Friday, May 27, 2022

Dribble Handoff: Predicting which sub-50 NET teams will reach the 2022 NCAA Tournament

We are nearly six weeks out from Selection Sunday for the 2022 NCAA Tournament, which means it’s officially time to start monitoring Jerry Palm’s Bracketology, if you haven’t been already. If your team hasn’t picked up many Quad 1 victories in the NET rankings, time and opportunities are growing scarce.

But hope is not lost for those on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament field. In fact, there were a handful of intriguing teams sitting outside the top 50 of the NET at the beginning of this week. Among them were North Carolina, Creighton, Arkansas, Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame, Memphis and Syracuse, just to name a few.

As you can see, there are plenty of talented squads and big-name programs that are going to be scrambling to build NCAA Tournament-worthy resumes over the final month and a half of the regular season. History tells us that at least a few of those squads currently outside the NCAA Tournament picture or teetering on the bubble will finish strong and reach the Big Dance.

For this week’s edition of the Dribble Handoff, our writers are predicting which teams currently 50th or below in the NET they believe are destined to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Iona

Put me down for Iona — and not just because the Gaels are at least 47 spots better at KenPom than every other Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference member, which suggests they’ll likely secure the league’s automatic bid to the the 2022 NCAA Tournament. I’m going with Iona because it’s a legitimate at-large candidate. Rick Pitino has a really good team. Iona is 16-3 overall and 8-0 in MAAC games. Perhaps more importantly, the Gaels are 3-3 in the first two quadrants with zero losses outside of Quadrant 1 — and Jerry Palm is currently projecting them as a No. 9 seed, which illustrates just how good of a spot Iona is in. Barring injuries, the Gaels will be favored in every remaining game between now and Selection Sunday. Barring a collapse, they’ll make the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season while Pitino’s former employer, Louisville, misses it for the second straight year — which is, by the way, something that never happened while Pitino coached the Cardinals. — Gary Parrish

Florida State

I’m scanning at the schools from multi-bid leagues that I think offer the most reasonable projection to eventually qualify as an at-large inclusion on Selection Sunday. UNC is technically outside the top 50 (at No. 51) as of today, but even that feels like a skirt. The obvious candidate is Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles. FSU ranks 58th. The 13-5 Noles got off to a raggedy 7-5 start but have won six straight and sit in a tie for second in the ACC. A sweep of fellow bubble team Miami in this six-game winning streak could prove crucial five weeks from now. Of course, last week’s OT home win over Duke is also improving Florida State’s profile. The school owns a 5-3 record in the top two quadrants. Much work to do, but when you consider that Hamilton’s had an NCAA Tournament team the past five years (with three second-weekend appearances), it’s foolish to think this team won’t, at the very least, be in the mix to get a bid. — Matt Norlander

Arkansas

Following a loss at Texas A&M on Jan. 8, Arkansas dropped to No. 93 in the NET. The Razorbacks had dropped five of their last six and were off to an 0-3 start in SEC play. They have flipped a switch since, however, and have risen nearly 40 spots in the NET in less than three weeks. Arkansas has won four straight, including a 44-point win over Missouri and a win at then-No. 12 LSU without coach Eric Musselman. The emergence of sophomore big man Jaylin Williams, who’s averaging 14.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and three steals per game over the winning streak, has been a major factor in the change. 

Considering the roster remake following last season’s 25-7 season and Elite Eight run, it’s no shock that it’s taken some time for this team to gel. Last season’s squad was the same way. It was almost unrecognizable compared to Musselman’s first team at Arkansas in 2019-20, and things looked bleak after a 2-4 start to SEC play. But the Razorbacks responded by rattling off 11 straight SEC victories to earn a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Three of the top four scorers from that team are gone, but Musselman knows how to blend newcomers together on the fly, and we’re beginning to see it again. While this Arkansas team is unlikely to match its predecessor’s achievements of a second-place SEC finish and the program’s deepest NCAA Tournament run in a quarter-century, it is undoubtedly trending up toward another appearance in the Big Dance. — David Cobb

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