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August 16, 2010

Ten teams that may not return to Big Dance

We're still more than six months from March Madness, but, really, if you're a fan, it's never too early to discuss the NCAA tournament.

Here's a look at 10 teams that were seeded 12th or better last season that better not be making any NCAA reservations for this season. These teams have questions -- some of them of a serious nature -- and look more like NIT teams than NCAA squads.

NCAA seed/result: Lost to Duke in second round as a No. 8 seed; defeated Louisville in first round
Last season's record: 24-11, 13-5 Pac-10
The buzz: The Bears won the Pac-10 regular-season title thanks to a veteran lineup and conference player of the year Jerome Randle. The top four scorers were seniors, leaving Cal's roster seriously depleted. Jorge Gutierrez (5.5 points per game) is the leading returning scorer, but he is known more for his defensive contributions. The signing class, led by guards Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin, ranked 21st in the country, but it may be more of a foundational class rather than one that wins right away. Lucky for coach Mike Montgomery, a number of teams in his conference still are rebuilding after lackluster seasons.
NCAA seed/result: Lost to Missouri in first round as a No. 7 seed
Last season's record: 21-11, 9-7 ACC
The buzz: Clemson returns three starters, but the Tigers have to replace All-ACC selection Trevor Booker up front. Clemson also had to make an unexpected coaching switch after DePaul lured away Oliver Purnell, who had led the Tigers to three consecutive NCAA appearances. Clemson made a good move in hiring former Wright State coach Brad Brownell, but he favors a more deliberate pace than this team was accustomed to playing under Purnell. Don't be surprised if Clemson takes a small step backward this season before taking a couple of strides forward in future years.
NCAA seed/result: Reached Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed; defeated Temple and Wisconsin before losing to Kentucky
Last season's record: 29-5, 13-1 Ivy League
The buzz: Steve Donahue needed seven seasons to build Cornell into an NCAA tournament team. Personnel-wise, the Big Red are starting from scratch. After winning three consecutive Ivy titles, Donahue has gone to Boston College, and the core of Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale and Jeff Foote graduated. Chris Wroblewski and Adam Wire are the only returning players to average more than 10 minutes per game last season. Clearly, Wroblewski, a returning starter, will need to take a leadership role. New coach Bill Courtney likely won't run the same 3-point-oriented, up-tempo system, but he is familiar with building a program from the ground up. Before he was an assistant in the ACC and Big East, Courtney recruited the core players for George Mason's run to the 2006 Final Four.
NCAA seed/result: Lost to Ohio State in second round as a No. 10 seed; beat Oklahoma State in first round
Last season's record: 23-13, 7-9 ACC
The buzz: Georgia Tech relied heavily on a frontcourt that has been decimated by the departures of lottery pick Derrick Favors and second-round pick Gani Lawal, who combined for 25.5 points and 16.9 rebounds. Tech needs redshirt freshmen Kammeon Holsey and Daniel Miller to deliver productive minutes in the frontcourt, but it's even more critical that the Yellow Jackets get dramatic improvement from their guards. Georgia Tech ranked 10th in the ACC last season in assist-turnover ratio (0.9-1) and turnover margin (minus-1.22).
NCAA seed/result: Lost to California in first round as a No. 8 seed
Last season's record: 20-13, 11-7 Big East
The buzz: The Cardinals battled inconsistency last season and lost four starters, including Samardo Samuels, their best big man. Louisville had problems offensively, especially from 3-point range, shooting just 33.7 percent. The leading returning scorer is Jared Swopshire, who averaged 7.5 points. It's time for the light to go on for junior forward Terrence Jennings, who was expected to be a star when he arrived at Louisville. Too often, he was a non-entity last season. There doesn't look to be an immediate-impact newcomer, though Memphis transfer Roburt Sallie is a solid 3-point shooter.
NCAA seed/result: Lost to Michigan State in first round as a No. 12 seed
Last season's record: 22-12, 11-5 WAC
The buzz: The Aggies finished second in the WAC's regular-season race, finishing three games behind Utah State, but they won the league tourney to grab an NCAA bid. New Mexico lost its top two scorers, guards Jahmar Young and Jonathan Gibson. Young also was No. 2 in assists, while Gibson led the Aggies in steals and was the team's most prolific 3-point shooter. The frontcourt should be fine, but the backcourt obviously is a huge question. It doesn't help that coach Marvin Menzies booted touted freshman guard Johnny Higgins off the team last week for a violation of team rules.
NCAA seed/result: Reached Sweet 16 as a No. 9 seed; defeated UNLV and Kansas before losing to Michigan State
Last season's record: 30-5, 15-3 Missouri Valley
The buzz: The Panthers pulled the biggest upset of the tourney by beating Kansas in the second round, but three starters are gone, including the top two scorers. The frontcourt was hit especially hard by graduation, with 7-footer Jordan Eglseder and 6-8 forward Adam Koch moving on. Also gone is guard Ali Farokmanesh, whose 3-pointer iced the win over KU. UNI always is going to be a fundamentally sound, defense-minded team. But the MVC should be a bit deeper than it was last season, and that is going to ultimately be UNI's undoing.
NCAA seed/result: Lost to Old Dominion in first round as a No. 6 seed
Last season's record: 23-12, 10-8 Big East
The buzz: The most obvious problem for Notre Dame is how it will replace three-time All-America forward Luke Harangody, but the loss of four-year starting point guard Tory Jackson could prove equally troublesome. The Irish have two solid wings in Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin, though Martin is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and hasn't played in two seasons. Carleton Scott's late-season surge offers plenty of reason for optimism. But the Irish's fortunes could depend on whether incoming freshman Eric Atkins can deliver immediately as a capable replacement for Jackson. Don't be surprised to see the Irish head into the final weeks of the season in their customary spot on the NCAA bubble.
NCAA seed/result: Lost to Butler in first round as a No. 12 seed
Last season's record: 26-7, 15-1 Conference USA
The buzz: The Miners rolled to the C-USA regular-season title, but eight players and coach Tony Barbee are gone. Barbee left for Auburn, and was replaced by Tim Floyd, an excellent Xs and Os guy who had to leave his last job, at USC, with the NCAA breathing down the Trojans' neck. Floyd's first task is rebuilding the talent level because of the departure of those eight players, including key big men Derrick Caracter and Arnett Moultrie -- Caracter to the NBA and Moultrie to Mississippi State via a transfer. Speedy guard Randy Culpepper becomes the focal point of the offense, but with C-USA gradually becoming a deeper league, will Culpepper have enough help? It doesn't appear as if he will.
NCAA seed/result: Lost to Kentucky in second round as a No. 9 seed; defeated Texas in first round
Last season's record: 20-11, 9-7 ACC
The buzz: Wake Forest could struggle to finish in the top half of the ACC after losing NBA lottery pick Al-Farouq Aminu, starting point guard Ish Smith and starting center Chas McFarland. The Demon Deacons must adapt quickly to new coach Jeff Bzdelik, who was hired from Colorado after Dino Gaudio was fired. The good news is that C.J. Harris showed promise in his freshman season, and incoming freshman J.T. Terrell was rated by Rivals.com as having the best range of any shooting guard in the 2010 recruiting class. Wake Forest also needs a breakthrough season from former five-star prospect Tony Woods up front.

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