Entering the 2015-16 college basketball season only 11 Division I programs could claim a NCAA tournament streak of five years or longer. Kansas headed the list with a remarkable 26 consecutive appearances. The run is certain to be extended in March for the No. 2 Jayhawks, which will tie the program with North Carolina (1975-2001) for the all-time record.
Tournament mainstays such as Duke (20 consecutive years), Michigan State (18), Gonzaga (17) and Louisville (nine) also appear safe to join the 68-team field again. All four programs are top 30 in the AP poll and the Ken Pomeroy ratings. It would take an epic collapse to push those powerhouses outside the bracket bubble.
Others have a less certain future, and in each case the culprit has suffered from a sputtering offense.
Here’s a closer look at five programs - listed in order of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances - seeking a sudden turnaround to join the fun in March.
Wisconsin (17 years)
Pomeroy Rating: 45
It’s been a strange year in Madison. Veteran coach Bo Ryan stepped down after a 64-49 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Dec. 15, handing the reins to longtime assistant Greg Gard, who makes his debut tonight against Green Bay and will try to create plays that lead to points.
The Badgers can’t afford more missteps as they try to overcome losses to Western Illinois (197, Pomeroy) and Milwaukee (135). A road win at Syracuse (48) could help, as could a neutral defeat of VCU (54).
Still, if the Badgers don’t improve their putrid offense (46.1 effective field goal percentage) and start defending the 3-point line - opponents are shooting 37.8 percent - the nation’s fifth longest streak of appearances will fade away.
Ohio State (7)
Pomeroy Rating: 49
After early home losses to Texas-Arlington (80) and Louisiana Tech (112), it became clear this wasn’t an ordinary year for coach Thad Matta in Columbus.
The Buckeyes have committed turnovers on 20.5 percent of their possessions (276th in the nation) and gained no real advantage at the free throw line, shooting 64.7 percent and outscoring opponents 156-152. By comparison, the 2010-11 Ohio State group led by Jared Sullinger made 128 more free throws than their opponents attempted, and outscored teams by 6.3 points per game at the line en route to a 34-3 record.
All is not lost for these Buckeyes, however. They looked sharp in a 74-67 victory over Kentucky (12) on Saturday and the loaded Big Ten schedule offers regular opportunities for resume padding wins.
Ohio State has 11 games remaining against teams in the Pomeroy Top 50 and freshman point guard JaQuan Lyle should only improve.
San Diego State (6)
Pomeroy Rating: 85
Win the Mountain West Conference tournament championship or watch the Madness from afar is the Aztecs fate.
Coach Steve Fisher assembled a stringent schedule yet again, and SDSU picked up a nice 14-point neutral court win over California (42) in November. But the remainder of the nonconference slate hasn’t gone as well. Losses to San Diego (276) and Grand Canyon (133) are the glaring miscues.
What’s remarkable is the Aztecs continue to defend at an elite level, leading the nation in 2-point defense (36.6 percent).
What’s less remarkable is an offense that commits frequent turnovers (21.1 percent of possessions) and shoots poorly (45.4 effective field goal percentage). SDSU is in the bottom fifth in D1 in both categories. Four Aztecs play at least half the minutes and use at least 20 percent of possessions and none of them produce more than one point per possession.
VCU was one of the best stories in college basketball the last five years. The Rams reached the 2011 Final Four under coach Shaka Smart and averaged 27 wins per season as their Siegel Center became one of the more menacing home courts anywhere.
Adjustment pains were expected this season as Will Wade replaced Smart. And it’s not as if the Rams have dropped off the map, they’ve just had difficulty winning close games against quality opponents. Four of their five losses are to teams in the Pomeroy top 50 and by margins of eight points or less. Their best two wins are over teams near the back end of the top 100.
The Rams remain among the best at forcing turnovers (sixth in defensive turnover rate). Melvin Johnson has been terrific (18.2 ppg, 44.1 pct on 3s) and transfer Korey Billbury is producing (11.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg), but they need help, especially inside-the-arc where VCU has hit only 43.8 percent of its shots (294th in the nation).
NC State (4)
Yes, NC State’s streak falls one year shy of qualifying for this list. But we included the Wolfpack because in four seasons coach Mark Gottfried has carried his squad to postseason consistency unforeseen previously in Raleigh, exceeding the accomplishments of legends such as Case, Sloan and Valvano.
And the Wolfpack hasn’t simply heard its name called on Selection Sunday and exited softly. There’s a Sweet 16 and Elite 8 in its run.
Any hope of returning likely rests on the injured ankle of guard Terry Henderson, the 6-4 transfer who was pegged to score in double figures this season before he went down in the season opener.
Without him, NC State has a seven-man rotation. Point guard Cat Barber has been brilliant (118.9 offensive rating / 28.8 pct. usage) while rarely leaving the court (94.6 pct. of minutes).
But the Pack has still scuffled. It is 70th or worse in offensive and defensive efficiency, and while it has won five in a row, there’s little meat on the schedule. Only one of those nine victims was a top-100 team.
The ACC gives a team a chance to make a name, though. NC State plays 12 top-50 teams and seven of those games are on the road.
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