Dribble Handoff: Texas A&M, Purdue among unranked college basketball teams eligible for 2023 NCAA Tournament
When the preseason AP Top 25 was released last October ahead of the 2021-22 college basketball season, there were a few absences that seemed noteworthy in hindsight. Arizona stands out as a bad miss for voters, given the Wildcats won the regular season and Pac-12 Tournament titles while earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But who could have predicted that Arizona would be elite under freshman coach Tommy Lloyd?
Other notable rebuffs in the 2021-22 preseason poll included Texas Tech and Providence, who both reached the Sweet 16. The Red Raiders were a No. 3 seed for the Big Dance, while the Friars were a No. 4 seed after not receiving a single vote in the preseason poll.
In light of Monday’s release offor the 2022-23 season, it’s time to find out who the underrated teams are this season. Kyle Boone has already covered some of the teams, but for this week’s edition of the Dribble Handoff, our editors specifically pick the unranked teams they believe will compete in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
Buzz Williams made the NCAA Tournament in Year 4 at Marquette and Year 4 at Virginia Tech. After nearly making it last season, I think he will also move on to the Big Dance as a 4th grader at Texas A&M.
I’m super high on the Aggies. They are sacking all affected players – in addition to Quenton Jackson and Hassan Diarra – from a team that won 12 of its last 15 games last season. They made it to the SEC Tournament Championship Game and the NIT Championship Game. If not for a bizarre eight-game losing streak in the middle of the SEC portion of their schedule, they would have made the NCAA Tournament last season without a doubt; this proved too difficult to overcome. This season, I just don’t believe the Aggies will have a rough patch that comes close to that. Accordingly, on the Sunday of the selection, they will hear their name called. – Gary Parrish
Well, this one is easy. My only power conference champion slated to not land in the preseason AP Top 25 are the Musketeers. Admittedly, choosing Xavier over Creighton and Villanova was bold. I admit it and recognize that I am more likely to be wrong than right. Sean Miller’s first season with X should be good, but defensive consistency is the most determining factor in whether Xavier wins the Big East.
However, this will not determine whether that team dances or not. Colby Jones has the potential to be a first-round NBA Draft pick, Jack Nunge is a top-three conference great, Zach Freemantle is a quality secondary great, and Desmond Claude could become one of 25. top freshmen nationwide. Xavier isn’t just expected to make it to the NCAA for the first time in half a decade, he’s looking like a comfortable pick at large — provided this team doesn’t win the Big East Tournament. –Matt Norlander
Purdue has appeared in the last seven NCAA tournaments as a single-digit seed. In six of those years, he was a No. 5 seed or better. So what does Coach Matt Painter need to do to earn some respect here? Walk on water? Restore sight to the blind? He still done more with less – and coached a ranked team in each of the last seven seasons. In 2022-23, the Boilermakers are looking to replace outgoing superstar Jaden Ivey, so they’re not sure, but they’re more than equipped to return to the NCAA – and likely at some point in the top 25 in the standings – with big man Zach Edey and Mason Gillis back in the fold. -Kyle Boone
It’s easy to sleep on Florida State in the preseason because the Seminoles rarely shine with ultra-productive players or All-American candidates. It’s a byproduct of coach Leonard Hamilton’s balanced offense and generous minutes-distribution approach. But the Seminoles are expected to be back in the NCAA Tournament after missing it last season in an injury-plagued 17-14 (10-10 ACC) campaign. Sophomore winger Matthew Cleveland is a potential first-round pick in the NBA Draft, veteran guard Caleb Mills is back after leading the team in scoring as healthy and UCF transfer Darin Green Jr. is expected assist with perimeter fire.
In the front court, former Kentucky forward Cam’Ron Fletcher looks set for a breakthrough year after coming off the bench last season in his first campaign with the Seminoles. If 7-foot-4 sophomore Naheem McLeod can stay healthy, Florida State will once again have great rim protection, even after losing leading shot blocker John Butler. Hamilton’s incoming crop of five freshmen ranked 18th in recruiting class nationally. As long as a few of them are willing to contribute, the Seminoles will return to the Big Dance even after starting the season without being ranked in the AP Top 25. –David Cobb