Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2017 edition

Previous entries on this subject:  The 2016 edition The 2015 edition The 2014 edition The 2013 edition The 2012 edition  The 2011 edition  The 2010 edition

All season records through February 26

With the regular season about to end in most of the nation’s conferences, conference tournament time has arrived. That means it is time for March Madness, with schools across the nation dreaming about making a trip to the promised land, the NCAA Tournament.

Most of those dreams will not come true. There are 351 Division I institutions that play men’s basketball, and only 68 of them will make the NCAAs. For some of those schools, though, the failure to make the tourney is an unfortunate tradition of long standing.

There are 31 schools that have been members of D-1 for at least a decade, but have never appeared in the NCAAs. Now, there are other schools in the division that have also never made the Big Dance, but there is a distinction to be made between schools that are recent arrivals in D-1 (such as Northern Kentucky or Presbyterian) and longtime no-nos (like Youngstown State or Maryland-Eastern Shore).

Of those schools with 10+ years in Division I but no bids to show for it, 17 of them have been in D-1 for 30 years or more and are still waiting. For fans of Bethune-Cookman, Denver, or Hartford (just to name three such schools), watching Selection Sunday with no vested interest isn’t just depressing — it’s all they’ve ever known.

When I started writing about this topic in 2010, I listed the twenty schools with the longest waits for an NCAA tourney bid. That was seven years ago, but seventeen of those schools are still waiting to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. One of the three institutions no longer on the list, Centenary, dropped out of Division I after 50 years of trying.

However, there is hope. Two first-timers made the field of 68 last season, and one of them had put in its dues.

Stony Brook, a D-1 member since 2000, had won 22, 15, 22, 25, 23, and 23 games in the years preceding last season, but had not won the America East conference tournament. The Seawolves finally broke through in 2016, winning 26 games and the AE tourney title.

Cal State Bakersfield, a relative baby in D-1 terms, also made its debut in the NCAAs after winning the WAC tournament.

Before delving into this year’s report on the perpetual hopefuls, there is another list of schools worthy of mention. There are numerous institutions that have made at least one NCAA appearance, but haven’t been back to the tournament in at least 20 years. A few of them have been waiting longer for a return to the NCAAs than most of the no-timers.

First (or last, depending on your point of view) among this group of schools is Dartmouth. In both 1942 and 1944, the Big Green advanced to the NCAA title game. Dartmouth has made five other appearances in the tournament, but last made the NCAAs in 1959.

Other schools that have made at least one appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but haven’t been back since 1997 (or earlier) while continuously in D-1:

Tennessee Tech (last made the NCAAs in 1963), Columbia (1968), Bowling Green (1968), Rice (1970), VMI (1977), Duquesne (1977), Furman (1980), Toledo (1980), Loyola of Chicago (1985), Brown (1986), Jacksonville (1986), Marshall (1987), Idaho State (1987), Marist (1987), Loyola Marymount (1990), Idaho (1990), Louisiana Tech (1991), Towson (1991), St. Francis-PA (1991), Rutgers (1991), Howard (1992), Georgia Southern (1992), Campbell (1992), Fordham (1992), East Carolina (1993), Rider (1994), Tennessee State (1994), Tulane (1995), Canisius (1996), Colgate (1996), Drexel (1996), Montana State (1996), New Orleans (1996), Northern Illinois (1996), Portland (1996), San Jose State (1996), Santa Clara (1996), ULM (1996), Western Carolina (1996), Charleston Southern (1997), Fairfield (1997), and Texas State (1997).

Of note: Seattle (which rode Elgin Baylor all the way to the NCAA final in 1958, but which last made the tournament field in 1969) and Houston Baptist (a tourney team in 1984) both left Division I and then later returned. Thus, they haven’t been in D-1 for all the years after making their most recent NCAA tourney appearances.

Seattle spent 15 years out of D-1, so it has not made the tournament in 33 non-consecutive Division I seasons. Houston Baptist has been absent from the NCAA tournament for 11 non-consecutive D-1 seasons.

A few notable trivia items from that list of teams:

  • Tennessee Tech’s last NCAA trip was one to forget: a 111-42 loss to eventual champion Loyola of Chicago.
  • Of course, Loyola of Chicago is also on this list, as the Ramblers haven’t been to the NCAAs since 1985, when Alfredrick Hughes was lighting up the scoreboard. That is by far the longest current tourney drought for any former title-winning school (not counting CCNY, which no longer competes at the D-1 level).
  • VMI advanced to the round of 16 in its last NCAA appearance; the year before, the Keydets made it to the Elite Eight before losing to Rutgers.
  • Speaking of Rutgers, it has not been to the NCAA tourney since 1991, the longest current drought for any school in a power five league; however, the Scarlet Knights obviously haven’t been in a P5 league for that entire time period.
  • Marist last made it to the NCAAs in 1987, when its star was the Dunking Dutchman, Rik Smits.
  • Marshall won the Southern Conference in 1987, but trouble began the following year, when the the Curse of Randy Nesbit began; the Thundering Herd is still waiting to make its next trip to the NCAAs.
  • Idaho State and Idaho both last appeared in the NCAAs in a Salt Lake City subregional (in 1987 and 1990, respectively).
  • Somewhat surprisingly, Loyola Marymount hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since its memorable Elite Eight run in 1990.
  • St. Francis (PA) has made one appearance in the NCAAs, in 1991. The Red Flash had to win a play-in game against another conference champion, Fordham, to get there (the play-in was not considered part of the tournament proper at that time).
  • Fordham did make it to the NCAAs the following year, 1992, but the Rams haven’t been back since.
  • Santa Clara hasn’t been to the NCAAs since a guard named Steve Nash played for the Broncos.

Another trivia item: Eleven schools that appeared in the 1996 tournament (almost one-fifth of the field) have not been back since. However, that number was twelve last season; Green Bay then made its first appearance in the NCAAs in two decades.

Also making a trip to the tournament last year after long absences: Yale, which danced for the first time since 1962 (not a typo), and then proceeded to beat Baylor in the first round; and Oregon State (which snagged its first NCAA bid since 1990).

A few teams on the above list have a decent chance to make it back to the NCAAs this season. Practically all of them would have to win their respective league tournaments in order to do so. The most likely teams to emerge with a conference tourney title of that group are Furman (SoCon), Georgia Southern (Sun Belt), New Orleans (Southland), and Towson (CAA).

Now it is time to begin the rundown of the schools that have never made the NCAAs in at least a decade of trying. As always, we start with the Forgotten Five (once described as “a very elegant group”). It’s quite possible that soon, though, we will be talking about the Forgotten Four. We’ll see.

The NCAA Tournament began in 1939. In 1948, the NCAA reorganized itself, and established separate divisions (college and university) for its member institutions. Of the schools that since 1948 have continuously been in what we now call Division I, five have never made the tournament field.

All five of those schools theoretically could have been in the tournament beginning in 1939, so for them the wait is actually longer than their history as official members of Division I. I think that makes it worse, to be honest.

The five schools are known as the “Forgotten Five”. The class  of 1948 (or 1939):

Northwestern: There are 65 schools in the “power five” leagues (counting Notre Dame as an ACC member). Only five haven’t made the NCAAs over the past seven years, and just three of those have been in a P5 conference for the entirety of that seven year period: South Carolina, Auburn, and Northwestern.

The Gamecocks will almost certainly qualify for the field of 68 this season after a 13-year absence; Auburn, which hasn’t been in the tourney since 2003, probably has to wait at least one more year.

Then there are the Wildcats, which have never advanced to the NCAA tournament. However, this season has been different. Northwestern has already won 20 games and is 9-7 in the Big 10 with two regular-season games to play. An at-large bid is there for the taking. And yet…

NU has lost five of their last seven games, including consecutive road defeats against non-tourney teams Illinois and Indiana (in the latter game, the Hoosiers scored the game’s final eight points to win by one). Could Northwestern finish the season on a five-game losing streak and miss the tourney again? Yes, it could.

Northwestern likely needs to win one of its last two regular-season games to feel better about its chances at garnering a first-ever bid. The Wildcats play Michigan and Purdue, both at home. A win in either game would assure Northwestern of its first winning record in Big 10 play since 1968, and undoubtedly a tourney bid as well.

Incidentally, not everyone thinks that Northwestern making the NCAAs would be such a good thing.

William and Mary: While the national press is fixated on Northwestern (and no wonder; it appears one out of every three sportswriters went to school there), the Forgotten Five member most deserving of the general public’s rooting interest is arguably William and Mary. The program has been to its conference championship game nine times. On each occasion, a bid to the NCAAs was on the line.

The Tribe is 0-9 in league title games. Two of those defeats have come in the last four seasons.

This season, veteran coach Tony Shaver (14 years at W&M) has led his squad to a 16-13 record (10-8 CAA). William and Mary won’t be favored in the conference tourney, but it would not be a complete shock if the Tribe were to advance to the league final. That wouldn’t be quite enough, as fans of the school know all too well.

The Citadel: The Bulldogs have lost at least 20 games in six of the last seven years, including the 2016-17 campaign (10-20, 3-14). However, there are glimmers of hope along the Ashley River, despite an 11-game losing streak earlier this season.

It is extremely unlikely that The Citadel wins the upcoming SoCon tourney, but this may be a program to watch in the next couple of years.

Army: The Cadets (12-18, 6-12 in the Patriot League) will be a major underdog in their conference tournament. If Army were to somehow win the Patriot League tourney, there is no doubt the school would accept the NCAA bid that comes with the championship.

In 1968, that wasn’t the case. Army turned down a bid that season, the only school on this list to have done so.

[Tangent: I am now required to note that the last school to turn down an NCAA bid was Marquette, in 1970. The great Al McGuire made that decision. Why no one has made a movie yet about the legendary Marquette coach is truly mind-boggling. Heck, Dick Enberg (!) wrote a play about McGuire.]

St. Francis College: Two years ago, the Terriers were one game away from the NCAA tournament. Alas, it was not to be.

This year, SFC is 4-27, 2-16 in the NEC. Its season is over, as the Terriers did not qualify for the NEC tournament.

For some schools, the window of opportunity is very small indeed.

Next up on the list of teams never to have made the tournament: “The Dour Duo”, two New England schools that have been members of D-1 since 1962. Both are members of the America East conference.

New Hampshire: It has been another good year for the Wildcats. Bill Herrion’s team is 19-11 overall, 10-6 in the America East.

Herrion is like William and Mary’s Tony Shaver in that he has built a program into a contender over a long period of time. It would be nice to see guys like that rewarded for their perseverance.

Unfortunately for Herrion and UNH, this year’s America East has been dominated by Vermont, which is undefeated in the league and a heavy favorite to capture the conference tourney title.

Maine: Over the past four seasons, the Black Bears have won 6, 3, 8, and (this year) 7 games. Winters are long in Orono.

Maine did finish the regular season in style, winning at Binghamton on Saturday. That first-round tourney game against Vermont doesn’t look promising, however.

The rest of the rundown:

– Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): Joe Scott was 146-132 in nine seasons as Denver’s head coach. After last year’s 16-15 finish, Scott was fired with two years remaining on his contract.

The school’s associate vice chancellor had this to say:

We want to get to the NCAA Tournament in men’s basketball. We looked at what Joe’s team had done over the nine years and decided it was time to make a transition. Postseason success had not occurred.

Yes, at every level of Division I, there is pressure to get to the NCAAs.

The Pioneers are now coached by Rodney Billups. They are 16-13 overall, 8-8 in the Summit League. I think the school administration at Denver may have to wait at least one more year for that NCAA bid.

– UT-Rio Grande Valley (class of 1969): Whether it has been known as UT-Pan American (the name before a merger with UT-Brownsville) or UT-Rio Grande Valley, success in basketball has not been easy to come by for the school located in Edinburg, Texas.

This year’s 10-20 mark (2-11 WAC) is more or less what the program has done in recent hardwood campaigns, as the team averaged nine wins per season in the three years before this one. On the bright side, the sort-of-new team nickname (Vaqueros) is cool.

– Stetson (class of 1972): Last year, the Hatters were ineligible for an NCAA bid because of APR scores, but for some reason the Atlantic Sun allowed Stetson to play in the league tournament.

Naturally, the Hatters made the final. Stetson eventually lost in overtime, finishing the season with 12 wins and with renewed hope that next season could be the year.

It wasn’t. Stetson is 11-20 overall, 3-11 in the conference. So much for that postseason momentum carrying over.

This means that, as always, the school’s most famous hoops player will remain the late Ted Cassidy. You rang?

– Grambling State (class of 1978): Hey, Grambling isn’t half-bad this year!

Sure, the Tigers are only 13-15 overall (8-7 in the SWAC). That looks fantastic, though, when you consider that in the previous five seasons, GSU won a total of 18 games.

Texas Southern is the team to beat in the SWAC, but Grambling has at least a puncher’s chance in that league tourney.

– Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): In 2014-15, UMES somehow won 18 games, after losing at least 20 games in each of the twelve years prior to that season.

The Hawks regressed last year, losing 22 games. This season’s squad is 11-18 overall, but has a winning record in the MEAC (8-6) and could makes some waves in the conference tournament. However, North Carolina Central is expected to be the last team standing at the Scope Arena.

– Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins are 11-20, 5-13 in the Horizon League. Last year, Youngstown State won 11 games. The year before, YSU won 11 games.

Winning 11 games in football is excellent. In hoops, not so much. Perhaps Bo Pelini could do double duty.

– Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): The Wildcats are only 7-21 overall, 4-10 in the MEAC. This isn’t going to be the year.

– Western Illinois (class of 1982): The Leathernecks are 8-19 overall, 5-11 in the Summit League. Unlike last season, WIU did qualify for the league tournament, but it will be the 8 seed and faces top seed South Dakota in the first round.

– Chicago State (class of 1985): Last year, the Cougars only had one Division I victory. This season, Chicago State has three, so I guess that’s an improvement.

Chicago State is 6-24 overall, 1-12 in the WAC. At least this year, school employees haven’t received layoff notices. Not yet, anyway.

– Hartford (class of 1985): The Hawks are 9-22, 4-12 in the America East. The highlight of its season was unquestionably Hartford’s victory over Boston College in December.

To the dismay of legendary singer Dionne Warwick, WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau, and the rest of Hartford’s faithful fans, a bid to the NCAA tournament is not likely to be on the table this year. Of course, Warwick already knew that.

– UMKC (class of 1988): The WAC is filled to the brim with schools that have never been to the NCAAs. UMKC has a slightly better chance of breaking through than UT-Rio Grande Valley and Chicago State (or Utah Valley State, for that matter), but with a 15-15 record (7-6 in league play), Kangaroo fans probably aren’t counting their wombats.

– Sacramento State (class of 1992): During the 2014-15 season, Sac State won 21 games. The past two years have been more like the mediocre campaigns that preceded that 21-win season.

This year’s team is 11-16 overall, 8-8 in the Big Sky. The Hornets will have their work cut out for them in the league tournament.

– UT Martin (class of 1993): UT Martin is 20-11 overall, 10-6 in the OVC West division. The Skyhawks have now won 20+ games for three straight seasons.

As was the case last year, Belmont will be the favorite in the OVC tournament. Of course, last season Austin Peay won the league title as the 8 seed, so there is no telling what might happen in Nashville this year.

– Jacksonville State (class of 1996): For the first time in four years, Jacksonville State qualified for the OVC tournament. At 17-14 overall (9-7 OVC), JSU isn’t expected to win the tourney, but at least the Gamecocks have a chance this year. All anyone ever wants is a chance.

– Quinnipiac (class of 1999): At 10-20, 7-13 in the MAAC, Quinnipiac doesn’t have the profile of a league tournament champion, much to the disappointment of alumnus and licorice aficionado Turk Wendell.

Perhaps the school should take a new poll and see if its prospects improve.

– Elon (class of 2000): The Phoenix are 18-13 overall, 10-8 in CAA play. While only the 5 seed in the league tournament (which is taking place in Charleston), Elon did avoid having to play in the first round and will “only” have to win three games (instead of four) to claim the league title.

It isn’t out of the question that Elon could still be playing in Charleston on Monday night.

– High Point (class of 2000): High Point won or shared the Big South title in each of the last four seasons, but never could turn all that success into a league tourney championship and NCAA bid.

This season, the Panthers are the very definition of a .500 team (15-15 overall, 9-9 conference). Like Elon, High Point is the 5 seed in its conference tourney and also avoided a first-round game, advancing directly into the quarterfinals (where it will play a neutral-site game in Rock Hill against fellow never-been Gardner-Webb).

– Sacred Heart (class of 2000): The Pioneers are 13-18 overall, 8-10 in the NEC.

Sacred Heart has been a very streaky team this season. It is currently on a 3-game skid that immediately followed a 5-game winning streak. The Pioneers also had two 4-game losing streaks earlier in the season.

Of course, it only takes one 3-game winning streak at the right time to claim a berth in the NCAAs.

UC Riverside (class of 2002): After back-to-back 14-win campaigns, the Highlanders have slipped this season. UCR is 7-19 overall, 5-10 in the Big West.

The Highlanders are in serious danger of not making their conference tournament, as only eight schools qualify for that event. UCR is currently in ninth place in the league.

Fort Wayne (class of 2002): The Mastodons (such a great nickname) are 19-11 overall, 8-8 in the Summit League. That isn’t quite as good as last year’s 24-win campaign, but the squad should still be a viable threat in a relatively balanced conference.

Besides, as I always say: Mastodons may be extinct, but you still can’t count them out.

Gardner-Webb (class of 2003): The Runnin’ Bulldogs are 18-13 overall, 11-7 in the Big South. As mentioned earlier, GWU is playing another no-timer, High Point, in the first round of the Big South tournament.

Could Gardner-Webb win the tourney title? Yes. However, it went only 1-5 against the top three teams in the league (Winthrop, UNC-Asheville, and Liberty).

Savannah State (class of 2003): The Tigers are 11-16 overall, 8-6 in the MEAC. It doesn’t matter though, as Savannah State is ineligible for the NCAAs due to APR issues.

– Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons are 19-12, 11-3 in the Atlantic Sun. Only Florida Gulf Coast had a better conference record than Lipscomb.

Could this be Lipscomb’s year? It has won eight of its last nine games, including a road victory over FGCU. Hmm.

UC Davis (class of 2005): The Aggies won 25 games two years ago, including the Big West regular season title. The tourney title and resulting NCAA bid escaped them, however.

Last year’s campaign ended with only 11 victories, but this year UC Davis is back to its winning ways, with an 18-11 overall record (10-4 in the Big West). The Aggies are currently tied for first place in the conference.

A quick list of other D-1 schools angling for their first tourney invites, but which haven’t been full Division I members for 10 years: Bryant, Central Arkansas, Kennesaw State, Longwood, NJIT, North Dakota, Northern Kentucky, Omaha, Presbyterian, South Dakota, USC-Upstate, and Utah Valley State.

Another member of this cohort, SIU-Edwardsville, did not qualify for its conference tournament.

There are four D-1 schools still in their “transition” phase, and thus ineligible for postseason play until next season: Grand Canyon, Abilene Christian, Incarnate Word, and Massachusetts-Lowell.

Of the “newbie” institutions, the best bets to win a conference tourney are from the Dakotas, as South Dakota is the top seed in the Summit League tournament, while North Dakota currently leads the Big Sky.

Can any of the longtime no-timers finally break through this year? Well, there is Northwestern, of course. After that, Lipscomb and UC Davis are both worth watching, as are (perhaps to a lesser extent) Fort Wayne and New Hampshire.

If any of the aforementioned schools qualify, my biggest fear is that they are forced into one of the play-in games (better known as the PIGs).

As I’ve said many times before, the play-in games limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers. It is both unfair and unnecessary. If the PIGs have to exist, at least make the last eight at-large teams play in them, as opposed to four of the teams that get automatic bids.

Automatic qualifiers should always be in the main draw — the real tournament.

Good luck to all the teams dreaming about a really big dance.

2 Responses

  1. Actually Elon is class of 1999

  2. Pinpointing when some of these schools became full D-1 members can be difficult, especially for those in the last 20 years or so (for example, I mistakenly listed Utah Valley State in my main rundown last year when that school had actually not completed its transition prior to 2005).

    First, when I say “Class of 2000”, I mean the 1999-2000 season. As far as I can tell, that is the first season Elon was technically eligible to play in the NCAA D-1 tournament.

    In 1998-99, Elon played what amounted to a D-1 schedule, including games against other Big South teams, but those games didn’t count as league contests, and Elon did not participate in the conference tournament (neither did High Point, which was also “transitioning” to D-1 during this time).

    I could be wrong about when Elon became a full-fledged D-1 member, of course. Transition periods have changed over time, and if Elon were actually eligible for the NCAAs in 1998-99 (as a de facto independent in that scenario), I would list them as such. I’m just under the impression that the season in question for Elon (and High Point) is 1999-2000.

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