Journey to the Tourney: UK’s March Madness history
They were supposed to be among the biggest stars in college basketball this season, but they’ll be absent from the court on the sport’s biggest stage.
The NCAA Tournament starts this week, and six McDonald’s All-Americans from last year’s recruiting class won’t be taking part in March Madness.
Among those half-dozen players are some of the game’s brightest future stars.
Romeo Langford, who had one of the most-followed recruitments in the 2018 cycle and was expected to lead Indiana’s turnaround, is instead relegated to the NIT after the Hoosiers missed out on the Big Dance for the third consecutive season.
Oregon made the NCAA Tournament field as a 12 seed following an improbable run through the Pac-12 postseason, but Bol Bol — the son of former NBA star Manute Bol — will not play for the Ducks this week. The uniquely skilled freshman announced earlier this year that he was sitting out the rest of the season due to injury, and he spent the Pac-12 Tournament on the Oregon bench with a walking boot on his foot.
Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland also suffered a severe knee injury and has been sidelined since early in the season. The Commodores finished 0-18 in the Southeastern Conference, and that means their other McDonald’s All-American — Simi Shittu — will also miss the NCAA Tournament.
Garland, Langford and Bol are all projected as lottery picks in this year’s NBA Draft.
Bol was the No. 4 overall player in the 2018 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and he was followed on that list by Langford (No. 7), Shittu (No. 11) and Garland (No. 14). Two other McDonald’s All-Americans from last year — Darius Bazely and Moses Brown — will also be absent from the NCAA Tournament.
Bazley was on his way to Syracuse at the time of last year’s McDonald’s Game, but he instead opted against college, intended to jump straight to the NBA’s G League, and then decided to train for this year’s NBA Draft. He’s the No. 42 prospect on ESPN’s draft prospects board.
Brown’s UCLA squad did not make the tournament, and its coach, Steve Alford, was let go midway through the season.
Several of last year’s McDonald’s All-Americans that did make this NCAA Tournament are playing lesser roles on their teams as freshmen. Only nine players from that group are averaging double digits in scoring: Duke’s RJ Barrett, Kansas’ Devon Dotson, UK’s Keldon Johnson, Oregon’s Louis King, Duke’s Cam Reddish, Louisiana State’s Naz Reid, Maryland’s Jalen Smith, UNC’s Coby White and, of course, Duke’s Zion Williamson.
Even with six McDonald’s All-American freshmen missing the NCAA Tournament, this is the most that will play in the event since the 2014-15 season.
Seven McDonald’s All-Americans from the 2017 class missed last season’s tournament, including Brian Bowen, Billy Preston and Mitchell Robinson, who never played in a college game.
Eight McDonald’s All-Americans from the 2016 class missed out on the next season’s tournament, including No. 1 NBA Draft pick Markelle Fultz.
And nine such players from the 2015 class missed on the 2016 tournament, including No. 1 NBA Draft pick Ben Simmons.
Only five McDonald’s All-Americans from the 2014 recruiting class missed out on the NCAA Tournament the following season. One of those players was Stanford freshman Reid Travis, who will play in his first NCAA Tournament game Thursday night as a UK graduate student.
Missing the Big Dance
These are the recent McDonald’s All-Americans who didn’t get to play in the NCAA Tournament as college freshmen:
2019: Romeo Langford, Moses Brown, Darius Garland, Bol Bol, Darius Bazley, Simi Shittu.
2018: Mitchell Robinson, Jarred Vanderbilt, Brian Bowen, Troy Brown, Brandon McCoy, Charles O’ Bannon Jr., Billy Preston.
2017: Udoka Azubuike, Terrance Ferguson, Markelle Fultz, Andrew Jones, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Jarrett Allen, Marques Bolden, Alterique Gilbert.
2016: Dwayne Bacon, Antonio Blakeney, Henry Ellenson, Jawun Evans, Dedric Lawson, Ben Simmons, PJ Dozier, Malik Newman, Stephen Zimmerman.
2015: Cliff Alexander, Isaiah Whitehead, Emmanuel Mudiay, Rashad Vaughn, Reid Travis.