The 2021-22 college basketball season marked a bounce-back year for some of the sport’s biggest programs. Arizona, Duke, Kentucky and Indiana were among the notable brands to make the NCAA Tournament in March after missing it in 2021. But even after those blue bloods returned to the Big Dance, there are still some programs in need of bounce-back seasons in 2022-23.
Getting things back on track can be accomplished quickly in the modern era of college basketball, even for first-year coaches. Tommy Lloyd’s immediate turnaround at Arizona is a great example; the ex-Gonzaga assistant led the Wildcats to a Pac-12 championship and No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in 2022 during his first year on the job. Granted, the Wildcats were loaded with talent from Sean Miller’s tenure and had been banned from the 2021 NCAA Tournament, but it was still a monumental bounce-back season nonetheless.
On the other end of the spectrum was Duke, which executed a significant turnaround with 42nd-year coach Mike Krzyzewski and reached the Final Four after missing the tournament altogether in 2021.
Some bounce-back teams also came from outside the blue-blood ranks. Notre Dame and Richmond put disappointing 2020-21 results behind them and won games in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
As the 2022-23 season creeps closer, what are the teams that could be in store for redemption? For this week’s edition of the Dribble Handoff, our writers are picking the teams they think will make the 2023 NCAA Tournament after missing it in 2022.
Texas A&M went 11-2 in its final 13 games leading into the 2022 NCAA Tournament Selection Show and had a compelling case to be an at-large team. The Aggies didn’t make the bracket, though, mostly because of an eight-game losing streak that preceded the great run and damaged the résumé too much. They finished just on the wrong side of the bubble. It was obviously disappointing, but I don’t believe Buzz Williams’ program will have to sweat Selection Sunday this season because seven of the top nine scorers from last season’s team are back — including double-digit scorers Henry Coleman and Tyrece Radford.
The Aggies should be good. I have them 18th in the CBS Sports Top 25 And 1, which translates to fifth in the SEC (behind only Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn). That means, barring a surprise, Williams should soon join the list of coaches who have taken three different schools to the NCAA Tournament. He previously did it at Marquette and Virginia Tech. He’ll do it at Texas A&M come March. — Gary Parrish
A lot of good candidates to consider; I looked at Virginia and Dayton closely. But I’ll be going with the X Men, which have a chance to usurp the Big East throne and become the top team in the post-Jay Wright Big East. If anything, this is your 2023 Big East dark horse. Xavier went 23-13 last season, flailing late and playing itself out of the Dance after it seemed casually obvious for the majority of the season that Travis Steele would get the program back into the tourney. Because of that, this program is facing its longest NCAA Tournament drought in four-plus decades. Xavier last made the NCAAs in 2018. The fans are aching for a return to form.
Sean Miller is back where he thrived (2004-09) and inherits a pair of good bigs in 7-footer Jack Nunge and 6-foot-9 power forward Zach Freemantle. I love junior guard Colby Jones’ potential to make a leap, and I think the same happens for KyKy Tandy. Seven of Miller’s top eight minutes-getters may well be juniors and seniors. Most of those players being Xavier guys from the jump (i.e. non-transfers) will matter significantly. There is size, speed, rebounding and, I think, a top-25 offense lurking here. Not only will X make it back to the NCAA Tournament, I think it flirts with a top-four seed and becomes one of the biggest comeback stories of the season. — Matt Norlander
Florida is the most obvious guess of all non-tourney teams to get back to the Big Dance next season. There’s some uncertainty that comes with the Gators — Mike White moved on to Georgia by his own accord, so UF hired 37-year-old Todd Golden — but in that uncertainty I have confidence. Golden is a rising star in the profession who famously leans hard into analytics, which helped him build something special at San Francisco. It should be a long-term upgrade in philosophy from the old coaching staff.
Florida has assembled an incredibly fun roster for next season already, too. All four of its transfers — Will Richard, Alex Fudge, Kyle Lofton and Trey Bonham — have contributor potential from Day 1. Richard, in particular, profiles as a breakout star after shining at Belmont. Factor them in to what the Gators return — among those being Colin Castleton — and you have a roster ready to put the program back into the national spotlight where it belongs as an NCAA Tournament team. — Kyle Boone
Florida State’s rough run with injuries played a big part in why the Seminoles finished 17-14 (10-10 ACC) last season, snapping a streak of four straight NCAA Tournament appearances. With that stretch of bad luck in the past, FSU is poised for a return to the Big Dance.
Returning are leading scorers Caleb Mills and Matthew Cleveland, and the Noles just added the nation’s No. 18 recruiting class. Mills averaged 12.7 points, 2.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game in 26 appearances last season, though the Houston transfer was also not immune to injury. Cleveland averaged 11.5 points and 4.6 rebounds as a true freshman and is poised to take a big step, along with fellow sophomore Jalen Warley. Cleveland and Warley were each top-35 prospects from the Class of 2021, according to 247Sports, and both look like breakout candidates in the ACC.
Another breakout candidate is Cam’Ron Fletcher, a versatile forward who played some of his best basketball down the stretch last season after transferring in from Kentucky. Entering his 21st season, coach Leonard Hamilton has built a strong and steady program that appears to have the foundation required to execute a quick bounce back to its typical 20-win floor. — David Cobb