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Dribble Handoff: Texas A&M, Purdue among unranked college basketball teams that can make 2023 NCAA Tournament

When the preseason AP Top 25 was released last October ahead of the 2021-22 college basketball season, there were some absences that felt noteworthy in hindsight. Arizona stands out as a bad miss for the voters, considering the Wildcats went on to win the Pac-12 regular-season and Tournament titles while securing a No. 1 seed in the Ncaa Tournament. But who could have predicted that Arizona would be elite under first-year coach Tommy Lloyd? 

Among the other noteworthy snubs from the 2021-22 preseason poll were Texas Tech and Providence, both of which reached the Sweet 16. The Red Raiders were a No. 3 seed for the Big Dance, while the Friars were a No. 4 seed after not receiving a single vote in the preseason poll.

In light of Monday’s release of the preseason AP Top 25 for the 2022-23 season, it’s time to figure out who the undervalued teams are this season. Kyle Boone already covered a few of the underrated and overrated teams, but for this week’s edition of the Dribble Handoff, our writers are specifically picking the unranked teams they believe will make the 2023 NCAA Tournament. 

Buzz Williams made the NCAA Tournament in Year 4 at Marquette and in Year 4 at Virginia Tech. Barring a surprise, he’ll also make it in Year 4 at Texas A&M, which returns every relevant player — besides Quenton Jackson and Hassan Diarra — from a team that won 12 of its final 15 games last season. Those Aggies advanced to the championship game of the SEC Tournament and the championship game of the NIT — and if not for a weird eight-game losing streak in the middle of the SEC portion of their schedule, they would’ve made the 2022 NCAA Tournament easily. That bad stretch just proved too much to overcome. Simply put, I do not believe the Aggies will spend weeks struggling to that degree again this season. They’re going to be consistently and reliably good. As a result, on Selection Sunday, they’ll hear their name called and find themselves safely in the Field of 68. — Gary Parrish

Well, this one’e easy. My only projected power conference champion to not land in the preseason AP Top 25 are the Musketeers. Granted, picking Xavier over Creighton and Villanova was daring. I admit that and acknowledge I’m more likely to be wrong than right. Sean Miller’s first season with X should be a good one, but defensive consistency is the biggest determining factor in whether Xavier will win the Big East. 

It’s not going to determine whether or not this team dances, however. Colby Jones has the potential to be a first-round NBA Draft pick, Jack Nunge is a top-three big in the conference, Zach Freemantle is a quality secondary big and Desmond Claude could blossom into a top-25 freshman nationally. Xavier should not only make the NCAAs for the first time in a half-decade, it shapes up as a comfortable at-large pick — provided this team doesn’t win the Big East Tournament. — Matt Norlander

Purdue has made the last seven NCAA Tournaments as a single-digit seed. In six of those years, it has been a No. 5 seed or better. So what’s coach Matt Painter have to do to get a little respect around here? Walk on water? Make the blind see again? He always does more with less — and has coached a ranked team in each of the last seven seasons. In 2022-23, the Boilermakers look to replace outgoing superstar Jaden Ivey, so they’re no sure thing, but they are more than equipped to get back into the NCAAs — and likely at some point into the top 25 of the rankings — with big man Zach Edey and Mason Gillis back in the fold.  — Kyle Boone

It’s easy to sleep on Florida State in the preseason because the Seminoles rarely glisten with ultra-productive players or All-American candidates. That’s a byproduct of coach Leonard Hamilton’s balanced offense and generous minutes distribution approach. But the Seminoles should be back in the NCAA Tournament after missing it last season during an injury-plagued 17-14 (10-10 ACC) campaign. Sophomore wing Matthew Cleveland is a potential first-round NBA Draft pick, veteran guard Caleb Mills is back after leading the team in scoring when healthy and UCF transfer Darin Green Jr. should help in perimeter shooting.

In the front court, former Kentucky forward Cam’Ron Fletcher looks poised for a breakout year after coming off the bench last season in his debut campaign with the Seminoles. If 7-foot-4 sophomore Naheem McLeod can stay healthy, then Florida State will have excellent rim protection again, even after losing leading shot-blocker John Butler. Hamilton’s incoming crop of five freshmen ranked as the No. 18 recruiting class nationally. So long as a couple of them are ready to contribute, the Seminoles will make their return to the Big Dance even after beginning the season unranked in the AP Top 25. — David Cobb

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Dribble Handoff: Texas A&M, Purdue among unranked college basketball teams that can make 2023 NCAA Tournament

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