’s Red Storm

St. John’s was 12-4 a month ago. It was a promising start for Rick Pitino in his first season with the Red Storm. Then the team would go on to lose seven of its next nine games. They’re currently sitting at 14-11 and trending in the wrong direction. The struggles haven’t gone unnoticed. St. John’s has been abysmal at the FT line all season (70.5% as a team) and from the field overall (44.2%). While their work on the offensive glass has been terrific (15 offensive rebounds per game, 3rd-most in D-1), they don’t have a reliable shooter they can go to if they’re struggling from inside the arc. Naheim Alleyne is arguably the best long-range shooter they have on the roster, but he’s not getting a lot of playing time under Pitino. Three Quad 1 opportunities still await the Red Storm, but it may be too late for a run now (unless they win the Big East tournament). If St. John’s wants to be a serious contender in the Big East, there have to be some major changes made around the coaching staff. The Red Storm has endured far too many years of mediocrity and the hiring of Pitino, one that was supposed to put the school back on the map, proved to be no different than previous St. John’s coaches in years past.

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