All records are through March 2
March Madness is on the horizon. Conference tourney time is almost at hand. Schools far and wide will strive to make the NCAAs.
Most will fail. When it comes to making the NCAA tournament, some have known nothing but failure.
There are 34 schools that have been in Division I for at least a decade that have yet to make a trip to the Big Dance. Now, it is one thing to be UC-Riverside or Gardner-Webb and to have not made your tourney debut, since neither of those schools moved up to D-1 until the dawn of the 21st century.
However, 16 of those 34 schools have been in Division I for 30 years or more and have never received an NCAA tournament bid. For fans of New Hampshire, or Youngstown State, or Stetson, the annual exercise of watching the tourney from the outside looking in has become more than a little frustrating.
Can any of them finally break through? That’s the subject of this post. The short answer, however, is that the odds are not favorable.
I started posting about this topic in 2010. That year, I highlighted the 20 schools that had waited the longest for their first NCAA bid. As of 2014, 19 of those schools are still waiting. The twentieth, Centenary, has left Division I.
There are actually around 54 schools (give or take a transitional member or two) currently in D-1 that have never made the Big Dance, but my focus is on schools that have been in the division for more than 10 years without receiving a bid. It’s too early to worry about making the tournament if you’re UMass Lowell or Incarnate Word.
Of course, last year one of those newly minted D-1 schools took the nation by storm, as FGCU (only in the division since 2008; heck, only a functioning school since 1997) dunked its way into the Sweet 16. This season, the “newbies” with the best chances of making a move into the field of 68 are probably Bryant, North Carolina Central, North Dakota, USC-Upstate, and Utah Valley.
Before I run down the longtime hopefuls, though, I want to mention another subset of schools, namely those institutions that have played in the NCAA Tournament, but have not made an appearance in the event for at least twenty years. Some of them have waited for a return trip longer than most of the never-beens.
First on this list is Dartmouth, a two-time national finalist (!) that hasn’t been back to the NCAAs since 1959. The Big Green won’t be in the tourney this year, either, having already been eliminated in the race for the Ivy League title (as there is no post-season tournament in that conference).
Next in this group is another member of the Ivies, Yale, which has not appeared in the NCAAs since 1962. That streak is likely to continue for at least one more year, as the Elis are all but mathematically eliminated from league title contention (with Harvard set to clinch the auto-bid with one more victory).
Other schools that have made at least one NCAA trip but haven’t been back since 1994 (or earlier) while continuously in D-1: Tennessee Tech (no appearances since 1963), Columbia (1968), Bowling Green (1968), Rice (1970), VMI (1977), Duquesne (1977), Furman (1980), Toledo (1980), Mercer (1985), Loyola of Chicago (1985), Brown (1986), Jacksonville (1986), Marshall (1987), Idaho State (1987), Marist (1987), Oregon State (1990), Loyola Marymount (1990), Idaho (1990), Louisiana Tech (1991), Towson (1991), Northeastern (1991), St. Francis-PA (1991), Rutgers (1991), Howard (1992), Georgia Southern (1992), Campbell (1992), Fordham (1992), Coastal Carolina (1993), East Carolina (1993), SMU (1993), Rider (1994), and Tennessee State (1994).
Of note: Seattle (a finalist in 1958 thanks to Elgin Baylor, but which last made the NCAAs in 1969) and Houston Baptist (a tourney team in 1984) both left Division I and then later returned, so they haven’t been in D-1 for all the years after making their most recent NCAA tourney appearances.
Last year, a couple of schools with long breaks between appearances broke through (Middle Tennessee State and La Salle). This season, things are looking very good for Larry Brown’s SMU squad to grab a spot in the field. Others to watch in this group: Coastal Carolina, Louisiana Tech, Mercer, Toledo, Towson, and VMI.
Among the power conference schools, Oregon State’s 24-year drought is currently the longest, not counting Northwestern…and that’s our cue to begin the rundown of schools that have never made the tournament. As is traditional, we start with The Forgotten Five.
The NCAA Tournament began in 1939. In 1948, the NCAA reorganized into separate divisions (university and college) for its member institutions. Of the schools that since 1948 have continuously been in what is now Division I, there are five which have never made the tournament field. All five of those schools theoretically could have been in the tournament beginning in 1939, actually, so for them the wait is longer than their history as official members of D-1.
The five schools are known as “The Forgotten Five”. The class of 1948 (or 1939, I suppose):
- Northwestern: According to the Helms Foundation, Northwestern actually won the national championship in 1931. Of course, that’s a retroactive ranking, not an actual on-court result.
At 12-17, the Wildcats can only make the NCAAs this season by winning the Big 10 tournament, which is unlikely. However, Northwestern has shown a little bit of moxie in Chris Collins’ first season as head coach.
I think the Wildcats are perhaps two years away from finally breaking through. Maybe next season, even. Not this year, though.
- Army: Last season, the Black Knights enjoyed their first winning campaign in almost three decades. Army is currently 14-15 and has concluded regular season play.
To make its first NCAA trip, a Patriot League tourney title is necessary. It’s not inconceivable, though Boston University and American are the league favorites.
- St. Francis College: The Terriers (18-13) are going to qualify for the NEC tourney, but need a lot of luck to grab the auto-bid from league heavyweight Robert Morris (not to mention second-place Wagner). SFC hasn’t been very close to making the NCAAs since it lost in the 2003 NEC title game.
It’s too bad. I bet even Jim Rockford would root for the Terriers, despite the fact that Lt. Chapman played for SFC.
- William & Mary: Three times, the Tribe has advanced to the CAA final. Three times the Tribe has lost.
It isn’t out of the question that William & Mary (18-11) could find itself back in the league championship game again this season. Can it finally grab the brass ring?
- The Citadel: A win over Samford ensured that the Bulldogs would not go winless in the Southern Conference for the first time since 1955-56. That said, The Citadel is 6-25. This won’t be the year.
At one point during the season, The Citadel lost 17 consecutive games. That broke a single-season record originally set by the 1953-54 squad, a team that featured no scholarship players and also had to deal with things like frozen uniforms.
What about the other never-beens? Well, first up are two New England state universities still in search of a bid despite being members of D-1 since 1962. As a hardwood tandem, they are called “The Dour Duo”.
- New Hampshire: The Wildcats are 6-23 and tied for last place in the America East. It’s hard to imagine a team less positioned to make an NCAA run — well, except maybe…
- Maine: The Black Bears are 6-22 and share that last place spot with UNH in the America East. It’s hockey season (as always) for New Hampshire and Maine.
The rest of the rundown:
- Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): The Pioneers are only 15-14 this season after back-to-back 22-win campaigns. At 8-6 in the Summit League, though, Denver still has a decent shot at finally advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
Joe Scott has continued his classical Princeton approach to coaching offense, as only one D-1 school (Miami-FL) plays at a slower pace than the Pioneers.
- UT-Pan American (class of 1969): The Broncs were 16-16 last year. Like several teams on this list, UTPA moved to the WAC for this season, giving it an opportunity to compete for an automatic bid that wasn’t available in the now-defunct Great West Conference. Unfortunately, this season UTPA is 9-21 and not a serious candidate to claim that automatic berth.
- Stetson (class of 1972): Ted Cassidy’s alma mater is 7-23. Even Gomez Addams couldn’t conjure up a way for the Hatters to win the Atlantic Sun tournament and grab an auto-bid.
- UC Irvine (class of 1978): UCI, currently 20-10 and in first place in the Big West, has a legitimate chance at making the NCAAs this year. The most recognizable of the Anteaters is 7’6″ Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player in Division I basketball.
- Grambling State (class of 1978): The Tigers do have two conference wins this year and three victories overall, a marked improvement from last season, when Grambling State went winless. However, GSU is ineligible for postseason play this year due to APR penalties (though the Tigers, like three other SWAC schools, will be allowed to compete in the conference tournament).
- Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): UMES is 5-22. This is the 12th consecutive season the Hawks have lost 20 or more games. Ouch.
Last season, veteran coach Frankie Allen went 2-26 at UMES, and got a one-year contract extension. I don’t know if he will get another one. I don’t know if he wants another one.
- Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins have been quietly respectable in recent seasons, and are 15-16 this year. They won’t be favored to win the Horizon League tournament (Green Bay has that distinction), but YSU has a puncher’s chance (along with every other league squad save UIC).
- Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): In 2011, Bethune-Cookman won the regular-season MEAC title. Since then: 18 wins, 14 wins, and (so far this season) 6 wins. That’s not a promising trend when you’re trying to pick up an NCAA bid.
- Western Illinois (class of 1982): Last year, the Leathernecks won 22 games, the first time WIU had ever won 20 or more games in a season. The opportunity to win the Summit League was there, and then it was gone.
This year Western Illinois is 10-19. Back to square one.
- Chicago State (class of 1985): Another former Great West refugee that found its way to the WAC, Chicago State is 12-17. Don’t sleep on the Panthers’ chances of pulling an upset in the WAC tourney; Chicago State won the final Great West postseason tournament last year, so its players have tasted some success in a tourney format.
Even if the Panthers don’t win the WAC tournament this year, the program has already won one battle. After struggling with academic issues for several years, the men’s basketball team’s most recent APR score was a perfect 1,000.
- Hartford (class of 1985): While Dionne Warwick is Hartford’s most famous alum, its most passionate grad may be WCSC-TV (Charleston) sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau. Will he finally see his school appear in the NCAA tournament?
Probably not. The Hawks are 16-15 overall and are looking up in the league standings at Vermont and Stony Brook (more on SBU below). Perhaps Warwick could save Bilodeau unnecessary anguish and have one of her psychic friends tell him whether or not Hartford wins the conference tournament.
- UMKC (class of 1988): I’m not sure why the Kangaroos moved from the Summit League to the WAC, but the results are similar. UMKC is 9-18 and has the worst offense in the conference. Edie McClurg is not happy.
- Buffalo (D-1 from 1974-77, then back to the division in 1992): At 12-4 in league play (18-8 overall), the Bulls currently lead the MAC’s East division and can dream again of that elusive NCAA bid. Few schools on this list have come as close to crashing the Big Dance as Buffalo has over the last decade.
The first-year head coach of the Bulls, Bobby Hurley, is more than a little familiar with the NCAA Tournament.
- Sacramento State (class of 1992): As noted in last year’s edition of this post, Sacramento State is the alma mater of actor Tom Hanks, and plays its home basketball games at a 1,200-seat gym (Colberg Court, aka “The Nest”) named for a women’s volleyball coach.
Sacramento State didn’t qualify for the Big Sky tourney last season. This year the Hornets (13-14 overall, 9-9 in league play) may sneak into the eight-team event, but getting past Weber State or Northern Colorado to actually win the auto-bid is another story.
You never know, though. After all, Sacramento State has already beaten Weber State once this season, thanks to this amazing shot.
- UT-Martin (class of 1993): After starting the season with ten consecutive losses, things really haven’t improved for the Skyhawks (8-23). UTM will not qualify for the OVC tournament, so the NCAA dream will have to wait at least another season.
- Cal Poly (class of 1995): The alumni list for the Mustangs includes such sporting notables as John Madden, Ozzie Smith, and Chuck Liddell. However, no NBA player lists Cal Poly as his alma mater, so there isn’t a huge hoops tradition in SLO land.
It doesn’t appear that this year will change that. The Mustangs are currently 10-18, 6-9 in the Big West.
- Jacksonville State (class of 1996): Like UT-Martin, Jacksonville State plays in the OVC. Also like UT-Martin, the Gamecocks (10-21) will not qualify for the OVC tournament this year.
- Quinnipiac (class of 1999): Last year, after detailing a few near-misses for the Bobcats in the NEC tournament, I wrote that “one of these years, Quinnipiac is going to win that league tourney. It will probably happen sooner rather than later.”
Ah, the dangers of prognosticating during this era of massive conference realignment. Quinnipiac has since moved to the MAAC, so the Bobcats certainly aren’t going to be winning the NEC tourney anytime soon.
They could win the MAAC tournament, though. QU is 19-10, and in third place in the league standings (trailing regular-season champ Iona and second-place Manhattan). We’ll have to wait for the exit polls to get a better idea on Quinnipiac’s chances of breaking through.
- Elon (class of 2000): At 18-13, Elon is having a season similar to last year’s solid campaign, though not as good a year as its fans may have wanted. The SoCon’s preseason favorite in some precincts finished fourth in the league standings.
There was no Southern Conference tournament title for the Phoenix last season, but Elon is a not-unreasonable pick to win the league tourney this year. Getting past Davidson is going to be a challenge, however.
This is Elon’s last chance at the SoCon auto-bid. Next year, the Phoenix move to the CAA.
- High Point (class of 2000): The Panthers are only 16-13 overall, but a 12-4 conference record was good enough to win the Big South’s North division.
(What division do you think sounds better, the Big South North or the Big South South? I can’t decide.)
Last year, an injury to a key player late in the campaign derailed High Point’s season. The Panthers are hoping for better luck in this year’s Big South tournament.
- Sacred Heart (class of 2000): 5-26 overall, just two wins in NEC play, losers of 13 of their last 14 games, eliminated from the league tournament…ugh. Let’s move on.
- Stony Brook (class of 2000): Last year, the Seawolves won the America East by three games but was tripped up in the league tourney semifinals by Albany. The game was played at Albany, because that’s how the America East rolls.
This season, Stony Brook (21-9) is second in the league behind Vermont but will avoid drawing a homestanding Albany in the conference tournament semifinals again. That said, getting a first-ever NCAA berth is not going to be easy.
- UC Riverside (class of 2002): The Highlanders are 9-19, have lost five of their last six contests, and are tied for last in the Big West. Last year, UCR was ineligible for the league tourney due to APR issues. That isn’t the case this season, but the Highlanders need to beat UC Davis in their next game in order to guarantee qualification for this year’s event, as only the top eight squads advance to the Big West tourney.
- IPFW (class of 2002): IPFW is short for Indiana University-Purdue University Ft. Wayne, so the acronym is a necessity. The schools’ teams are known as the Mastodons, one of the more distinctive nicknames in Division I.
This year, March Madness could become Mastodon Madness, as IPFW is 22-9 and tied for second place in the Summit League. The program has already set its high-water mark for victories as a D-1 member, but looks to top that achievement with an appearance in the NCAAs.
- Gardner-Webb (class of 2003): The Runnin’ Bulldogs (17-13) tied for second place in the Big South South, and have a decent chance to win what should be one of the most competitive conference tournaments in the country. Last year, Gardner-Webb won 21 games but bowed in the conference semis to eventual champ Liberty.
- Savannah State (class of 2003): It’s been a tough year for the Tigers. After winning 21 and 19 games the previous two seasons, Savannah State is 11-17, including a 10-game losing streak in non-conference play.
However, SSU is 9-5 in the MEAC and could be a dark horse in the league tourney. As always, the MEAC tournament is one of the nation’s more oddly constructed postseason events.
- Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons have won two regular-season titles in the Atlantic Sun (2006 and 2010), but have never won the league tournament, and thus have yet to make the NCAA Tournament. This year, Lipscomb (15-14) is a middle-of-the-pack team in the A-Sun, and it would be a huge surprise if the Bisons snagged the auto-bid from the likes of Mercer or FGCU.
Well, that’s the roll call for 2013-14. Will any of those teams get to the promised land?
Usually, I say no. This year, though, I think at least one of the never-beens is going to make it. UC Irvine, Stony Brook, William & Mary (now that would be a story), Quinnipiac, Denver, Elon, IPFW, Buffalo — at least one of them is going to be dancing.
I hope so, anyway. I also hope that if any of the aforementioned schools qualify, that they aren’t shunted off to the play-in games, which shouldn’t exist in the first place. These long-suffering programs deserves a presence in the main draw.
The play-in games limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers, and that’s unfair. The tourney should really revert back to a 64-team field. At least talk of expanding the tournament to 80 or 90 teams has stopped (for now).
It’s an accomplishment to make the NCAA Tournament. It means something to a program, especially when that school is a first-timer. It should continue to mean something.
Best of luck to all the dreamers.
Filed under: Basketball | Tagged: Army, Dour Duo, Forgotten Five, IPFW, Maine, NCAA Tournament, New Hampshire, Northwestern, Quinnipiac, St.Francis College, The Citadel, UC Irvine, UMass Lowell, VMI, William & Mary | 2 Comments »