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Evans Seven: Teams that may miss tourney, but rebound next season

Jontay Porter
Jontay Porter (Jordan Kodner)

We are nearly a month away from the start of conference tournament play and already, programs are looking ahead to next season. In this week’s The Evans Seven, we examine the schools that, barring a run to their conference title, will miss on the NCAA Tournament this year but should return to prominence during the 2019-2020 season.

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MEMPHIS

The Tigers have experienced some lows this season, like the 20-point first half deficit to South Florida earlier this week, and the highs, as in beating UCF and winning the recruiting battle for five-star center James Wiseman over Kentucky.

Chances sit as slim that Penny Hardaway will have his alma mater in the bracket of 68 next month, but next year could be an entirely different story. One should not understate how difficult it will be to replace Jeremiah Martin, Mike Parks, Kiyvon Davenport and Kareem Brewton, but the budding group of talent found in the freshmen class should be ready to take the next leap.

By next fall, a year together in the backcourt should be all that is needed for Alex Lomax and Tyler Harris to coexist much better where each has been accustomed to having the ball in their hands up until this winter. Antwann Jones has had his good moments but it is the 2019 class, one headlined by Wiseman, the gritty play of Malcolm Dandridge down low and the versatility of DJ Jeffries on the wing that should have the Tigers back in the dance for the first time since 2014.

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MISSOURI

This one relies solely on the return of Jontay Porter. Talk still remains that he could decide to jump to the NBA this spring despite missing his entire sophomore year due to a torn ACL suffered earlier this fall. If Porter is back, so will Missouri in the NCAA Tournament.

While the Tigers will lose Jordan Geist and Kevin Puryear, two of their top contributors, after this season, the talent infusion into the program and an offseason of development with its returning personnel should equate to a bounceback next winter. Jeremiah Tilmon is beginning to learn to play without fouling as he is a great low post threat, Dru Smith is going to be an all-around producer when his eligibility restarts, and Xavier Pinson has shown signs of promise.

Throw in the enrollment of Rivals150 forward Tray Jackson, an absolute hound of a defensive piece in Mario McKinney and expected progressions with Mark Smith, Torrence Watson and Javon Pickett, and Mizzou should be dancing again in 2020.

NOTRE DAME

For a program like Notre Dame, asking for the Irish to return to the NCAA Tournament a year after losing an all-time great in Bonzie Colson, along with that of multiple-year starter at the point guard position, Matt Farrell, is no easy task. However, throw in season-ending injuries, to Rex Pflueger and Robby Carmody, all while indoctrinating six new players to their roster and what you have is a recipe for disaster.

Now, due to the steady hand of Mike Brey, the Irish have remained a thorn in the side for even the best of ACC teams this winter, a reflection that a strong culture remains. On the floor success will be much better next year though, as the Irish lose no one of significance and with a fifth year now in line for Plfueger, a freshmen group that should fully mature and another offseason of improvement from John Mooney and DJ Harvey, the future remains bright for the Irish and their chances of catapulting back in March play just as promising.

OREGON

The Ducks have enjoyed a season of peaks and valleys, but that is no fault of their own but due to the injury bug. Bol Bol suffered a season-ending injury just a quarter of the way through his freshman year and Lou King and Kenny Wooten also missed time.

The talent is surely there, but if health is a strength of its season next winter, the NCAA Tournament should be well within grasp. Payton Pritchard will return for what seems to be his eighth year in college and junior college standout Chris Duarte should complement him perfectly thanks to his flame-throwing status on the perimeter. Throw in Victor Bailey, Will Richardson and maybe Cole Anthony, the latter of whom would be a game changer, and the backcourt is loaded. King, Wooten and Bol could all depart for the NBA early but even if that is the case, five-star CJ Walker should definitely help, along with an offseason of development with Francis Okoro.

PROVIDENCE

Stick with me here, but the Friars could be the major, major darkhorse that, if all goes well this offseason and everyone returns, to not only win the Big East next year, but also have a chance at a run to the Final Four.

While it still might be a year too early for such talk, Providence is a team that will see all of its production return next fall outside of Emmitt Holt and Isaiah Jackson, but will add the talents of top-60 forward Greg Gantt, a tailor-made combo forward for the way that Ed Cooley wants his frontcourt guys to play. Cooley’s coaching acumen to go along with Alpha Diallo’s two-way abilities, a complete flame throw in AJ Reeves, and one of my favorites in David Duke, someone that is beginning to come into his own in recent weeks, should provide for quality star play in the backcourt. Kalif Young and Nate Watson fortify things down low and the versatility of Jimmy Nichols should push the Friars through their bouts of inexperience and adversity this season and to a potential high mark run next year.

USC

USC entered the year with hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament, but things have not played out that way. Next year should be an entirely different story.

Sure, the Trojans will lose the services of likely lottery pick Kevin Porter, but more cohesion might be at hand. Incoming travel teammates Onyeka Okongwu and Isaiah Mobley bring a smashmouth physicality that should immediately set the tone. Max Agbonkpolo might have one of the best long-term upsides at the small forward position in his class as dual-sport athlete Drake London is the perfect mesh guy from the get-go.

Throw in Rivals150 guard Kyle Sturdivant, along with the returns of J’Raan Brooks, Jonah Matthews, and Nick Rakocevic, and what you have is not just a bubble team but rather one that should be vying for a high seed next March.

WEST VIRGINIA

The pain of one of the worst seasons of Bob Huggins' tenure in Morgantown should all be washed away next season. Lamont West and Wesley Harris will return and there is a chance that Sagaba Konate, the shot-blocking connoisseur that has been sidelined this winter due to injury, could make the leap to the NBA. But McDonald’s All-American Oscar Tshiebwe is the culture-restoring type that will positively impact the program from day one. In the conversation for the best rebounder in high school ball, Tshiebwe should help the Mountaineers dance again and cause further nightmares for their opposition due to their breakneck style of play.