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.

Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2016 edition

Updated: The 2017 Edition

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

All season records are through February 28

League tourney time is right around the corner, with the regular season drawing to a close for most of the nation’s conferences. That means it’s time for March Madness, with schools across the country striving to making the promised land, the NCAA Tournament.

Most of them will not succeed. After all, there are 351 institutions that play men’s basketball at the Division I level, and only 68 of them will make the NCAAs. For some of those schools, though, the failure to make the tourney is not just a brief blip in their respective hardwood histories.

There are 33 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 (like Central Arkansas or Bryant) and longtime no-nos (such as Hartford or UMKC).

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 schools like Denver, Maryland-Eastern Shore, or Stetson, the annual tradition of watching Selection Sunday with no vested interest has become a numbing experience, if not a depressing one.

History shows that it is hard for these schools to break through. When I started writing about this topic in 2010, I listed the twenty schools with the longest waits for an NCAA tourney bid. Of those twenty, seventeen of them are still waiting. One of the three no longer on the list, Centenary, simply dropped to Division III after 50 years of frustration.

However, there is hope, as the other two schools dropped off the list because they finally made the tournament last season. For UC Irvine, which had been in D-1 since 1978, the dream was realized when it won the Big West tourney title. The program had lost in the conference championship game on four previous occasions.

Meanwhile, Buffalo (a D-1 member for 26 years, and continuously since 1992) won the MAC tourney and earned its first trip to the NCAAs in the process, having come very close several times before but never quite getting over the hump. Both UCI and Buffalo lost close games in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, but at least they got there.

Before starting this year’s report on the longtime no-timers, however, 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 the majority of the never-beens.

First (last?) among this group of schools is Dartmouth. The Big Green was the national finalist twice (in 1942 and 1944), and has made five other appearances in the tournament. However, Dartmouth last made the NCAAs in 1959. That streak will continue for at least one more season, as the Big Green has already been eliminated from the Ivy League title race (and that conference has no postseason tournament).

Next up (down?) is another member of the Ivies, Yale, which has not appeared in the NCAAs since 1962, the last of three trips for that program. However, the Elis are currently in first place in the Ivy League, and stand a decent chance to get that long-awaited return trip (after narrowly missing out last season).

Other schools that have made at least one appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but haven’t been back since 1996 (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), Oregon State (1990), 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), Green Bay (1996), Montana State (1996), New Orleans (1996), Northern Illinois (1996), Portland (1996), San Jose State (1996), Santa Clara (1996), ULM (1996), and Western Carolina (1996).

Yes, twelve schools that appeared in the 1996 tournament have not been back since, which is more than a little flukish.

Note: Seattle (a finalist in 1958, but with no NCAA appearances since 1969) and Houston Baptist (made the tourney in 1984) both left D-1 and then later returned, so they haven’t continuously been in the division after making their most recent NCAA tourney appearances.

Last year, Northeastern and SMU both made the NCAAs after long absences. They had last made the field in 1991 and 1993, respectively.

Besides Yale, teams on the above list with a reasonable chance to make it back to the NCAAs this season include Furman, Toledo, Jacksonville, Marshall (still trying to overcome the Curse of Randy Nesbit), Oregon State, Louisiana Tech, Towson, Tennessee State, Green Bay, and Northern Illinois.

Of course, it’s possible none of the above-mentioned schools return to the tournament. Most of them would have to win their conference tourneys to get a bid. An exception to that might be Oregon State, which holds the dubious distinction of suffering from the longest current tournament appearance drought of any power 5 school save Northwestern.

Speaking of the Wildcats, 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.

The NCAA Tournament began in 1939, with the final that year held in Evanston, Illinois (which must really annoy Northwestern fans). 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, so for them the wait is actually longer than their history as official members of Division I. (This is just one of many crushing items/statistics about these institutions’ basketball histories.)

The five schools are known as “The Forgotten Five”. The class of 1948 (or 1939, if you want to get overly technical):

——-

Northwestern: It is hard to believe a school in a power conference could fail to get an at-large bid in all this time, especially with the expansion of the tournament, but Northwestern has made believers of us all.

Of the 65 schools in the top five leagues (counting Notre Dame as an ACC member), 52 have made at least one appearance in the NCAA tournament over the past five years. That’s 80% of all power-conference schools.

Of the thirteen that haven’t, only six haven’t made the tourney over the past seven years: South Carolina (last made the NCAAs in 2004), Auburn (2003), TCU (1998), Rutgers (1991), Oregon State (1990), and Northwestern. (It should be noted that TCU and Rutgers haven’t continuously been members of a power conference during that seven-year stretch.)

If you’re wondering how a major-conference school could somehow manage to miss out on the tournament for so long, it’s fairly simple: Northwestern hasn’t had a winning record in Big 10 play since 1968. That may be a more amazing mark of futility than the failure to make the NCAAs.

Northwestern’s struggles in conference action is a tidbit mentioned in John Feinstein’s recent article in The Washington Post on the Wildcats’ hoops program, one of a series of stories on the Forgotten Five over the past few weeks in that newspaper (all authored by Feinstein).

This season, Northwestern is 18-11 overall, but only 6-10 in league play. The Wildcats’ only chance at an NCAA bid this season is to win the Big 10 tourney, and they won’t be able to play Rutgers in every game.

Army: Not only was 1968 the last time Northwestern finished with a winning record in the Big 10, it was also the year Army turned down an NCAA bid and played in the NIT instead. It wasn’t a bizarre decision by any means (as Feinstein relates in his piece on Army hoops).

[Tangent: the last school to turn down an NCAA bid was Marquette, in 1970, a move made by the remarkable Al McGuire, who should be the subject of a major motion picture sooner rather than later. Schools are no longer allowed to decline NCAA bids to play in the NIT, a tournament which is now owned by the NCAA.]

Army went undefeated in 1944 (15-0), but didn’t play in any postseason tourneys; wartime travel restrictions played a role in that. Would the Black Knights have received an NCAA invite in an era in which the tournament only included eight teams? We’ll never know.

As for this year, Army is 18-12 overall, 9-9 in the Patriot League. A run through the league tourney may not be probable, but it is possible.

The Citadel: The Bulldogs have now lost 20+ games in five of the last six seasons, though this year’s campaign (10-21 overall, 3-15 SoCon) has been a little different, given it was the first season in Charleston for Duggar Baucom and the frenetic style of play he employs (as detailed in John Feinstein’s school profile). Regardless, The Citadel will have to wait for at least one more year.

William and Mary: In my opinion, the Tribe is the Forgotten Five program that most deserves to break through and make the NCAAs. The past two seasons have been tortuous, as excellent William and Mary squads have fallen one game short of the Big Dance.

This year, the Tribe is 19-10 overall, 11-7 in the CAA. I wouldn’t be surprised to see William and Mary in the league final for a third consecutive year. The problem is that the Tribe is 0-9 all-time in conference championship games (in three different leagues).

St. Francis College: John Feinstein’s story on the Terriers includes a memorable quote from the school chaplain prior to last season’s NEC title game, which was hosted by St. Francis:

We’ve been in the desert longer than Moses. The end is near.

Moses eventually got out of the desert. St. Francis College, not so much.

There isn’t likely to be any relief for SFC this year, either. After being just one game away from the oasis last season, in 2015-2016 the Terriers are 15-16 overall, 11-7 in the conference.

Perhaps St. Francis can make another tournament run. One gets the sense, though, that the window of opportunity (at least for right now) may have closed.

Next up on the list of the dance-averse are two New England universities still in search of an initial NCAA bid despite being members of D-1 since 1962. As a hardwood tandem, they are known as “The Dour Duo”. Both are members of the America East conference.

New Hampshire: The Wildcats are 18-11 overall, 11-5 in conference play, and have clinched a second consecutive winning season (after not having any winning campaigns in the previous 20 years).

Stony Brook is the league leader (more on the Seawolves later) and will be favored in the conference tourney. However, UNH cannot be completely dismissed. New Hampshire probably has one more opportunity next season to break through with its current group of players, but sometimes it’s easier to arrive a year early. This could be that year.

Maine: On the other hand, it has been another tough season in Orono, as the Black Bears are 8-21 (4-12 in league play). That is better than last season (3-27), to be fair.

Maine will have to wait at least one more year (a sentence that will be repeated, with minor variations, several times in this post).

The rest of the rundown:

– Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): The Pioneers are 15-14 overall, 7-9 in the Summit League. This season has been better than last year for slow-slower-slowest Denver (only two other Division I teams average fewer possessions per contest), but a surprise run through the league tournament seems unlikely.

– UT-Rio Grande Valley (class of 1969): If you’ve never heard of UT-Rio Grande Valley, don’t feel too badly about it. The school formerly known as UT-Pan American merged with UT-Brownsville to become UT-Rio Grande Valley, and also changed nicknames (from Broncs to Vaqueros).

Recently, the school announced that former Texas head football coach Mack Brown will lead a feasibility study for potentially establishing a new football program. Brown is expected to recommend that UTRGV add the sport, as there are a large number of high school quarterbacks in the region who could be offered scholarships to play free safety.

On the hardwood, the school hasn’t had much success over the years, regardless of its name, and this year is no exception. UTRGV is 8-20 overall, 4-9 in the WAC.

– Stetson (class of 1972): The Hatters are 10-21 overall, 4-10 in the Atlantic Sun, and ineligible for the NCAAs because of a sub-par APR score. Thus, the school’s most notable hoops player will remain the late Ted Cassidy. You rang?

– Grambling State (class of 1978): The bad news is that Grambling State has only won six games this season. The good news is that the Tigers have won more games this season than they did in any of their four previous campaigns (4, 0, 5, and 2 wins).

This isn’t going to be the year.

– Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): UMES had suffered 12 consecutive 20+ loss seasons until last year’s mini-miracle, which resulted in 18 wins.

Alas, this year the Hawks are 9-21 overall (6-9 in the MEAC). Eight of UMES’ nine conference losses have been by single digits. The magic has left the shore, at least for the moment.

– Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins are 11-20, 6-12 in the Horizon League. It’s basically a repeat of last year’s 11-21 season. In other words, time to get ready for spring football practice.

– Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): The Wildcats are only 13-16 overall, but 9-5 in the MEAC. Could they sneak through the league tourney and grab that elusive NCAA tourney bid?

It’s not out of the question. After all, this is the MEAC Tournament, which always has something for everyone, on and off the court. See pages 40-41 of this document for the men’s and women’s tourney brackets (the two tournaments take place over a six-day period at the Scope Arena in Norfolk, VA).

This year’s entertainment at the MEAC tourney includes a tipoff concert by the “Legends of Soul” (featuring Freddie Jackson) and a pair of official after-party events, one of which is hosted by Kid ‘n Play.

– Western Illinois (class of 1982): During the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, the Leathernecks won a combined 40 games. However, WIU followed up those fine seasons with 10- and 8-win campaigns, and was 10-17 this year. Western Illinois finished in last place in the Summit League and did not qualify for the conference tournament.

– Chicago State (class of 1985): The Cougars won only eight games last season. This year, Chicago State is 4-26 and has only one Division I victory, which came against…Western Illinois.

Unfortunately, right now Chicago State has much bigger problems than its basketball team’s record.

– Hartford (class of 1985): The Hawks are 9-22, 4-12 in the America East. It looks like this will be another season of torment for WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau and the rest of Hartford’s faithful fans.

– UMKC (class of 1988): Six of the eight schools in the WAC have never been to the NCAAs. Of the six, the one having the best season (Grand Canyon) is ineligible to participate because it hasn’t completed its probationary period in D-1.

We’ve already seen Chicago State and UT-Rio Grande Valley on this list. As for UMKC, the Kangaroos are 10-18 overall, 3-10 in the WAC. UMKC does have a win over a power conference team this season (Mississippi State), but that’s probably going to be the highlight of its season.

– Sacramento State (class of 1992): Last year was a very good one for the Hornets, which won 21 games. One of those was a CIT triumph over Portland, the first postseason tournament victory in the program’s history.

This year, things haven’t gone nearly as well. Sacramento State is 11-16, 4-12 in the Big Sky. In past years, that would have eliminated the Hornets from league tournament qualification, but this year the conference has expanded its tourney to include all 12 teams.

– UT Martin (class of 1993): The Skyhawks are tied for first place in the OVC West, with a 10-6 conference mark (18-13 overall). It’s the second consecutive solid season for UT Martin, which won’t be the favorite at the OVC tourney (that will be Belmont), but would seem to have at least a puncher’s chance.

– Jacksonville State (class of 1996): The Gamecocks are 8-23, 4-12 in the OVC. For the third season in a row, Jacksonville State will not qualify for the league tournament. It’s kind of hard to make the NCAAs in a one-bid league if you can’t make your conference tourney.

– Quinnipiac (class of 1999): At 9-20, 6-14 in the MAAC, Quinnipiac is going backwards. The Bobcats won twenty games in 2013-14 and fifteen games last season.

Perhaps in an election year, it is a bit much to expect Quinnipiac to fully concentrate on hoops when there is so much polling to do.

– Elon (class of 2000): The Phoenix are 16-15 overall, but just 7-11 in CAA play. The league tournament should be one of the nation’s most competitive this year, but it’s difficult to envision Elon winning four games in four days.

– High Point (class of 2000): High Point is due. This is the fourth straight season the Panthers (20-9, 13-5) have won or shared the regular-season title in the Big South. High Point also has the league’s best player in John Brown.

However, Brown missed the regular-season finale with a foot injury. If he is limited (or simply unable to play) in the conference tournament, it could be crushing for HPU.

– Sacred Heart (class of 2000): The Pioneers lost 10 of their first 11 games, but things improved once conference action began. Sacred Heart is 12-17 overall, with a winning record in the NEC (11-7).

The league tourney could be a brawl. Sacred Heart is a potential sleeper.

– Stony Brook (class of 2000): Over the last six seasons, the Seawolves have won 22, 15, 22, 25, 23, and 23 games. Last year, Stony Brook was very close to an NCAA tournament bid. How close? This close.

That had to hurt.

This year, the Seawolves are 23-6 overall, 14-2 in conference play — but with losses in two of their last three games.

Stony Brook will host every game it plays in the league tournament. Will this finally be the year?

UC Riverside (class of 2002): The Highlanders won 14 games last season and are 14-16 this year. UC Riverside is a respectable middle-of-the-pack Big West squad, but winning the conference tournament might be a bit of a stretch.

– IPFW (class of 2002): The Mastodons are 23-8 overall and tied for first place in the Summit League with a 12-4 mark. The conference tournament is in Sioux Falls, which could be an issue (nearby South Dakota State being the other team that tied for first). Still, this should be a good opportunity for IPFW to make the NCAA tourney.

Mastodons may be extinct, but you still can’t count them out.

Gardner-Webb (class of 2003): The Runnin’ Bulldogs are 15-15 overall, 10-8 in the Big South. It wouldn’t be a total shock for Gardner-Webb to be playing for the league tournament title on March 6.

Savannah State (class of 2003): The Tigers are 13-13 overall, 8-6 in the MEAC. Savannah State needs a few breaks to go its way in the MEAC tournament. Hey, it could happen.

– Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons are 11-20, 7-7 in the Atlantic Sun. If North Florida were to be upset in the league tournament, then just about any other team in the top six could win it, including Lipscomb. I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it.

UC Davis (class of 2005): The Aggies won 25 games last season and the Big West regular-season title. This season, UC Davis is 10-17, 5-9 in the league.

Last year could have been the year. This year almost certainly won’t be.

Utah Valley (class of 2005): Utah Valley is 12-16, 6-7 in the WAC. That isn’t great, but it’s better than the three other WAC teams on this list.

Indeed, the Wolverines are 6-0 against UMKC, Chicago State, and UTRGV (the three worst teams in the league). However, they are winless against the three schools expected to compete for the conference tourney title (including the favorite, New Mexico State).

Well, that’s the roll call for this season. Will any of those teams finally get their moment in the sun?

Surprisingly enough, I think so. Last year it was UC Irvine and Buffalo. This year could be the time to shine for Stony Brook, or IPFW, or High Point, or maybe (after all these years) William and Mary.

One other potential first-timer not on the list is Cal State Bakersfield, which has been a full-fledged D-1 member for only six years. The Roadrunners (20-8, 10-3) are having a nice season in the WAC and could definitely challenge for the league tourney title.

As I’ve said many times before, if any of the aforementioned schools qualify for the NCAAs, they better not be dropped into one of the play-in games. The “First Four” chiefly serves to limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers, which is unfair and asinine. If the NCAA has to have play-in games (it doesn’t), make at-large teams play in all of them.

A team that handles the pressure of a one-bid league tournament and survives to garner an NCAA bid should always be in the real tournament — the main draw. Always.

Good luck to all the dreamers out there.

2011 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Jacksonville

The Citadel vs. Jacksonville, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 3.  The game will not be televised, although it will be webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with new “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action.

It’s that time of year! College football has arrived and not a moment too soon.  I’m tired of reading about the Summer of Ponzi and all the other scandals that have beset the sport in the off-season, and while I enjoy discussing realignment as much as anybody, the Texas A&M two-step with the SEC is starting to get old.  I’m ready to see some activity on the playing field.

This is an important season for The Citadel’s football program.  I wrote about the program’s status last November; nothing has happened since then to make me think that the 2011 campaign will be anything other than a defining one for Kevin Higgins and his coaching staff.  I’m far from the only person who thinks that success of some sort this season is paramount.   The intensity in the crowd at the recent open scrimmage was palpable.

One thing is certain:  if there ever were a year for the football team to “sneak up” on people, this is the one.  Southern Conference media members picked The Citadel to finish last.  Only one player (Tolu Akindele) made either the preseason all-conference first or second teams.  The SoCon coaches’ vote had The Citadel in next-to-last place, ahead of only Western Carolina; that’s the same verdict rendered by The Sports Network.

Last season, the Bulldogs played three non-conference games before beginning league play.  This year, though, The Citadel will play six of its first seven games against SoCon opposition.  The Bulldogs will have a good idea of where they stand before the fall harvest.

The only non-league game in that group of seven contests is the first one, and it is far from the “gimme game” that the home opener has been in recent years.  Instead of scheduling a glorified scrimmage against the likes of Webber International or Chowan, The Citadel is playing Jacksonville, which went 10-1 last season and shared the Pioneer League title (with Dayton).  The Dolphins, favored to win the PL again, will be a formidable challenge.

Jacksonville University is not to be confused with Jacksonville State University, which is located in Alabama and has a football team coached by Jack Crowe, the man who was on the wrong side of one of The Citadel’s more notable gridiron triumphs. Jacksonville University is located in Jacksonville, Florida, and its football team is coached by Kerwin Bell.  (More on him later.)

Jacksonville began in 1934 as a junior college named “William J. Porter University” after its founder; in 1958 it became a four-year school after merging with the Jacksonville School of Music.  As of today it’s a private, liberal-arts university with roughly 3,500 undergraduate students (60% of whom are women).

JU’s “Timeline” feature on its website includes a lot of concerts in the 1970s and early 1980s, perhaps an indication of the importance of the music school in relation to the rest of the university at that time.  Performers who made their way to Swisher Gym included Dionne Warwick, Neil Diamond, Duke Ellington, John Denver, and Billy Joel; K.C. and the Sunshine Band recorded a live album there.

Jacksonville awarded honorary doctorates to Bob Hope and Jack Benny on the same day in 1972.  Another same-day honorary doctorate duo for JU:  Charlton Heston and Ann Landers (who received hers less than a year after writing that Jacksonville U. was one of “the four top colleges in the nation”).

It’s also worth noting that Jacksonville University has the second-largest NROTC program in the country.

Jacksonville has twenty-one varsity sports.  Its nickname, the Dolphins, came to be in 1947 following a student contest (the original contest winner was “Green Dolphins”; another possibility had been the “Juggernauts”).  The official school mascot is an actual dolphin — 58-year-old Nellie, a Marineland mainstay.

The most famous of all JU athletes is, without a doubt, basketball Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore.  Second place on the school’s famous athlete list is probably occupied by Donnie Hammond.  (Like I said, there is no doubt about #1.)

Gilmore played two seasons at Jacksonville (he started his career at Gardner-Webb, then a junior college) and averaged more than 20 points and 20 rebounds per game, which I think can be best described as “awesome”.  In his junior season, he led the Dolphins to the NCAA title game.

Yes, you read that right.  Jacksonville played in the Final Four in 1970, just twelve years after becoming a four-year school.  We’re not talking Division II, either.  The high-scoring Dolphins beat Western Kentucky, Iowa, and No. 1 Kentucky to win the Mideast Regional.  Jacksonville averaged over 106 points per game in those three contests.

– Tangent #1:  What a weird Final Four that was.  There was nothing strange about UCLA being there (and the Bruins would beat Jacksonville in the final, 80-69), but the other three teams were Jacksonville, St. Bonaventure, and New Mexico State.  The Dolphins and the Bonnies were at the time the two smallest schools to ever make it that far, and they played each other in the semifinals.  Alas, it was a mismatch, as St. Bonaventure star Bob Lanier had injured his knee in the regional final and could not play in the Final Four.  Thus, the spectators at Cole Field House were denied the opportunity to watch two future Hall of Fame centers face each other.

After that season, Dolphins coach Joe Williams left JU and took the job at Furman.

– Tangent #2:  Artis Gilmore and his wife have been married for 39 years.  Her name is Enola Gay.  I thought that was worth mentioning.

Okay, it’s time to talk about JU football…

Jacksonville started its football program in 1998, winning its first-ever game 19-14 over Davidson.  The school’s media guide also lists Davidson as being the first ranked team (at No. 3!) the Dolphins ever played, in a 2001 contest won 45-3 by JU, but I have to seriously question that.  What poll would this have been?  Maybe it was a poll only including Southern Conference schools that don’t play scholarship football.

JU plays its home games at Milne Field, a 5,000-seat facility built specifically for the football program, which averaged 3,761 fans per game last season.  The Dolphins have won nine straight home games, but the real eye-popping numbers are from their road games — not necessarily the results on the field, but the travel involved. Jacksonville has six road games this year.  JU will bus to The Citadel for Saturday’s game.  Later in the year the Dolphins will also take the bus to Campbell, assuming the bus driver can find his way to Buies Creek.

However, the Dolphins will make four road trips by air, flying to the University of San Diego, Drake (which is in Iowa), Marist (New York), and Western Illinois (travelling to WIU on the day of the game).  That is a total of 5,575 miles in the air.

Having multiple long airplane flights is a consequence of playing in the Pioneer League, a non-scholarship FCS conference with ten members.  Jacksonville is the southernmost school in the league, which has three members in the southeast (JU, Davidson, Campbell), five in or around the midwest (Drake, Valparaiso, Dayton, Butler, Morehead State), one west coast entry (USD) and one northeastern school (Marist).

One reason for having such a far-flung league is that all of those schools choose to play football at the non-scholarship level while maintaining a NCAA Division I athletics program.  Since 1993, institutions have had to play football at the same level as their other sports, which affected schools like Dayton (a D-3 power in football during the 1980s) in particular.  There aren’t a lot of D-1 schools that offer non-scholarship football but provide schollies in other sports (which distinguishes these institutions from those in the Ivy League, for example).

Jacksonville is not likely to become a scholarship football program in the near future. That possibility was suggested to the president of the university, who responded:

[It] costs too much for us to do it right now. For us to move into scholarship football because of the rules for gender equity, we would not only have to be able to fund the scholarship program year in and year out, we would also have to fund a similar amount for women’s athletics.

And we simply can’t afford it right now. If we had some major donors that came forward and helped us, then something like that could be possible. It’s simply economics. We need a stadium, our stadium is quaint. We would need a stadium where the fan base would generate revenue.

The revenue we get right now is diminutive. With a stadium, you could start getting money back into the program. There are some positives to it, but it’s simply too expensive right now.

In 2013, two new football programs will join the Pioneer League — Stetson and Mercer.  That should help alleviate Jacksonville’s travel burden to a certain extent.

Kerwin Bell played his high school ball in the small town of Mayo, Florida, where he was known as “The Throwin’ Mayoan”.  Arriving at the University of Florida as a walk-on, in one year he managed to climb the ladder from eighth-string to starter.  In 1984, Bell and the Gators would win the SEC title, winning eight straight games to close out the season.  The SEC title was short-lived, however, as the conference rescinded it the following year due to UF being on probation.  In 1985 Florida would go 9-1-1 for a second straight season, and again was not awarded the league crown (and again could not go to a bowl game) because of NCAA violations.

Two years later Bell began his pro career, which featured multiple stops in the CFL (including a stint in the Canadian outpost of Sacramento), a tour of duty with the Orlando Thunder of the Arena Football League, and a two-year stay with the Indianapolis Colts.  Bell got into one game with the Colts, mopping up in a 1996 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles.  In that game, he threw five passes, completing all five for 75 yards and a touchdown (to Marvin Harrison).  Bell finished with a perfect 158.3 passer rating.  Contained within his Wikipedia entry is this astute observation:

[Kerwin Bell] has the highest career passer rating of any quarterback in NFL history, higher than current and future Hall of Fame members Joe Namath, Steve Young, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and Brett Favre.

Bell’s coaching career actually started in 1990.  While recovering from an ACL injury he worked for one year as a graduate assistant coach for Steve Spurrier, who had taken over the Florida program.  His next coaching job came with the Toronto Argonauts in 2000, where he served as offensive coordinator (while still playing quarterback).

He then spent six years as head coach of a new football program at Trinity High School in Ocala, Florida.   He has been the head coach at JU for the last four seasons (with the upcoming campaign being his fifth).  Bell is 29-17 overall at Jacksonville, with records of 3-8, 9-4, 7-4, and 10-1. In two of the last three campaigns JU has won outright or shared the Pioneer League title, with the 2008 season documented by a “JUDolphins.com best seller”.

It seems reasonable to speculate about whether Bell is striving to follow a career path similar to that of Jim Harbaugh, who started his head coaching career at a Pioneer League school (San Diego) before moving up to Stanford, and who now is in charge of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.  Bell said last season that he is not “the kind of guy who needs to be on TV“, but if he continues his successful run at JU, he is likely going to get an opportunity to take a higher-profile job.

Bell’s staff at Jacksonville includes three assistant coaches who played in the NFL. Ernie Logan spent nine seasons in the league as a defensive lineman.  Not surprisingly, he is the Dolphins’ DL coach.

Ernie Mills was a wide receiver who also spent nine years in the NFL, mostly with Pittsburgh.  He caught eight TD passes in 1995, a year in which the Steelers advanced to the Super Bowl.

Jerry Crafts (aka “The Condo”) appeared in two Super Bowls for the Buffalo Bills, one of five NFL teams for which he played, along with three CFL teams, four AFL outfits, two WLAF franchises, and (inevitably) one XFL team (the Los Angeles Xtreme).  He also made an appearance on Howard Stern’s radio program.

Like Bell, Mills also played his college ball at Florida, with their careers in Gainesville overlapping slightly, along with that of Dolphins defensive coordinator Jerry Odom, the only coach the JU athletics website lists as being on Twitter.  He doesn’t appear to take full advantage of the service.

Staff meetings at JU must get confusing at times, what with two coaches named “Ernie”, two named “Jerry”, another named “Kerry” (running backs coach Kerry Webb), and a head coach called “Kerwin”.

The Dolphins have 100 players listed on their active roster.  All but six of them are from Florida.  A couple of notable names on the list who may or may not see action against The Citadel are freshman quarterback Kade Bell, son of the head coach, and freshman WR/TE Andrew Robustelli.  If Robustelli’s name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because his grandfather was a Hall of Fame defensive end for the New York Giants in the 1950s.

Jacksonville runs a pro-style offense, and while the Dolphins like to pass, the offense is reasonably balanced.  Last season JU rushed 387 times while throwing 348 passes.  I would still describe it as a “pass-first” setup, mainly because I’m guessing a lot of the rushing attempts came at the end of blowouts.

Ah yes, blowouts.  The Dolphins had a lot of those in 2010, with an 86-7 demolition of poor Valparaiso being the biggest (check out that 38-point second quarter).  JU also pummeled Webber International (41-0), Marist (56-14), Davidson (42-15), and Morehead State (61-17).

As you can see, JU likes to put up crooked numbers.  The Dolphins lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 42.2 points per game, just one of several gaudy team offensive statistics.  Jacksonville averaged 486 yards of total offense per game (7.3 yards per play).  JU also averaged an outstanding 9.3 yards per pass attempt, with 35 of its 217 completed throws going for touchdowns (against only seven interceptions).

Leading that offense this year, as he has for the previous three, is 6’2″, 210-lb. senior quarterback Josh McGregor, who has more career passing yards than any returning QB in the nation (8,186).  He has thrown 87 touchdown passes in his 35-game run as the JU signal-caller.  McGregor threw for 300 yards or more seven times last season and is on the Payton Watch List.  A highlight package featuring some of McGregor’s 2010 exploits has been uploaded to YouTube.

His top target is senior wideout Josh Philpart, who has 29 career touchdown receptions.  Philpart averaged 16.7 yards per catch last year.  Another receiver, Larry Thompson, was only a half-step behind Philpart in most statistical categories, other than TDs.  Jacksonville likes to spread things around, as six different players caught at least 18 passes last season (including two running backs).

Incidentally, Philpart did not have a reception in the game last season against Appalachian State.  I’m guessing that the Dolphins will try to get him involved in the game early against The Citadel in order to avoid having him become a non-factor.

Jacksonville’s all-time rushing leader, Rudell Small, has graduated, but the Dolphins have a more than adequate replacement in J.J. Laster, who rushed for 830 yards last season in backup duty (8.5 yards per carry).  Laster rushed for 177 yards in the game against Marist.

JU lost both its starting left tackle and left guard off the offensive line.  Last year’s right tackle, Chad Cypher, is moving to left tackle to protect McGregor’s “blind side”; at 6’6″, 310 lbs., Cypher at least looks the part.  He has drawn some pre-season accolades.

Kevin Higgins briefly discussed Jacksonville’s offense with Jeff Hartsell after a weeknight practice:

They have a multiple offense, a little bit like we were the first couple of years. They will spread you out, the QB is a really smart player who can check at the line of scrimmage. They try to create space on the field, and the QB is experienced and one of the tops in I-AA. And the line is very experienced as well.

As for the Dolphins’ defense, Higgins stated he had no idea how Jacksonville would line up against The Citadel, as JU didn’t face an option team last season (the Dolphins normally feature a 4-3 scheme).

Jacksonville’s defensive line is relatively experienced.  It is also small.  Nose tackle Mike Mayoral weighs 210 pounds.  Defensive end Rolando Fines is a little bigger (245 lbs.) and is expected to lead the group.

As far as JU’s linebacking corps is concerned, Kerwin Bell is quoted in JU’s media guide as saying that “we’re sort of iffy there.”  Layne McCombs is a senior who would be Jacksonville’s top defensive player, except he has a knee problem (torn ACL from last season).  Whether he plays or not is apparently open to question.  The Dolphins are probably going to play some of their younger players in this unit and hope for the best.

Jacksonville is in better shape in the defensive secondary, with three starters returning and a decent amount of depth.  One concern for JU is that none of its DBs are particularly tall.

Jacksonville had an excellent punt return squad last season, averaging a sizzling 11.1 yards per return in 2010, but its top return man graduated.  Its kick return numbers were mediocre at best.  JU did a fairly good job holding down its opponents’ return yardage.

The Dolphins will have a new punter and a new placekicker this season, which could be problematic in a season opener.

The Citadel’s total offense numbers in the eight Southern Conference games in 2010 were as follows:  359, 304, 263, 197, 160, 143, 300, 203.  Those are listed in order of the games as they were played — in other words, the 359 total yards of offense came in the Bulldogs’ first league game (against Furman).  The offense continued to put up fewer yards of offense each week until “breaking through” with 300 yards against a less-than-stellar Elon defense, and then regressed back to 203 yards against a solid Samford D in the season’s final game (which The Citadel managed to win anyway).

On the bright side, the offense only committed one turnover in the final two games (combined), which was obviously a vast improvement from, say, the Georgia Southern debacle (nine turnovers).  The Citadel turned the ball over 32 times in all, which included 23 lost fumbles.  The Bulldogs actually had 44 total fumbles in eleven games, and also had an inordinate number of ball-possession miscues that did not quite result in fumbles but had the effect of ending a play before it really got started.

The lack of yardage can be directly tied to The Citadel’s ball-control woes.  Those issues must be fixed if the Bulldogs are to have a respectable 2011 campaign.  The offense’s ineptitude also had a negative impact on the defense, which had to defend a short field too many times.  Kevin Higgins admitted as much during his radio interview with Phil Kornblut on August 25 (Kornblut also talked to Tolu Akindele and Terrell Dallas).  The head coach didn’t mince words:

We really played, I think, much better defense than people give us credit for, and the reason is because our offense was so bad, the defense was on the field so much, that there was a lot of pressure on them…it was the first year with the option, the ball was on the ground…I remember going home at this time last year and going, ooh.

Fans going home after watching the Bulldogs offense struggle didn’t all say “ooh”…more like “ugh” (or perhaps something unprintable).

There is optimism among those following the team that the second year in the offense will result in significant improvement.  I sure wouldn’t mind winning four more games this season than last, like the Bulldogs did in 1987-88 running Charlie Taaffe‘s wishbone (going from 4-7 to 8-4).

There are also whispers about a special “edge” the Bulldogs now possess.  This edge is reportedly known in certain circles as The Candeto Factor.  It’s all hush-hush.

Sophomore Ben Dupree will be the starter at quarterback (and a team captain as well, which I thought was interesting), after beginning last season as the starter, moving to second string, then third string, making a cameo appearance as a running back, and then returning to the starting lineup as the quarterback for the final two games of the season.  If making the right reads, Dupree, who has shown signs of being an elusive runner, could be a big-play threat.  He is a bit on the small side and needs to improve his passing.

Dupree will be backed up by Matt Thompson and freshman Aaron Miller, who looked good (at least to me) in the Bulldogs’ last open scrimmage.  There is depth at running back, with at least four different players hoping to make an impact, including the Lazarus of the backfield, Rickey Anderson.  Terrell Dallas is the fullback, and he’s a good one.  Against Jacksonville’s smallish defensive line, he may be called upon to do some power running.  His understudy is Darien Robinson, who isn’t afraid to move a pile either.

Mike Sellers, thrown into the line of fire as the starting center as a freshman, is bigger and better.  That should be the case for the offensive line in general (including the imposing Neal Strange), although injured guard Jameson Bryant will not play in the opener.  Keith Carter moves from defense to offense to add athleticism to the o-line.  (I keep wanting to call him Kenny Carter.  Getting old is tough.)

While most triple option offenses don’t throw the ball too often, this isn’t any ordinary triple option offense — it’s the Triple O’Higgins!  Higgins told Kornblut that the ideal number of passes in the TO’H is 10-12 per game.

Several of those pass attempts will undoubtedly be thrown in the general direction of Domonic Jones, the Bulldogs’ leading receiver last season.  At 6’5″, he could prove to be a tough matchup for the short Jacksonville defensive backs.  Actually, he should prove to be a tough matchup for almost any defensive secondary he faces.  One of The Citadel’s other receivers, Luke Caldwell, may be the best passer on the team, if the Samford game last season and the recent scrimmage are any indication.

As mentioned above, the Bulldog D was solid in 2010 for the most part.  I think the only time I was really disappointed in the unit’s play was against Elon.  The defense had trouble getting off the field in that game, and also fared poorly in the “red zone”. Stopping opponents from scoring when inside the 20 should be a point of emphasis this year, as that is an area in which the Bulldogs need to do better (allowing a 64% TD rate last season).

Against Jacksonville, which converted on third down 49% of the time in 2010, it will be even more important to prevent long drives and turn the ball back over to the offense. To do that, The Citadel needs to improve incrementally in defensive statistical categories such as average per pass attempt (7.6 last year) and average per rush (4.3).

The Bulldogs also need to grab more than their fair share of turnovers.  The Citadel finished last in the Southern Conference in interceptions in 2010.  The squad needs to grab a few more and also force more fumbles.

To paraphrase Akindele in his interview with Phil Kornblut, the Bulldogs D needs its playmakers to make more big plays.  Akindele himself is one of those playmakers, having led the team in tackles last season.

He’s joined by a solid group of linemen and linebackers, including Derek Douglas, Chris Billingslea, and Rod Harland, who judging from the recent scrimmage has been ready to lace ’em up again since last season ended.  He was bringing the heat, as the kids say.  (They do say that, right?)

The defense as a whole has a lot of depth (a priority for the coaches), particularly on the line, but also in the secondary, making it easier to absorb the loss of Cortez Allen, now of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Bulldogs seem to be in solid shape at cornerback, which is a good thing, as Jacksonville’s group of talented receivers will provide a stern test.

Cass Couey returns for the third straight year as the Bulldogs’ dependable punter. The Citadel in general was okay in most phases of the return game.  Keith Gamble, besides starting at cornerback, is a threat to go the distance as a kick returner (he had an 87-yarder against Elon last year).  He averaged 25 yards per return in 2010.

Ryan Sellers will be the starting placekicker for The Citadel this season.  The kickoff specialist shared PK duties last year, making five of nine, including a 47-yarder against Chattanooga, the season long for a Bulldog kicker by eight yards.  As you would expect of a kicker, he wears a kicker’s number — #99.

The matchup between the Bulldogs and the Dolphins will be a big one for both teams, even though it is only the first game of the season.  In the long run, it may actually mean more to Jacksonville than it does to The Citadel, though.

JU missed out on a bid to the FCS playoffs by a narrow margin last season.  While the Dolphins were 10-1, the schedule strength just wasn’t there to justify Jacksonville receiving a berth in the postseason.  Jacksonville only played two scholarship programs, one of which (Old Dominion) had only re-started its football program the year before.  The other, of course, was Appalachian State, which throttled the Dolphins (not that there was any shame in that).

In fact, Jacksonville has only defeated three scholarship programs in its history — Old Dominion last season, Coastal Carolina (in the Chanticleers’ first season of football in 2003), and Savannah State (in 2008).  In 2011, the Dolphins will have three opportunities to beat scholarship programs, as JU will open the season against The Citadel, Western Illinois, and Charleston Southern (with the CSU game played at Milne Field).

To make its case for an at-large bid (the Pioneer League is not an automatic qualifying conference), Jacksonville needs to win at least two (if not all three) of those games.  Beating up Valparaiso and Marist isn’t going to be enough.  Moreover, if JU cannot beat a team picked to finish last in the SoCon, its case for a bid may completely dissolve.

For The Citadel, getting off to a good start this season is critically important.  The Bulldogs badly need to gain confidence in their offensive system and establish some momentum prior to a run of six consecutive Southern Conference games.  It’s also a home game, and the team must show its supporters that there is reason to believe in the upcoming campaign.

Fans gave the team some leeway last season as the new offense was installed.  It was understood that there would be trying times on occasion in 2010, although some of those times were more trying than anyone would have liked.  Now there has been a year for the coaches and players to get comfortable with the system.  There won’t be any more metaphorical mulligans handed out.

The Citadel has only had one winning season since 1997.  The game against Jacksonville could go a long way in determining whether that trend will continue, or if the Bulldogs can begin to dream of success — for this season, and for future seasons as well.

I’m looking forward to late Saturday afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

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…