A few weeks back, we looked at the coaches most likely to follow in the footsteps of Virginia's Tony Bennett and cut down the nets for the first time next. And while it was Bennett's first national title, it was the first for the Cavaliers as a program, as well. Now, with each champion of the 2010s etched in the history books, we’re looking at the title-less men's teams most likely to reach the mountaintop within the next decade.
Some programs are especially close, having reached the Final Four in the last few years. Others are in more of a developmental phase, having shown progress in recent years, but not necessarily making it to the season’s last weekend:
No coach has had a bigger impact on any single program on this list than Mark Few. Before Few took over the program in Spokane, Wash., in 1999, Gonzaga had made the NCAA tournament just twice. The Bulldogs have never missed it since. And in the last five years, Gonzaga has made it to at least the Sweet 16 each season, including a runner-up finish in 2017.
The Bulldogs will probably take a small step back in 2019–20, given that all four of their leading scorers from last year are gone, but they still have plenty of talent of which they'll add a consensus top-15 recruiting class to. There’s reason to think that the West Coast Conference won’t give Gonzaga enough of a test in the regular season, yet the Zags have shown in March that they have it in them to run with the more traditional blue bloods.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
The rapid evolution of Texas Tech is something to marvel at. If Few is the most impactful coach, Chris Beard is an incredibly close second. The Red Raiders hadn’t ever advanced to the Elite Eight before 2018 and had made the Sweet 16 only four times prior in school history. Now, they are a perennial top-25 program coming off a national title game appearance and one of the best teams in a competitive Big 12.
What does the future hold? Well, Texas Tech hasn’t been a one-and-done factory, so it will continue to develop players as Beard has proven more than capable of doing. The Red Raiders have a seven-man recruiting class this season along with some transfers, and they are definitely the premier program in Texas at this point, meaning more high-level prospects may very well head to Lubbock in the next few years. The momentum should keep rolling, and it doesn’t feel like Tech is all that far from what would be the peak of an incredible rise.
Maybe Tennessee missed its national title window. The Vols had a No. 2 seed last year after having a No. 3 seed the year before—neither time could they even get to the Elite Eight. After losing four starters Rick Barnes is going to have to rebuild his program, and with only one five-star prospect in this year’s class, it’s not clear how long it will take to get back to the level of the last couple of seasons.
That said, Barnes has been able to develop programs in relatively short periods of time. Even if this isn’t the year for Tennessee, it’s a program that will continue to recruit well and should be able to find its way back into national title contention for as long as the 65-year-old Barnes is on the sidelines.
Perhaps the most fun game of the entire 2019 NCAA tournament was the Elite Eight battle between Purdue and eventual national champ Virginia. The Boilermakers had the absolutely ridiculous shot-making of Carsen Edwards (he scored 42 points in a loss!), and yet, the Cavaliers got to the Final Four thanks to a Mamadi Diakite miracle at the buzzer to send things into overtime.
That game kept Purdue out of its first Final Four since 1980, but it's easily been one of the more underrated, consistent performers this century. Matt Painter has carried on the legacy of Gene Keady, keeping the Boilers in the upper echelon of the Big Ten. Purdue just needs to find a little more depth rather than leaning on one special player to get it over the hump.
Penny Hardaway—there’s the whole story. I’m kidding. There’s more to Memphis than just the four-time NBA All-Star and Tigers legend that is now the head coach at his alma mater. Memphis has made the Final Four three times before and twice come up just one win shy of a national title. It has the infrastructure to return to its status as an elite program.
The question, however, is how the Tigers do that if they’re relying on one-and-done players as the foundation of their program. James Wiseman is going to be the star this year, but he’ll be gone next fall, and only two teams have ever cut down the nets while being led by a core of freshmen (2012 Kentucky and 2015 Duke). It’s possible for Memphis to win it all, but the Tigers need to develop veteran pieces to pair with their elite recruits.
Wild Card: Seton Hall Pirates
Seton Hall has a chance to be a top-10 team this year. Myles Powell is back as a senior, Myles Cale and Sandro Mamukelashvili return as juniors and there are plenty of guys around them. The problem is that Kevin Willard will probably leave sometime in the next few years—he started his career as a Boston Celtics assistant and is only 44. The window for the Pirates is likely small, but they could make a national title run soon and surprise plenty of fans.