Now updated: the 2015 edition
Editor’s note: this post is from 2011. For the 2014 update, click here.
For the 2013 update, click here.
For the 2012 update, click here.
It’s conference tourney time, and that means it’s time to see if there is a chance that a longtime D-1 school with no NCAA tournament history will finally get its moment in the sun.
Last year I wrote about the twenty schools with the most years in Division I basketball without an NCAA tournament appearance. There are other schools out there that have gone a long time waiting for a return invitation, like Harvard (which participated in the 1946 tournament) or Rice (which has made four tourney appearances, but none since 1970).
However, I’m only discussing those schools with no NCAA D-1 tourney history. At least Harvard and Rice (and Dartmouth and Columbia, two other longtime absentees) have played in the event. Imagine rooting for a team that has never been to the Big Dance, even before it was called the “Big Dance”. Unfortunately, I don’t have to imagine it…
Last year I briefly outlined the chances of each of the twenty longest-waiting schools finally breaking through. Alas, none of them did, so it’s the same group of twenty this season. I guarantee the list will change next year, though, but only because this is going to be Centenary’s last season as a Division I school. (After this year’s tournament is over, UMKC will be the next school on the clock, unless the Kangaroos pull a stunner in the upcoming Summit League tourney.)
As always, the evaluation starts with the Forgotten Five (the five schools that have never made the NCAAs despite being members of Division I since the modern re-classification of the division in 1948). Records listed are as of February 28:
— Northwestern: At the beginning of the season, there was a buzz that this might be the year the Wildcats made it. Instead, Northwestern is 16-12 and currently sits in ninth place in the Big 10. It’s not going to happen this year.
— Army: The Bulldogs of the Hudson have lost 18 games and are in last place in the Patriot League. Things do not look promising.
— St. Francis (NY): The Terriers have a winning record (15-14) and finished the regular season in fifth place in the NEC. It’s been one of SFC’s better campaigns in recent years. It’s unlikely the Terriers make a run in the league tourney, but it’s worth keeping a half-closed eye on the team.
— William & Mary: With 21 losses and in next-to-last place in the CAA (behind only woeful Towson), I think the Tribe is going to have to wait another season. William & Mary was a lot more competitive in the previous two years, but its window of opportunity for making the NCAAs appears to have closed, at least for now.
— The Citadel: There were hopes prior to the season that the Bulldogs could make some noise in the SoCon. Instead, new coach Chuck Driesell has presided over what is arguably the most disappointing season in school history. Now, The Citadel has to win four straight games in the league tournament. What are the chances of that happening? Not good.
St. Francis looks like the best hope out of the Forgotten Five, but that’s mostly by default. What about the rest of the schools in our group of 20?
— Centenary (NCAA Division I member since 1960): Sadly, Centenary finished its five-decade run in D-1 with no NCAA tournament appearances. The school is moving to Division III next season. The Gents were 1-29 this year, with the sole win coming in the next-to-last game of the season. There will be no Summit League tournament, so Robert Parish’s alma mater is done in D-1.
— New Hampshire (class of 1962): The Wildcats, 12-17 overall, finished seventh in the America East after losing their last three games. UNH is 344th in the country in field goal percentage, just additional evidence that suggests New Hampshire is not a team capable of springing a big surprise in the AE tournament.
— Maine (class of 1962): The Black Bears may have peaked too early. Maine won seven straight games in the month of January. Then the team lost six straight in February. The Black Bears are 15-14 and finished third in the America East. It’s not inconceivable Maine could make a post-season run, but a big change in momentum would be required.
— Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): The Pioneers are 13-16 overall but did manage a winning record in the Sun Belt (9-7). Denver has to rebound better to have any chance of running the table in the league tourney, though; the Pioneers are last in all of D-1 in rebounds per game (23.9).
— UT-Pan American (class of 1969): The Broncs are 5-23 and finished last in the Great West, a conference that doesn’t even have an automatic bid. So much for that.
— Stetson (class of 1972): The Hatters lost 12 of their last 14 games to finish 8-23 overall. Stetson failed to qualify for the Atlantic Sun tournament, so the dream is dead for another year.
— UC Irvine (class of 1978): UCI is only 13-17 overall, but has won its last two games, both in double overtime. The Anteaters feature Mike Wilder, a first team Afro All-American. I could see UCI doing some damage in the Big West tourney. Whether it’s capable of doing three games worth of damage is another question.
— Grambling State (class of 1978): Hey, Doug Williams is back as head football coach again! Good thing, too, because at 8-19, the basketball team isn’t getting a lot of positive press. On the other hand, the Tigers do play in the SWAC, so winning the league tourney can’t be completely ruled out.
— Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974 and 1975, and then for good in 1982): The Hawks are 7-21 overall and tied for last in the MEAC. This isn’t going to be the year.
— Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, back again in 1982): The Penguins have lost 20 games and are tied for last in the Horizon League. This isn’t going to be the year.
— Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): Whoa, a team in first place in its league?! The Wildcats, currently 18-11, have in fact clinched the MEAC regular season title. B-C did lose its sole meeting with Todd Bozeman’s Morgan State squad, but at the very worst an NIT bid is in the cards…and look — that’s Cy McClairen driving the bandwagon! (Why not, he did everything else at the school.)
— Western Illinois (class of 1982): I think the season for the Leathernecks can be summed up in eight words: “this is the team that lost to Centenary.” Like the Gents, WIU did not qualify for the Summit League tournament.
— Chicago State (class of 1985): Earlier in this post I noted that UT-Pan American is 5-23 and plays in the Great West, a league without an automatic bid. The difference between Chicago State and UTPA? The Cougars are 6-23.
— Hartford (class of 1985): The Hawks contributed one of the season’s worst box scores in a loss to Stony Brook. Hartford isn’t quite that bad, and actually beat Stony Brook in the rematch. However, a team that can’t shoot (bottom 10 nationally) or rebound (bottom 50 nationally) probably isn’t going to shock the world in the league tournament.
— Buffalo (class of 1985): The Bulls have just missed making the NCAAs a couple of times in recent years. Buffalo is currently 16-11 with two MAC league games left before conference tourney play begins. The Bulls likely will have to win four games in the MAC tourney, which is a tall order, but there isn’t a dominant team in the league, so you never know.
It looks like Bethune-Cookman has by far the best shot of making the big show out of the twenty schools. Maine, Buffalo, and possibly St. Francis have not completely unreasonable chances. For the rest, the chances are slim and none, like they are most every year.
Someday, though, that moment of triumph will come. Uh…right?
Filed under: Basketball Tagged: | America East, Army, Bethune-Cookman, Big Ten, Buffalo, Centenary, Chicago State, Columbia, Cy McClairen, Dartmouth, Denver, Grambling State, Great West, Hartford, Harvard, Maine, Maryland-Eastern Shore, MEAC, Morgan State, NCAA, NCAA Basketball Tournament, New Hampshire, NIT, Northwestern, Rice, Robert Parish, SoCon, St. Francis, Stetson, Summit League, Sun Belt, The Citadel, UC Irvine, UT-Pan American, Western Illinois, William & Mary, Youngstown State