Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2018 edition

Previous entries on this subject: The 2017 edition  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 25

As the regular season comes to a close in Division I basketball, the next two weeks will be filled with action, as conference tournaments begin across the nation. March Madness will arrive, with teams dreaming of boogieing down on the biggest dance floor of them all, the NCAA Tournament.

Most of those dreams will not come true; most of them won’t come close to coming true. There are 351 D-1 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 a common occurrence — in fact, it is all they have ever known.

There are 29 schools that have been full members of Division I for at least a decade, but have never made a trip to the NCAAs. Now, there are 14 other schools in the division that have also never crashed the party, but there is a distinction to be made between schools that are fairly recent arrivals in D-1 (such as Central Arkansas or Bryant) and longtime never-beens (like Hartford or Western Illinois).

Of those schools with 10+ years in D-1 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 UMKC, Stetson, or Denver (just to name three such schools), watching the CBS selection show with no vested interest in the brackets is a sad but seemingly inevitable tradition.

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 eight years ago. Sixteen of those schools are still waiting to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. One of the four institutions no longer on the list, Centenary, eventually dropped out of D-1 after 50 years, never making the tournament.

However, there is hope. No fewer than five first-timers made the field of 68 in 2017. Two of them were relatively new to Division I (North Dakota and Northern Kentucky). UC Davis had been in D-1 since 2005, so it had bided its time, as had Jacksonville State (a member of the division since 1996).

Then there was Northwestern, one of the “Forgotten Five”. Now the Forgotten Five is known as the Forgotten Four, as the Wildcats became the last major-conference school to make an initial appearance in the NCAAs.

Before diving into this year’s rundown of the longtime non-invitees, 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 those schools have actually waited longer for a return to the NCAA tournament than most of the no-timers.

First (or perhaps last?) among this group of schools is Dartmouth. In both 1942 and 1944, the Big Green advanced to the NCAA title game. Dartmouth has made seven total appearances in the tournament, but last made the NCAAs in 1959.

That unfortunate streak will continue for another year, as the Big Green will not qualify for this season’s Ivy League conference tournament.

Other schools that have made at least one appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but haven’t been back since 1998 (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), Northern Illinois (1996), Portland (1996), San Jose State (1996), Santa Clara (1996), ULM (1996), Western Carolina (1996), Charleston Southern (1997), Fairfield (1997), Texas State (1997), TCU (1998), Eastern Michigan (1998), Illinois State (1998), Navy (1998), Nicholls (1998), Prairie View A&M (1998), and San Francisco (1998).

Of note: Seattle (which made the NCAA championship game in 1958 thanks mostly to Elgin Baylor, 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 34 non-consecutive Division I seasons. Houston Baptist has been absent from the NCAA tournament for 12 non-consecutive D-1 seasons.

Of the teams listed above, TCU is the only one with a reasonable chance of receiving an at-large bid this season. Indeed, the Horned Frogs have had a very solid 2017-18 campaign, and are likely to make the field.

Other schools mentioned above that would be favorites, or at least realistic contenders, to win their league tourneys: Loyola of Chicago, Idaho, Campbell, Marshall, Towson, Toledo, Illinois State, Nicholls, and Navy.

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 mentioned earlier, there are 29 such schools.

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, four have never made the tournament field. All of them theoretically could have been in the tournament beginning in 1939, so for these four schools the wait is actually longer than their history as official members of Division I.

Due to Northwestern finally breaking through last season, this group of schools is now known as the “Forgotten Four”. The class of 1948 (or 1939, if you’re so inclined):

– William and Mary: William and Mary has been to its league championship game nine times in its history. Every time, it would have received a bid to the NCAAs with a victory.

The Tribe is 0-9 in those games. Two have come in the last five seasons.

This season, William and Mary has an overall record of 18-11 (11-7 CAA). The Tribe won’t be favored in the league tournament in Charleston, and has a brutal bracket (Towson, and if it wins then probably College of Charleston in the semifinals).

However, the Tribe is an excellent offensive team. Two games of hot shooting could put W&M in the conference final yet again.

– The Citadel: The Bulldogs have lost at least 20 games in seven of the last eight years, including this season’s campaign (10-20, 5-13 in the SoCon).

At one point this year, it appeared that The Citadel might be finally turning the corner. It didn’t.

– Army: The Cadets (13-16, 6-12 in the Patriot League) will be a major underdog in their conference tournament, as they were last year. In fact, Army has been 6-12 in conference play in each of the last two seasons.

If the Black Knights were to beat Loyola of Maryland on Wednesday, they would face top seed Bucknell on Thursday. That does not bode well for continuing to play over the weekend.

– St. Francis College: It has been three years since the Terriers were one game away from the NCAA tournament. Things didn’t go well that night for St. Francis.

This year, SFC is 13-17 overall, 10-8 in the NEC. The Terriers are much improved from last season, when they didn’t even qualify for the league tournament. As the five seed, SFC would probably have to win three road games to win the conference tourney. Unlikely, but not completely impossible.

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

– New Hampshire: In their previous three seasons, the Wildcats won a combined 59 games. UNH could never get past the league tourney semifinals, however.

This season, New Hampshire is 10-19 (6-9 in the America East), and has lost four straight games. Back to square one.

– Maine: Over the past five years, the Black Bears have won 6, 3, 8, 7, and (this season) 6 games.

New Hampshire and Maine play each other in the Hockey East tournament’s opening round, which may be of more interest to the two schools right now.

The rest of the rundown:

– Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): Denver is 14-14 overall, 8-6 in the Summit League. The conference tournament is being held in Sioux Falls, and the two South Dakota schools (USD and SDSU) are the favorites.

According to kenpom, Denver has a 2.8% chance of winning the league tournament. Hey, it’s better than no chance at all.

– UT-Rio Grande Valley (class of 1969): Whether it has been known as UT-Pan American or UT-Rio Grande Valley, hoops success has always been hard to come by for the school located in southern Texas.

This year’s 15-15 record (6-7 in the WAC) is an improvement over recent years, as the Vaqueros had not broken the 10-win barrier in their last four campaigns. Expecting UT-RGV to make much noise in the league tournament may be a bit much to ask, at least this season, with New Mexico State the solid favorite in the WAC.

– Stetson (class of 1972): This year has been fairly typical for the Hatters, which are 12-19 overall, 4-10 in the Atlantic Sun. Stetson did make the league tournament this season, but that is only because the A-Sun is down to eight members (the Hatters will be the 7 seed).

As always, this post will note that the school’s most famous basketball player is the late Ted Cassidy. You rang?

– Grambling State (class of 1978): After being arguably the worst D-1 basketball program of them all over the last decade, this has been an excellent year for GSU hoops. At one point the Tigers won 11 straight games and held the nation’s longest active win streak, which deservedly grabbed a lot of attention.

Alas, Grambling State is banned from postseason play due to APR issues, so it will be at least another year before the Tigers can make their first NCAA tournament appearance.

– Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): Three years ago, UMES won 18 games. Outside of that one spectacular outlier of a season, however, the Hawks have lost at least 20 games in fifteen of the last sixteen seasons, including this year (6-24, 2-13 in the MEAC).

– Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins are 8-23, 6-12 in the Horizon League.

It is puzzling that YSU, a school with a significant winning tradition in football, has never been successful in basketball at the D-1 level. (The same could be said for Grambling State, too.)

– Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): The Wildcats are 17-12 overall, 11-4 in the MEAC. That league mark currently leads a very balanced conference (at least at the top).

Bethune-Cookman has won five straight games and would love to carry that momentum into The Scope for the MEAC tournament. Could this be the year for the Wildcats?

– Western Illinois (class of 1982): The Leathernecks are 12-15 overall, 3-11 in the Summit League. Earlier, I mentioned that kenpom gave Denver a 2.8% chance of winning the Summit League tournament.

WIU has a 0.2% chance.

– Chicago State (class of 1985): In the two seasons before this one, the Cougars had a combined total of four D-1 victories. This year, Chicago State has none. The Cougars are 2-28 overall, 0-13 in the WAC.

On the bright side, CSU’s women’s basketball team recently broke a 59-game losing streak.

– Hartford (class of 1985): The Hawks are having a fine season. Hartford is 18-11 overall, 11-4 in the America East.

WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau and the rest of Hartford’s faithful fans are hopeful this could be the year, but Vermont is the kingpin in the AE, and will be very hard to beat. That said, only Hartford alum Dionne Warwick knows for sure what the future holds.

– UMKC (class of 1988): UMKC is one of a fistful of WAC schools that have never been to the NCAAs. The Kangaroos are ahead of Chicago State in the “likely to break through” category, but that’s not saying a whole lot.

UMKC is 10-20 this season, 5-8 in league play. However, the Kangaroos have won four of their last five games and could be tough to bounce in the conference tournament.

– Sacramento State (class of 1992): Sacramento State is 6-23 overall, 3-13 in the Big Sky. This isn’t going to be the year.

– UT Martin (class of 1993): Last season, the Skyhawks advanced to the final of the OVC tournament, only to lose to a fellow never-been, Jacksonville State.

This season, UT Martin (10-21 overall, 5-13 OVC) did not even qualify for the league tourney.

– Quinnipiac (class of 1999): The Bobcats are 10-20 overall, 7-11 in the MAAC. There are no polls that have QU as the favorite to win the league tournament.

– Elon (class of 2000): The Phoenix are 14-16 overall, 6-11 in CAA play. Elon will be playing in an opening-round game of the league tournament, and thus has to win four games to emerge with an automatic bid. Odds of that happening are not good.

– High Point (class of 2000): High Point (14-15 overall, 9-9 Big South) is one of about eight teams that could conceivably win the Big South tournament. HPU does have a disadvantage in that it has to win four games to claim the conference tourney title, instead of three. However, the preliminary game is a home matchup against 6-25 Longwood, so the extra contest may not be an overwhelming burden.

– Sacred Heart (class of 2000): The Pioneers finished the season 10-21, 5-13 in the NEC. They did not quality for the league tournament, so Sacred Heart will have to wait for at least one more year.

– UC Riverside (class of 2002): UCR is currently eighth in the Big West standings with a 3-11 conference mark; overall, the Highlanders are 8-20.

The last-place team in the Big West does not get to play in the league tournament, so UC Riverside may need to win one of its last two games to ensure it advances to the conference tourney.

– Fort Wayne (class of 2002): The Mastodons (possibly the best nickname in D-1) are 18-13 overall, 7-7 in the Summit League. Fort Wayne is a solid outfit that won’t be favored to win the conference tourney, but won’t be an easy out either. Earlier this season, Fort Wayne beat Indiana 92-72 — in Bloomington.

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 14-17 overall, 9-9 in the Big South. As mentioned in the comment about High Point, there are about eight teams that have a realistic shot at winning the Big South tournament. G-W is one of them, and will face Winthrop in a quarterfinal contest played in Asheville, NC.

While Gardner-Webb has wins over both of the top two seeds in the league tourney, Winthrop (the 3 seed) swept the Runnin’ Bulldogs this year.

– Savannah State (class of 2003): The Tigers are only 13-16 overall, but are 10-4 in the MEAC. Savannah State is moving to Division II after the 2018-19 season, so this is one of just two remaining years in which the Tigers can make the NCAA tournament.

Originally, APR issues were going to keep SSU from participating in postseason play this season, but the school got a waiver. That means the nation’s fastest-paced team (the Tigers average almost 85 possessions per contest) will have a chance to win the MEAC tournament. They could be a serious threat in Norfolk.

– Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons are 20-9, 10-4 in the Atlantic Sun. Only Florida Gulf Coast had a better conference record than Lipscomb. Of course, that was true last year as well, and FGCU won the league tournament (with Lipscomb losing in the conference semifinals).

Lipscomb has won five in a row and nine of its last ten. One of those victories was a road win over FGCU. After a couple of near misses, perhaps this could be the year of the Bisons.

Longwood (class of 2008): The Lancers are 6-25 overall, 3-15 in the Big South. After finishing last in the conference during the regular season, Longwood (which has lost 12 straight games) plays at High Point in a preliminary round tournament game. I wouldn’t put a lot of money on the Lancers advancing to the conference tourney quarterfinals.

A quick list of other Division I schools in search of their first NCAA tournament invitations, but which haven’t been full D-1 members for 10 years: Bryant, Central Arkansas, Kennesaw State, NJIT, Omaha, South Dakota, USC-Upstate, Utah Valley State, SIU-Edwardsville, Presbyterian, South Dakota, Massachusetts-Lowell, Incarnate Word, Abilene Christian, and Grand Canyon.

The last four schools on that list (Grand Canyon, Abilene Christian, Incarnate Word, and Massachusetts-Lowell) just completed their D-1 transitional phase and are eligible for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time.

Of the “newbie” institutions, the best bets to win a conference tourney are South Dakota (which won the regular-season title in the Summit League) and Grand Canyon (the WAC school has a chance to finish with 20 regular-season victories).

Conversely, Bryant (3-28 overall, 2-16 in the NEC) did not qualify for its league tournament.

Can any of the longtime no-timers finally break through this year? Sure. There are several that would seem to have a reasonable chance of winning their respective league tournaments.

I would pay particular attention to Bethune-Cookman, Hartford, Savannah State, and Lipscomb.

If any of the never-beens make it, my main worry is that they could be forced into one of the play-in games (better known as the PIGs).

As I’ve complained about repeatedly, the play-in games limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers. It is both unfair and unnecessary. If the PIGs have to exist (and there was nothing wrong with the 64-team tournament), at least make the last eight at-large teams play in them, as opposed to four teams that get automatic bids.

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

Good luck to all the teams dreaming the biggest of dreams.

Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2011 Edition

Updated: The 2016 edition

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?

Longest droughts: schools that have never made the NCAA tournament

Updated: The 2016 edition

Now updated: the 2015 edition

Editor’s note:  this post is from 2010. For the 2014 update, click here.

For the 2013 update, click here.

For a 2012 update, click here. For the 2011 review, click here.

It’s almost time for the conference tournament season, and almost every year a school will celebrate its very first bid to the NCAA tournament.  Announcers will gush as the students rush the court following a dramatic victory in a league tourney final.  “They’re dancing!” is the cry.

Of course, most of the time the school in question has only been in Division I for a few years after enjoying success in Division II or the NAIA.  Occasionally the team is supplemented, if not dominated, by sketchy transfers or refugees from a local work-release center.  It doesn’t matter, though — it’s in the field of 65.  The school becomes part of the madness of March, and its supporters will cheer wildly (often televised from a local sports bar) when its name is called by James Brown on Selection Sunday.

However, every now and then a school that has spent decades in the Division I wilderness, searching in vain for the road to the tourney, finds its way out of the woods and into the promised land.  Two seasons ago it happened to American University, which had just missed in several Patriot League tourney title games before finally punching its ticket with a 52-46 victory over Colgate.  AU had been in Division I since 1967.

Another school that had a long wait end in 2008 was UT-Arlington.  The Mavericks had been members of Division I since 1969, but had never made the NCAAs until winning the Southland tournament that season (as the 7 seed in the league tourney).

These are the schools I (usually) root for come tourney time, to get that proverbial monkey off their back.  They are the 20 schools that have been in Division I the longest without making a single appearance in the NCAA tournament.  To keep what follows in perspective, just remember that George Mason University, which made the Final Four a few years ago, didn’t even exist until 1972.

“The Forgotten Five”

The NCAA’s modern classification into what we now call Division I occurred in 1948, although the hoops tourney started in 1939.  The five schools that have been in D-1 since ’48 were all technically eligible to be selected to the NCAAs since that first 1939 tourney.  Of course, it was only an 8-team tourney in those years.

Tangent:  maybe it was only an 8-team field in those days, but none other than Harvard got a bid in 1946 (losing both its tourney opener and a consolation game). Thus, Harvard has been to the NCAA tourney despite having never won the Ivy League (which has officially only been around since 1954).

The class of 1948:

  • Army:  I didn’t know this until last year, but the Black Knights actually could have gone to the NCAA tournament in the 1960s.  According to Bob Knight (in a TV interview) Army turned down an NCAA invite to instead play in the NIT, with a chance to compete at Madison Square Garden.

Another tangent:  The last school to turn down an NCAA bid was Marquette (in 1970), a decision made by the late, great Al McGuire.  McGuire was annoyed that his team (ranked 8th nationally) was going to have to travel further than he thought was right for a top 10 squad, so he thumbed his nose at the NCAA brass and accepted an NIT bid (Marquette would win that tournament).  Schools are no longer allowed to decline NCAA bids to play in the NIT.

  • Northwestern:  The Wildcats are the only school in a “power conference” to never make the tournament.  The school hosted the first NCAA tourney in 1939.
  • St. Francis of New York:  This school is not to be confused with St. Francis of Pennsylvania, fellow member of the Northeast Conference, which actually made the tournament in 1991 (and had to win a play-in game to do so).  The Terriers, on the other hand, made three NIT appearances from 1956 to 1963, but have never been particularly close to an NCAA berth, at least from what I have been able to determine.  There isn’t a great deal of SFC hoops history readily available online.  The Terriers may be the most forgotten of the Forgotten Five.
  • William and Mary:  The Tribe did make the NIT in 1983.  Thomas Jefferson and Jon Stewart demand more success than that, though.
  • The Citadel:  I wrote about the school’s painful hoops history in November of 2008.  Since I wrote that manifesto, the team has won more games over a two-season stretch than at any other time in the Bulldogs’ history.  Karma?

The chances of any of these schools making it this year are not particularly good. Northwestern, William and Mary, and Army all got off to good starts, but have faded down the stretch (the Tribe’s 16-point loss to Iona in a Bracketbusters game probably eliminating W&M from at-large consideration).  To get a bid, it’s likely that only a league tournament title (and the automatic bid that goes with it) will do.

At this point, The Citadel might have the best shot, as it will be very difficult for Northwestern and/or William & Mary to win their respective conference tourneys (I think it’s fair to say that winning the Big 10/CAA tourneys is harder than winning the SoCon crown).  The Bulldogs, while currently playing good basketball, will probably have to win four SoCon tourney games in four days, however.  Considering the school has only won two consecutive SoCon tourney games once in its entire history, that may be too tall an order.

As for Army and St. Francis of New York, both are currently in 8th place in their respective conferences, which does not exactly scream “potential tourney run”, especially for Army, since there are only eight teams in the Patriot League.

Other schools who have had to hold their tickets for too long (records listed are as of Feb. 20):

  • Centenary (D-1 member since 1960):  Well, the Gentlemen only have two more years to make the NCAAs (including this one), since the school is moving to Division III after the 2011 season.  Robert Parish’s alma mater would have to win the Summit League tourney.  Currently Centenary is in next-to-last place in the conference and has lost 19 games.
  • New Hampshire (class of 1962):  A case could be made that the Wildcats have been the worst D-1 program since joining the division.  Entering the 2009-10 campaign, the Wildcats’ all-time school record (including the years before joining D-1) is 817-1327 (38%).  New Hampshire’s record in America East play entering this season was 142-299.  Yikes.  At any rate, it doesn’t look like UNH (currently seventh in the America East with an overall record of 10-15) will break through this year.
  • Maine (class of 1962):  Now here is a promising team to watch.  Like New Hampshire, Maine is a member of the America East conference.  Unlike UNH, though, Maine is having a solid season, third in the league, and with an overall record of 17-9.  Keep a close eye on the Black Bears, which may have their best shot at making the field since 1994, when Maine lost in the conference final to Drexel.
  • Denver:  The Pioneers were in D-1 in its initial incarnation in 1948, left the classification in 1980, and then returned to D-1 in 1999.  Denver (one of several hockey-first schools on this list) is a middling Sun Belt team this year (8-7 in league play, 15-11 overall).  It wouldn’t be a complete shock to see the Pioneers make a SB tourney run, though.
  • UT-Pan American (class of 1969):  The Broncs currently compete as members of the Great West conference, a league that doesn’t send an automatic qualifier to the NCAAs.  With a current record of 4-23, I’m guessing UTPA is not in line for an at-large bid.
  • Stetson (class of 1972):  The Hatters reside in the Atlantic Sun basement right now, tied with Florida Gulf Coast in league play (if you’ve never heard of Florida Gulf Coast before, don’t feel bad — DePaul never had either). Stetson has an overall record of 6-21. This isn’t going to be the year.
  • UC Irvine (class of 1978):  Like a lot of these schools, the Anteaters are at the bottom of their league standings, tied for last in the Big West with UC Riverside.  It’s not going to be their year either.
  • Grambling State (class of 1978):  You would think a school with a football tradition as grand as Grambling’s could parlay that into an occasionally good hoops team, but no.  This season is no different, as the Tigers are only 6-15 entering weekend play.  Of course, being in the SWAC means that a team with a 6-15 overall record can’t be completely ruled out as far as winning the league tourney is concerned.
  • Maryland-Eastern Shore:  The Hawks joined D-1 in 1974, but left after just two years, and then returned in 1982.  This season UMES is 6-6 in MEAC play but only 8-18 overall.  I don’t see the Hawks getting past Delaware State or South Carolina State in the MEAC tourney, much less Todd Bozeman’s Morgan State club.
  • Youngstown State:  The Penguins were D-1 in 1948, but then dropped down and didn’t return to the division until 1982.  Jim Tressel won multiple I-AA football titles while in Youngstown, but the hoops squad hasn’t been as successful, and this year is no different.  YSU is tied for last in the Horizon League with Illinois-Chicago (the Flames have been extinguished) and has an overall record of 8-18.
  • Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981):  B-C is actually tied with UMES in the MEAC standings right now, but at 14-12 may be a better team.  I wouldn’t give the Wildcats much more of a shot of winning the league tourney, though.  Maybe they need to bring Cy McClairen back.
  • Western Illinois (class of 1982):  The Leathernecks are currently third-from-last in the Summit League, one place above Centenary.  It’s hard to see WIU making much of a run in that conference tourney.
  • Chicago State (class of 1985):  Like Texas-Pan American, Chicago State is a member of the Great West.  Like UTPA, Chicago State has no chance to make the NCAAs in the foreseeable future.
  • Hartford (class of 1985):  The Hawks, whose most notable hoops alum is Vin Baker, missed a chance to make the NCAAs when they lost in the America East finals two seasons ago to UMBC.  At 8-19 this season, the odds are not in Hartford’s favor.
  • Buffalo:  the Bulls moved up to D-1 in 1974, left D-1 in 1977, then rejoined the classification in 1992.  Buffalo has come closer than any other school on this list to breaking through in recent years, losing in the MAC title game last season and in 2005 (the latter an excruciating 80-79 loss in overtime).  The Bulls are currently 15-9.  It wouldn’t be that surprising to see them in the conference championship game again.

So there you have it.  Those are the 20 schools that have waited the longest for an NCAA bid.  Will one of them break through this year?  Maine and Buffalo look like the best bets, but you wouldn’t really want to place a wager on any of them.

It would be great if one did, though.  I think back to that American victory in 2008, and the sight of Eagles head coach Jeff Jones crying in his sideline chair.  He knew the difficulty of what his team had accomplished.  I felt so good for him and for the long-suffering AU fans.

Incidentally, that difficulty of accomplishment is just another reason why expanding the tournament would be such a mistake.  It wouldn’t mean nearly as much if it were easier to gain entry into the field.  For myself, I’m not interested in The Citadel being part of a diluted field.  Like the fans and players of all the schools still waiting for their moment, I want to enjoy the real thing.

It would be nice to enjoy it sooner rather than later…

When a win is a win

I’ll start off by quoting…myself.  From the previous post:

I expect The Citadel to win the rematch, but it won’t be easy.  Nothing is ever easy at The Citadel.

It sure wasn’t easy; of course, the Bulldogs made it hard on themselves by playing the last 33 minutes of the game the way Elon wanted to play it.  The Citadel could have put the game out of reach early, especially against a low-scoring team that had not won on the road all season, but it wasted multiple possessions and let Elon crawl back into the contest.

Elon called a timeout at the 16:49 mark of the first half, trailing 12-2.  Over the next five minutes Elon could only muster four points, missing seven shots from the field and committing a turnover during that time.  That was when the Bulldogs should have put the Phoenix away, but over that same stretch The Citadel committed five turnovers and missed two out of three shots.

As it happened, The Citadel maintained the lead throughout the game well into the second half, leading 55-45 with 6:30 to play.  That was deceiving, however, because the Bulldogs had never been able to put any distance between themselves and the Phoenix after the initial run to start the game.  So it wasn’t a huge surprise when Elon finally put a run of its own together, and two and a half minutes later The Citadel found itself trailing for the first time.  The Bulldogs only made two more baskets (and no free throws) the rest of the game, but it was just enough to win.

Elon shot poorly for much of the game, and had almost no success running its normal offense.  The Phoenix scored mostly in transition and from the foul line.  The Citadel gave Elon a number of transition/free throw opportunities, though, by taking a lot of out-of-character shots and committing a slew of fouls (the officiating, which was somewhat inconsistent, did not help matters).

It was a very frustrating game to watch, and I kept thinking, “we’re going to get swept by Elon, and we’re better than they are.”   Then The Citadel actually won the game…

There haven’t really been too many times over the years when The Citadel has not played well and still won.  Thursday night was one of those times.  This is The Citadel we’re talking about, though, so every win is worth celebrating, no matter how ugly.

Maybe the Bulldogs were tired from playing their fourth game in eight days.  I hope not, because they’re about to play their fifth game in ten days.

The game against UNC-Greensboro on Saturday will be the eleventh game in a twenty-eight day stretch that started with a one-point escape over Bethune-Cookman.  The rest of the games have been in league play.  With a win over the Spartans, The Citadel would finish with an 8-3 record in January, with seven of those wins in conference.  However, the Bulldogs have to play better against UNCG than they did against Elon if they hope to win their fifth straight SoCon game.

The Citadel last won five consecutive league games during the 2000-01 season, which was also the last time the Bulldogs finished with a winning record in Southern Conference play.  That year The Citadel was 3-6 in the SoCon before winning five straight to move to 8-6.  It then lost once, won once, and then finished the season by losing in the first round of the conference tournament.

I could be wrong about this, but after doing some checking, I think that’s the only time in school history The Citadel has won five consecutive Southern Conference games.  That gives you a little perspective on what the team is trying to accomplish.

In the first meeting between the Spartans and Bulldogs, The Citadel pulled away early in the second half and held that lead for the remainder of the game.  UNCG never got closer than four points down the stretch, as the Spartans endured a miserable 5-29 night from beyond the arc.  The Citadel won the game despite committing 14 turnovers (in only 60 possessions), thanks to UNCG’s poor shooting and a solid shooting effort of its own (eFG of 51.3%).  This was the conference opener for both teams, and The Citadel outrebounded UNCG 37-30.  As I mentioned in the last post, John Brown did not make his conference debut until after the new year, which I think is something to consider when looking at the rebounding stats.

At the time the game was a bit of a surprise, as The Citadel won its conference opener (and on the road) after having only won one league game all season the year before.  However, as things stand today it isn’t nearly as surprising.  The Citadel has played well all year in conference action, while UNC-Greensboro is now 3-16 overall (2-8 SoCon).  Curiously, both of the Spartans’ conference victories have come away from home, including a 17-point win over Elon, so the Bulldogs have to be prepared for a team that isn’t going to roll over just because they’re on the road.

On Thursday UNCG dropped an 89-73 decision to the College of Charleston in a game in which the Cougars hit 12 first-half three-pointers en route to a 55-point half.  Ben Stywall scored 26 points in a losing cause; in the first game against The Citadel, Stywall scored six points in 36 minutes (he’s averaging 11 points per game on the season).

The Spartans are one of the nation’s poorest shooting teams (39.4 FG%) and also one of the country’s worst defensive teams (46.5%).  Defensively, the numbers for UNCG aren’t as bad defending the three, but opponents are making two-point shots at a 54.5% clip, which is atrocious.

If The Citadel stays within itself offensively (in other words, don’t play too fast), and maintains its excellent run of defending three-point shooting (a conference-best 28.3% against the 3 in league play), then the Bulldogs should win this game — and maybe make a little history in the process.

Taking names, and talking names

The Citadel 84, Georgia Southern 75.

I enjoyed watching this game.  I wish John Brown had made both of his last-second free throws, so The Citadel could have won by double digits, but considering the team has already won more games in this campaign than it did all of last season, it’s all good.

Speaking of John “Abolitionist of the Glass” Brown, where did he come from?  He started the season opener, played nine minutes, then played a total of five minutes until last Saturday, when he suddenly started the game against Bethune-Cookman and contributed solid defense and rebounding over 20 minutes.  Last night he came off the bench and snatched 11 boards in 26 minutes.  Brown is a long-armed 6’4″ redshirt freshman from Savannah who Jeff Hartsell had tipped on his blog during the preseason as a possible contributor, but I was not prepared for his productivity (and it was rather obvious that Georgia Southern wasn’t either).  If he turns out to be a rebounding maven who can play some D, which last night certainly appeared to be the case, Brown will fill a much-needed role for the Bulldogs.

Besides Brown’s performance, The Citadel got 38 combined points from the  two-headed post monster of Demetrius Nelson and Bryan Streeter, who combined to shoot 12-18 from the floor and also got to the line a gratifying 22 times (Streeter needs to shoot better than 50% from the stripe, though).  The Citadel never trailed after making a nice run at the end of the half, this despite a mediocre night from beyond the arc (6-19) and shooting only 43% from the field, all while playing at a much faster than normal pace (84 possessions, although part of that was due to the end-game fouling by GSU).

Defensively The Citadel held the Eagles to 41% shooting from the field, 29% from three-land, and outrebounded Georgia Southern by five.  The Bulldogs also committed one fewer turnover than GSU.

Also, I’m guessing that Ed Conroy had a chat with Austin Dahn after the game that went something like this:  “Austin, when we’re up nine with 1:11 to play and have the ball in the frontcourt, and there are 30 seconds left on the shotclock, do me a favor and don’t take a three-pointer, even if you’re open.”   I could be wrong, but I suspect that conversation happened.  I sincerely hope that conversation happened, anyway…

The Citadel’s two conference victories this season have come against teams that in four games last year outscored the Bulldogs by an average of 23 points per game, including two 30-point losses.

The Stephen Curry circus comes to town on Saturday.  It’s been almost 50 years since the Southern Conference had a star of Curry’s magnitude in the league.  Back then, it was Jerry West.  McAlister Field House was jammed to the rafters with people when The Citadel hosted West Virginia and its star, and I suspect that close to a full house (if not an actual sellout) will be on hand for Davidson and its main man.  Obviously if The Citadel were to somehow beat Davidson it would be one of the bigger wins in school history.  It’s hard to see that happening.  I think Davidson has a good chance of going 20-0 in the league for a second year in a row.

20-0 in the league would presumably mean that even a SoCon tourney stumble would not keep Davidson out of the NCAAs, but Wildcat fans should not count on an at-large bid being a given.  The last SoCon team to get an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament was North Carolina State, in 1950.

Okay, I want to wrap up this post with one of my biggest pet peeves.  This is the first time I’m mentioning it on this blog, but you better believe that it won’t be the last.  Here is my plea to Larry Leckonby, all the coaches at The Citadel, General Rosa, anyone and everyone who has some say-so on matters pertaining to Bulldog athletics:

Get the name of the school right on the uniforms, for God’s sake!

If you look at the game notes for basketball, you will see a little blurb inserted by the good folks in the athletic media relations office that reads:

We ask that when referring to the Bulldogs, please use The Citadel. We are The Military College of South Carolina,
but we are referred to as The Citadel. The the is part of our name. Thank you.”

I would like to personally thank whoever it was that put that in the notes.  I just wish whoever it was would remind our coaches and other administrators that the school is called The Citadel, because some of them seem unaware of it.

The Citadel, for such a tradition-laden place, has gone through a lot of uniform changes in a lot of its sports over the years.  (The football helmet design has been changed so often, it’s a joke — although the current design is one billion times better than the Ellis Johnson-era gray helmet disaster.)

Right now we are sporting football uniforms that say “Citadel” on the front instead of “The Citadel”, and basketball uniforms that say “Citadel” on the front instead of “The Citadel”.  Is it too much to ask that we get the name of the school right on our own jerseys?  Every time I see the ESPN “Bottom Line” sportsticker, it says “Citadel” on it, and I am momentarily annoyed with the network…and then I remember my own alma mater can’t get it right on its athletic uniforms, and I get even more annoyed with the school.

Fix this, and fix it now.  It drives me crazy.  I know that I’m not alone in complaining about it, either.

(And if anybody in the department needs some advice on a decent and at least semi-permanent football helmet design, drop me a line.  I have a couple of ideas.)

Verdict on the non-conference results: Not bad

After Saturday’s come-from-behind-then-almost-blowing-it-at-the-end 58-57 victory over Bethune-Cookman, The Citadel is 6-7 overall, with a 5-6 record in non-SoCon matchups.  For the rest of the year, the Bulldogs will only play Southern Conference foes, unless The Citadel receives an unprecedented bid to either the NCAAs or the NIT.  (Unprecedented doesn’t begin to describe that possibility, of course.)

Let’s compare this season’s non-conference results to non-conference games from the 2007-08 campaign…

Last season:

— Four home wins over non-D1 competition, including a near loss to Webber International (66-63); a 61-point loss at South Carolina; a televised beatdown at the hands of Washington State (67-45, and it was a lot worse than that); a 27-point home loss to Southern California (O.J. Mayo’s first college road game!); a 16-point loss in The Palestra to Penn; and a narrow home victory over Charleston Southern.  Nine non-conference games, a 5-4 record, but only 1-4 against Division I competition.

This season:

— Two home wins over non-D1 competition; a 14-point loss at South Carolina; a televised 14-point loss to Michigan State in which The Citadel held its own; a 22-point home loss to Iowa; a 23-point loss at Virginia Commonwealth; a split of two neutral site games in Cancun (loss to Central Arkansas, win over Grambling State); a dismal home loss to UC Davis; a road victory over Charleston Southern; and a one-point home win over Bethune-Cookman.  Eleven non-conference games, a 5-6 record (3-6 against Division I competition).

Not that it’s the resume of a Final Four team or anything, but this season’s non-conference results were much better than those from last year.  Only two of the games could be considered true disappointments (the home losses to Iowa and UC Davis).  Winning a road game of any kind would have bettered last season’s 0-fer away from home, and the Bulldogs already have two (one in conference play) plus a neutral-site win.  I think only having only two non-D1 games (instead of four) is also a plus.

So while last year’s team was 5-7 on this date in 2008, and this year’s team is 6-7, the improvement is obvious.  Last year’s 5-7 start included an 0-3 mark in SoCon play, while this year’s team is currently 1-1 in the league, with a win and a narrow loss, both on the road.  The Citadel is actually safely out of the 300s in the RPI right now (269).  Last year’s team, of course, would only win one more game the rest of the way and finished 6-24 (1-19), with an RPI of 334.

Total wins for The Citadel, last six seasons:  8, 6, 12, 10, 7, 6

This year the Bulldogs already have 6 wins with 18 games remaining (yes, SoCon teams are again playing 20 conference games, which is ridiculous).   According to Ken Pomeroy’s projection system, The Citadel is projected to win 7 of those 18 games.  That would result in 13 wins on the season for the Bulldogs, the most in seven years.  I wouldn’t mind if the team got a little greedier, though.

The next step in the pursuit of respectability comes Thursday at McAlister Field House, when the Bulldogs face a Georgia Southern squad that is already 2-0 in the conference, and which also has a neutral-site victory over Houston.

No hoops until next year for The Citadel

Of course, next year isn’t that far off.  The Citadel’s next game is another non-conference battle, at home against Bethune-Cookman on January 3.

The Citadel lost to Michigan State by 14, and lost to South Carolina by 14.  However, the Bulldogs played a much better game against the Spartans than they did against the Gamecocks.  South Carolina managed to increase the tempo to a faster pace than The Citadel would have liked (although not quite as fast as the Gamecocks would have preferred).  The Citadel could not take advantage of the helter-skelter play to knock down more open three-point shots.  To win the game the Bulldogs had to make several more threes than USC, and a 7-6 made 3FG advantage was never going to be enough.  It didn’t help that South Carolina was unexpectedly good at shooting free throws (28-33).

The officiating favored the Gamecocks’ defensive style, which is basically a version of the “five guys press and foul, the refs can’t call ’em all” system famously run by Rick Pitino at Kentucky, only Pitino had multiple future NBA players with which to work.  The Citadel never seemed able to adjust to this (even after USC sleepwalked through the game’s opening five minutes).  I would have liked to have seen some of the Bulldogs get more aggressive (I did appreciate Cosmo Morabbi’s approach in this respect).  A poster on The  Citadel’s message board made what I thought was a good point; the Bulldogs needed to set some backcourt picks to “punish” the Gamecocks as they continued to harass the man bringing the ball up the court.

Still, it wasn’t a terrible effort by the Bulldogs, as opposed to the laughable “atmosphere” at Colonial Life Arena.  I wass amused to read that the reported attendance was 9493 (it was less than that by at least a third).  There wasn’t anything original about the Gamecocks’ pregame, from the intros (which featured a player introduced as a starter who actually didn’t start) to the band playing “Sweet Caroline” (this ongoing sports tribute to Neil Diamond must stop).  USC also cranks up Zombie Nation like every other school in North America.  It’s just so…tired.

There was nothing imaginative or innovative about any of it, the crowd was dead…that reminds me.  I honestly am not sure how many of the people at the game were rooting for either of the two schools, because I can’t believe that as much as 40% (or more) of the “crowd” was there for The Citadel, but that’s what it looked like with all the people who showed up wearing blue collared shirts.  Surely some of them were just Gamecock fans, but if you’re a Gamecock fan, shouldn’t you be wearing garnet and/or black?  It was really hard to get a read on the fan ratio because of this (along with all the empty seats).

I took a picture of the scoreboard when The Citadel first took the lead, just for posterity.  I took it quickly, just in case South Carolina scored before I could snap it (as it turned out, I need not have worried).  Here it is: