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Eulogizing six high-profile teams that have exited the NCAA tournament

John Ca
John Ca (USA Today Sports Images)

The first weekend of the 2022 NCAA tournament has come and gone, and just 16 teams remain in the chase for the national title. There will be plenty written about those guys, however, so has decided to go in a different direction today and remember some of the brave teams we lost in the opening rounds.

Today, our Rob Cassidy eulogizes some of the field's most notable fallen teams with a look at how each season died and what we’ll remember most.


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2022 Rankings: Rivals150 | Team | Position

2023 Rankings: Rivals150

2024 Rankings: Top 40




Fran McCaffrey
Fran McCaffrey (USA Today Sports Images)

Cause of death: Poor shooting

Obituary: The Hawkeyes were found unresponsive in Buffalo on Thursday afternoon after shooting 6-for-29 from three-point range and 36-percent from the floor in a loss to Richmond. Like a lifetime philanthropist that did a lot of good for the world before ultimately being found dead in a brothel, 2021-22 Iowa lived a complex life. Sure, you could vilify it for the way it died, but wouldn’t you rather celebrate the good? A trendy Elite Eight pick on Selection Sunday, the Hawkeyes won four-straight games and nine of their last 10 leading into the NCAA tournament, capturing the Big Ten tournament title and developing a certified star in sophomore All-American Keegan Murray in the process.

Unfortunately, more has been made about Iowa’s death than it has about its life. Head coach Fran McCaffery has never made the Sweet 16 in his decade as the program’s coach, and groans about that stat grew louder as this team took its final breath. Some suspected foul play, but it seems more like bad luck than anything malicious.




Cause of death: Peacock attack

Obituary: This Kentucky squad was supposed to be remembered as a bounce-back tale – a powerful rebound from an appalling 9-16 effort a season ago. In a different world, we would be sitting around, remembering the departed Wildcats as a roster totally revamped by a re-energized John Calipari and crowning the famous coach as king of the transfer portal. We’d talk about Oscar Tshiebwe’s All-American season and note that the Player of the Year finalist spent the year rebounding anything within a three-mile radius.

We’ll remember almost none of that, however. Instead, the eulogy looks like this: here lies UK, a team that lost to a mustached dude named Doug and a No. 15 seed most people couldn’t locate on a map. The Wildcats lived a full life and deserved better than the ending they met. The emergence of freshman point guard TyTy Washington as an All-SEC selection and NBA hopeful was also a high point. Alas, the pungent stench of Doug Edert’s 20-point effort off the bench for St. Peter’s overpowers every other scent in the room. UK’s collection of talent deserves to be remembered for more than just one game. Unfortunately, one doesn’t always get what one deserves.




Mike Woodson
Mike Woodson (USA Today Sports Images)

Cause of death: Fatigue … among other factors.

Obituary: Declaring Indiana’s cause of death as simple fatigue is unfair to Saint Mary's, which took a power drill to the Hoosiers to the tune of a 29-point smackdown on Thursday night. Still, ignoring the fact Indiana had to play five games in eight days would be irresponsible. Regardless of autopsy results, there’s plenty to like about the manner in which IU lived. This was a strong, resilient team that watched as some national media snickered at its preseason decision to hire 63-year-old Mike Woodson, who arrived from the NBA without much college coaching experience.

There were touch-and-go moments, sure. Indiana could have done without a five-game losing streak in February, but it also played 10 games decided by nine points or fewer this year and rarely looked totally overmatched. The Hoosiers were as exciting as they were inconsistent, so how this team will be remembered will be determined by what happens next.

Should things continue on a positive trajectory, we’ll look back on this as the foundation of a proud program’s revival. If not, it’ll simply be the year in which the Hoosiers, led by Trayce Jackson-Davis, kicked in the door to the NCAA tournament despite being on the outside looking in when the regular season concluded.

Here lies a team whose coaching hire did a lot to prove naysayers wrong and broke a five-year NCAA tournament drought in the process.




Jalen Duren
Jalen Duren (USA Today Sports Images)

Cause of death: Hard living

Obituary: This Memphis team was one of those good-time guys that suggests you go out for a drink and an appetizer and be in bed by 9:30 before leading you on an all-night adventure that includes beer bongs and a 3 a.m. rave in some warehouse outside of town. The Tigers were this season's wildcard and they entertained from wire to wire. There was a slow start that included questions about star freshman Emoni Bates, who eventually checked out of the season with a back injury. There was the incident in which head coach Penny Hardaway lobbed a number of F-bombs at reporters for criticizing him. There was an unforgettable bounce-back stretch that saw the Tigers go 10-2 with Bates on the sidelines.

Then, most recently, there was the first-round NCAA Tournament game with Boise State that saw Bates reappear for a short stretch and help spark the Tigers to a 19-point halftime lead which, in true wildcard fashion, they nearly blew before escaping with a win. Gonzaga ultimately put the Tigers down for good on Saturday, but a tight, four-point game was more than most expected from the contest.

Penny Hardaway should be praised for his late-season management of a young roster that included future lottery pick Jalen Duren, who is probably off to the NBA. He should also be criticized for not securing a higher seed because of early-season struggles. Either way, however, the ride was an absolute blast. Things felt grim the morning after on some occasions, but the Tigers will be remembered for the pace at which they lived.




Jabari Smith
Jabari Smith (USA Today Sports Images)

Cause of death: Quick, pesky guards

Obituary: Auburn’s 2021-22 season could have been remembered for a number of things with a couple more victories. As it turns out, however, it will probably be “The Jabari Smith Year.” Smith led Auburn to a regular-season SEC crown and will be off to the NBA as a top three pick in short order. The curtain came down on the season Sunday night at the hands of a guard-heavy Miami team that, for weeks, has looked a lot better than a No. 10 seed should.

The Hurricanes’ speed and relentlessness caused Auburn massive problems and took it out of its offense. By the time the execution was over, the Tigers' shooting percentage was 30 percent and included an almost unfathomable 5-for-26 effort from three-point range. While Smith may be the guy to which people point when they remember this SEC-championship season, the memory of North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler won’t fade quickly. An absolutely massive portal pull for Bruce Pearl, Kessler set Auburn’s single-season blocks record and recorded a couple of triple-doubles.

This Tigers team is more important than an early NCAA tournament exit, and history will remember it as such.




Adam Flagler
Adam Flagler (USA Today Sports Images)

Cause of death: The undervalued ACC

Obituary: Here lies the defending champs, a team that got a raw deal by drawing North Carolina in the second round based on a perception of the ACC that may have been a bit off base. Sample size makes it dangerous to judge the strength of a conference based on how its teams do in the NCAA tournament, but the data says three of the event’s five ACC teams have landed in the Sweet 16. That’s more than the totals of the Big Ten (2) and SEC (1).

Was North Carolina under-seeded? Probably, but this isn’t about the Tar Heels. Instead, we’ve gathered here today to remember Baylor, a team that captured a share of the Big 12 regular season title. The season James Akinjo had won’t be soon forgotten, but this year was more about Scott Drew and his continued ascent into the rarefied air of truly elite college coaches. This year obviously won’t be remembered in the same manner as the national title season that came before it, but, despite the early tournament exit, 2022 managed to do more king making when it comes to Drew and his nearly two-decade overhaul of a once irrelevant program.

Is there disappointment in Waco? Sure, but the future still somehow seems brighter than the current day feels dark.