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.

Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2015 edition

Updated: The 2016 edition

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

All records are through March 1

It’s time again for another round of March Madness. The regular season is drawing to a close, and conference tournament action is about to begin. Across the country, schools will make a final push to make it to the promised land, the NCAA Tournament.

For some of them, however, there has never been a journey to the mountaintop.

There are currently 35 schools that have been in Division I for at least a decade that have yet to make a trip to the NCAAs. Of course, there are 18 other schools in D-1 that haven’t received a solitary tourney invite either, but there is a difference between recent D-1 entrants such as Northern Kentucky or Incarnate Word and longtime outsiders like UT-Pan American or Youngstown State.

Of those 35 schools with 10+ years in D-1 but no bids to show for it, 18 of them have been in Division I for 30 years or more and are still waiting. For fans of Hartford, or Bethune-Cookman, or Western Illinois, the annual tradition of watching as other schools get their names called on Selection Sunday has become more than a little depressing.

This post is about those schools that have known nothing but pain, nothing but longing, nothing but disappointment. Will the dream finally come true for one or two of them this season? Sadly, history says that the answer is no.

However, history can be rewritten. I truly believe there is hope this year. A couple of longtime wannabes may get asked to the dance this time. It won’t be easy,though.

I started posting about this topic in 2010. That year, I highlighted the 20 schools that had waited the longest for their first NCAA bid. As of 2015, nineteen of those schools are still waiting. The twentieth? Centenary, which left Division I four years ago.

In a way, it is hard to blame the folks in Shreveport for throwing in the towel. Centenary would have almost certainly made the NCAAs when Robert Parish was enrolled there, but instead its games from that era — including its players’ individual statistics — did not count. If you want to read yet another horror story about the NCAA, this 1975 Sports Illustrated story is for you: Invisible in the Post

In recent years, I’ve expanded the rundown to include schools with at least ten years or more in D-1 but no appearances in the NCAA Tournament. For all of those schools, making the ultimate leap into the field of 68 seems almost impossible. However, one did beat the odds in 2013-14.

Last season, Cal Poly entered the Big West tournament with a 10-19 record, but promptly beat the league’s top two seeds (including star-crossed UC-Irvine; more on the Anteaters later). Cal Poly captured the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAAs, the Mustangs’ first in 20 years as a D-1 member.

Of course, that bid came with an asterisk, as Cal Poly was relegated to “almost but not really in the tournament” status by having to participate in a play-in game. The Mustangs did win the much-despised PIG, however, and advanced to the “real” tournament, where they lost to Wichita State.

Congratulations to Cal Poly for dropping off this list and not emulating Centenary in the process. Alas, two more schools have been added to the 10+ years club, UC Davis and Utah Valley. For the Aggies and Wolverines, the struggle begins anew (though it may be a brief struggle for UC Davis, as we’ll see below).

Before beginning this season’s rundown of the longtime no-timers, however, it’s worth mentioning another list of schools. There are quite a few institutions that have made at least one NCAA appearance, but haven’t been back to the tournament in at least 20 years. Some of those schools have been waiting longer for a return to the Big Dance than many of the never-beens have been in D-1.

First among this group of schools is Dartmouth. The Big Green has made seven appearances in the NCAA tournament, and was the national finalist twice (in 1942 and 1944). However, Dartmouth last made the tourney in 1959, and that streak of futility will continue for another year, as the Big Green is tied for last place in the Ivy League (which has no postseason tournament).

Next is another member of the Ivies, Yale, which has not appeared in the NCAAs since 1962, the last of three trips for the Elis. However, Yale is currently in second place in the conference, and still has a chance to crash the NCAA party. Overcoming hoops nouveau riche Harvard may prove too difficult a task, though.

Other schools that have made at least one appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but haven’t been back since 1995 (or earlier) while continuously in D-1:

Tennessee Tech (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), Northeastern (1991), St. Francis-PA (1991), Rutgers (1991), Howard (1992), Georgia Southern (1992), Campbell (1992), Fordham (1992), East Carolina (1993), SMU (1993), Rider (1994), Tennessee State (1994), and Tulane (1995).

Worth noting: Seattle (which last made the NCAAs in 1969, and which Elgin Baylor led to the national final in 1958) and Houston Baptist (a tourney team in 1984) both left Division I and then later returned, so they haven’t been in D-1 for all the years after making their most recent NCAA tourney appearances.

Some of those “last time in the field” appearances have been notable. Tennessee Tech may want to forget its 1963 trip, a 111-42 loss to eventual national champion Loyola of Chicago. In 1977, VMI made it to the round of 16 (the Keydets had reached the Elite Eight the year before).

Brown’s reward for winning the Ivy League in 1986? A matchup with Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Sure, that was fair. (Of course, the same thing happened to Navy two years later, but then a player named David Robinson vaulted into the national consciousness at the home team’s expense.)

Marist has made two NCAA appearances, the last coming in 1987, with Rik Smits (the Dunking Dutchman) leading the Red Foxes. The year 1987 was also the last time Marshall made the field, as the next season the Thundering Herd began suffering from the Curse of Randy Nesbit.

It is hard to believe it has been 25 years since the emotional, mesmerizing run of Loyola Marymount to the Elite Eight, which included one of the most amazing second-round games ever played, the Lions’ 149-115 destruction of defending national champion Michigan. It is almost as hard to believe that it was also the last time LMU made the NCAAs.

– Worthless trivia department: When Jacksonville made its last NCAA trip, in 1986, the Dolphins were coached by Bob Wenzel. When Rutgers made its most recent appearance in the Big Dance, in 1991, the Scarlet Knights were coached by…Bob Wenzel.

– Worthless trivia department, part 2: Idaho State’s last NCAA appearance, in 1987, was a one-game cameo in Salt Lake City. Idaho’s last tourney trip in 1990 also lasted one game, and also took place in Salt Lake City.

– Worthless trivia department: part 3: In 1991, there were three play-in games that took place between the league champions of six conferences, an early effort by the NCAA to eliminate as many automatic bids for smaller conferences as possible. Unlike the PIGs of today, these games were not official NCAA Tournament games, so the three teams that lost are not credited with a tourney appearance.

All three losing teams (Fordham, Jackson State, and Florida A&M) subsequently appeared in the NCAAs; Fordham’s trip came the following year, in 1992, the last time the Rams made the field. The team that beat Fordham in that 1991 play-in game was St. Francis (PA), the first and only time the Red Flash have qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

– Last year, two schools with long breaks between appearances broke through, Mercer and Coastal Carolina — and the Bears made their long-awaited return a memorable one by beating Duke in the first round.

This season, it appears that SMU will make the field after just missing out on an at-large bid last year. Others to watch in this group: Toledo (tied for first in the MAC’s West Division), Bowling Green (first place in the MAC’s East Division), Northeastern (tied for first in the CAA), Louisiana Tech (in first place in CUSA), Georgia Southern (tied for first in the Sun Belt), and Rider (the MAAC’s second-place team).

Among the power conference schools, Oregon State’s 25-year drought is currently the longest, not counting Northwestern…and that’s the cue to start with the list of schools that have never made the NCAAs. As usual, we begin with the Forgotten Five (recently described by one school president as a “very elegant group”).

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.

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

Northwestern: NU actually hosted the very first NCAA championship game back in 1939, though technically not the “Final Four”, which as a separate concept did not exist in the days of an eight-team tournament. The semifinal rounds that year were played in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Of all the schools on this rundown, Northwestern is almost certainly the biggest underachiever. The NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. It is hard to imagine a school in a “power conference” could fail to get an at-large bid during that time, but that is the case for the Wildcats.

Of the 65 schools in the top five leagues (counting Notre Dame as an ACC member), 48 have made at least one appearance in the NCAA tournament over the past four years. That’s 74% of all power-conference schools.

Of the seventeen 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 (1991), and Northwestern. Rutgers hasn’t been in a power league all that time, of course (neither has TCU). The failure by Oregon State to make the field of 64 (or 68) over the last quarter-century is remarkable, but it pales in comparison to Northwestern’s infamous streak.

That streak is likely to continue for at least another season, as the Wildcats are 14-15 overall, 5-11 in the Big 10.

Army: In 1968, Army turned down an NCAA bid, electing to play in the NIT instead. Army had been successful in the NIT under Bob Knight, reaching the semifinals on multiple occasions, and also had a chance to play at Madison Square Garden in the first round. The Black Knights would lose to Notre Dame in that first-round game.

(In case you were wondering, the last school to turn down an NCAA bid was Marquette, in 1970. That move was made by the late, truly great Al McGuire. Schools are no longer allowed to decline NCAA bids to play in the NIT, which is now owned by the NCAA.)

Army also went undefeated in 1944 (15-0), but didn’t play in any postseason tourneys due in part to wartime travel restrictions. I am not sure the Black Knights would have been guaranteed an NCAA invite, as it was still just an eight-team invitational event. It seems likely, though. Many years later, the Helms Foundation awarded Army the retroactive 1944 national title.

All that being said, though, Army is still waiting to make that first NCAA appearance.

This season, the Black Knights are 15-14 overall, but in last place (6-12) in the Patriot League. A run through the league tourney seems unlikely.

The Citadel: The Bulldogs avoided a fifth consecutive 20-loss season, but at 11-18 (6-12 SoCon), it was another frustrating campaign. There will be no party on Selection Sunday for the cadets. Same song, different year.

I wrote about the program’s tortured history in massive detail seven years ago. Since then, things have not improved.

William and Mary: Last year, the Tribe came oh so close to breaking through, but lost a heartbreaker to Delaware in the CAA final, 75-74. The Blue Hens scored the final seven points in the contest to steal the bid.

This season, the Tribe (18-10, 12-6) finished in a four-way tie for first in a balanced CAA (despite a bizarre home loss to Drexel that closed out the regular season). William and Mary will be the top seed in the league tournament.

I wouldn’t bet on a repeat appearance in the conference title game, but I wouldn’t bet against it either. I’m certainly not betting against Marcus Thornton if he gets another championship-winning opportunity.

St. Francis College: It has been a banner season for the Terriers, 21-10 (15-3 in the NEC). St. Francis has clinched the top seed in the league tourney. This appears to be SFC’s best chance in years to grab the brass ring.

The New York City press is starting to take notice of the oldest collegiate basketball program in the city. The late James Luisi, a former NBA player better known for his work as an actor (including Lt. Chapman on The Rockford Files), is arguably the school’s most famous hoops alum.

By getting the top seed, SFC will get to play at home throughout the NEC tournament. That’s a big deal.

Also worth noting: the Terriers at least know they have an NIT bid to fall back on if they don’t win the league tourney (the same is true for William and Mary). SFC wants more than that, though.

Next up on the list of the never-beens are two New England schools still in search of a bid despite being members of D-1 since 1962. As a hardwood tandem, they are known as “The Dour Duo”. This season, one is doing considerably better than the other.

New Hampshire: The Wildcats are 18-11 overall, and finished fourth in the America East. This is UNH’s first winning season since 1994-95.

Albany, which leads the conference, is the favorite to get the league’s autobid. Still, Bill Herrion’s crew has a puncher’s chance to crash the party, which is not something you can say too often about New Hampshire’s basketball program.

Maine: Times are tough in Orono. The Black Bears are 3-26 this season (after winning only six games last year). Even the school’s hockey team has a losing record.

Maybe Rick Carlisle could return to campus and turn the hoopsters into winners. After all, he started his collegiate career at Maine before transferring to Virginia. I’m guessing he’s happy coaching the Dallas Mavericks, though.

The rest of the rundown:

– Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): A couple of seasons ago, the Pioneers were coming off consecutive 22-win campaigns. The window may have closed for Denver, however, which is 12-17, 6-10 in the Summit League.

Only one D-1 school (American) plays at a slower pace than the Pioneers, which has partially masked the fact UD is poor defensively (bottom 30 nationally).

– UT-Pan American (class of 1969): The Broncs are in last place in the WAC and are 9-19 overall. It’s not going to happen this year (a sentence I will repeat, with variations, throughout the rundown).

– Stetson (class of 1972): Ted Cassidy’s alma mater is 9-21 this season. Only once in the last six years have the Hatters managed to get to double digits in wins, a fact that would even depress Uncle Fester.

– UC Irvine (class of 1978): UCI was the top seed in last season’s Big West tournament, only to lose in the semifinals to Cal Poly (as mentioned above). This year, the Anteaters are 17-11 overall and alone in second place (10-4) in the league standings.

The most well-known UCI player is 7’6″ Mamadou Ndiaye, who has been injured this season and has missed most of the Anteaters’ games. However, Ndiaye returned to action on February 26. Perhaps UCI’s dream will only be delayed by one year.

– Grambling State (class of 1978): The Tigers are 2-23 this year, and winless in SWAC play. That continues a trend, as in the previous three seasons Grambling won 4, 0, and 5 games. GSU is currently last in the kenpom ratings, a position it has held at the end of two of the last three seasons. To state the obvious, 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): Last year, UMES had its 12th consecutive 20+ loss season.

This year? Well, it’s a new and much better one. The Hawks are 17-13, 10-5 in the MEAC. In his first season at UMES, Bobby Collins has performed one of the nation’s best coaching jobs.

The odds are against Maryland-Eastern Shore winning the MEAC tournament. Top seed North Carolina Central is undefeated in league play and will be hard to beat, as will second-place Norfolk State (particularly with the tourney being held at the Scope).

Having said that, I wouldn’t put anything past the MEAC tournament, a six-day extravaganza that defies convention (see the bracket on page 39 of this document). This year, Gladys Knight opens the festivities.

– Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins are 11-20, 2-14 in the Horizon League (last place). Hey, did you hear Bo Pelini is the new football coach?

– Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): This is another program that had its window of opportunity three or four years ago. This season, the Wildcats are 10-19, 6-8 in the MEAC. I don’t really think this is going to be the year.

– Western Illinois (class of 1982): Speaking of windows of opportunity, the Leathernecks won 22 games two years ago. This season? 8-19, 3-13 in the Summit League (last place). It’s not meant to be this season.

– Chicago State (class of 1985): Of the seven schools in the WAC eligible for the NCAA auto-bid (Grand Canyon hasn’t competed its reclassification period yet), five of them have never made the Big Dance. Despite that, this season the odds are good the league doesn’t send a newbie to the tourney.

Of the WAC no-nos, Chicago State is the least likely to break through this year, as the Cougars are 8-22 overall, 4-9 in the league (next-to-last place).

– Hartford (class of 1985): Dionne Warwick is Hartford’s most famous alum. If one of the NCAA regional pods were in San Jose, and Hartford won the America East tournament, by law the selection committee would have to send the Hawks there.

However, San Jose is not a host site this year, and Hartford (14-15, 7-9 in league play) is not likely to win the AE tourney. That will greatly upset WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau, who may be the most ardent Hartford fan working in local television.

Incidentally, the great big freeway known as L.A. is hosting the West regional.

– UMKC (class of 1988): Here is another never-been from the WAC, and another one with a losing record (13-17). The Kangeroos are actually in second place in the conference standings (8-5), so perhaps UMKC is capable of making a miracle run through the league tourney. Edie McClurg would be so happy.

– Buffalo (D-1 from 1974-77, then back to the division in 1992): Buffalo has put itself in good position several times in recent years, but hasn’t had a lot of luck in the MAC tournament. This year, the Bulls are having a solid season (19-9, 10-6 in conference action).

This is head coach Bobby Hurley’s second year in charge at Buffalo. The former Duke star knows what it takes to be successful in the NCAA Tournament; first, though, you have to get there — and that’s the hard part.

– Sacramento State (class of 1992): From this year’s Blue Ribbon annual, Sacramento State’s preview (written by John Moorehouse):

Sacramento State has a pretty pitiful history as a Division I hoops program. In 24 seasons, the Hornets have never finished with a record better than .500. They’ve also never reached the NCAA tournament.

Nothing lasts forever. And Sacramento State has an excellent chance to end one of those droughts this season.

Maybe both.

Point to Mr. Moorehouse. Sacramento State is currently 19-8 overall, clinching that winning campaign, and is also in first place in the Big Sky (13-3). If it stays in the top spot, Tom Hanks’ alma mater will host the conference tournament — but not at its regular facility, “The Nest“, a/k/a Colberg Court, which seats 1,200.

Instead, the tourney would take place at another site on campus, “The WELL” (the all-caps is apparently intentional). The WELL will seat 3,000 for basketball.

– UT Martin (class of 1993): Last season, the Skyhawks lost their first ten games and did not even qualify for the OVC tournament. Things have greatly improved for new head coach Heath Schroyer’s squad this season, as UT Martin is 18-11 overall, 10-6 in the league. Getting past conference top dog Murray State in the OVC tourney may be a bit much to ask, though.

– Jacksonville State (class of 1996): The Gamecocks, like UT Martin, did not qualify for last year’s OVC tournament. Unlike UT Martin, JSU (12-19, 5-11) did not qualify for this year’s OVC tournament, either.

– Quinnipiac (class of 1999): The Bobcats are a middling MAAC team (15-14, 9-11). To win the league tourney in Albany, Quinnipiac would likely have to beat at least one of the top two teams in the league, Iona and Rider, both of which swept the Bobcats this season. In a recent survey, 100% of respondents considered Quinnipiac’s prospects of claiming the auto-bid to be less than stellar.

– Elon (class of 2000): The Phoenix moved from the SoCon to the CAA this season. Elon is 14-17 overall and finished eighth in a ten-team conference. This doesn’t look like it will be the year.

– High Point (class of 2000): The Panthers (22-8, 13-5) finished tied for first in the Big South but blew a chance to win the league outright on the final Saturday of the regular season. The Big South is a league in which seven teams have a legitimate shot to win the conference tournament.

HPU can grab that auto-bid, but it will have to do so in three games in three days in Conway, South Carolina — and will probably have to beat three of the other contenders in the process.

– Sacred Heart (class of 2000): At 15-16 overall (9-9 in league play), things are looking up for Sacred Heart, as the Pioneers only won five games all of last season. Winning the NEC tournament is probably not in the cards, however.

– Stony Brook (class of 2000): Over the last five seasons, the Seawolves have won 22, 15, 22, 25, and 23 games. This year, Stony Brook is 21-10 overall, 12-4 in the America East (tied for second).

One of these years, the Seawolves are going to rip down the door separating them from the NCAA Tournament. It’s not out of the question it could happen this season.

UC Riverside (class of 2002): The Highlanders are 14-14, 7-7 in the Big West. That’s a nice improvement from recent campaigns. UCR won’t be favored in the Big West tournament, but neither was Cal Poly last season and we all know what happened.

– IPFW (class of 2002): The Mastodons are 16-13, 9-7 in the Summit League. South Dakota State and North Dakota State will be the heavy favorites in the league tournament, but IPFW beat both of those squads during a recent seven-game winning streak. Don’t count out the Mastodons, even though Mastodons are, well, extinct.

Gardner-Webb (class of 2003): The Runnin’ Bulldogs are 18-13 overall, 10-8 in the Big South. As mentioned earlier, the Big South tournament will be a bloodbath, and Gardner-Webb is one of seven teams with a decent shot at the tourney title.

Savannah State (class of 2003): The Tigers are 9-19 overall, 5-9 in the MEAC. Nope, not going to happen this year.

– Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons are 13-16, 7-7 in the Atlantic Sun. FGCU and North Florida are well ahead of the other A-Sun teams in the standings, and will be favored to meet in the league tournament championship game. Lipscomb is 0-4 this season against those two schools.

UC Davis (class of 2005): The Aggies won only nine games last season. This year, UC Davis is 22-5, 12-2 in the Big West, and favored to cut the nets down in Anaheim (site of the Big West tourney).

UC Davis is coached by Jim Les, the former Bradley player and coach (Les also played in the NBA). During his tenure at Bradley, Les led the Braves to four consecutive postseason tournaments, all of which were different events — the NCAAs in 2006 (when Bradley made the Sweet 16), NIT in 2007, CBI in 2008, and CIT in 2009.

Utah Valley (class of 2005): The Wolverines are 10-18 overall, 4-9 in the WAC. Utah Valley has not been an offensive juggernaut, failing to reach 50 points in seven of its defeats (with a low of 33 points in a loss at Seattle).

If New Mexico State somehow loses in the WAC tourney, the door will open for a first-timer to make the NCAAs. With the history of the five never-beens in the league, though, it would surprise nobody if Seattle (the only team in the league to beat NMSU this season, and the only other team in the league to have made the Big Dance) would grab the auto-bid.

Well, that’s the roll call for this season. Will any of those teams get to the promised land?

The answer, I suspect, will be yes. There are too many teams on that list which have had outstanding seasons. One or more of them will prevail. Among the candidates: St. Francis College, William and Mary (either of which would be huge stories), Sacramento State, UC Irvine, Stony Brook, High Point, UT Martin, Buffalo, Gardner-Webb, New Hampshire, and Maryland-Eastern Shore.

One other potential first-timer not on the list is North Florida, which has been a full-fledged Division I member for only six seasons. The Ospreys (20-11, 12-2) won the regular-season Atlantic Sun title and will get to play all of their league tournament games at home.

If any of the aforementioned schools qualify, they better not be shunted off to one of the play-in games (which obviously shouldn’t exist in the first place).

As I’ve said before (and will say again), the play-in games limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers, and that’s tremendously unfair. If the NCAA has to have the despicable PIGs, make the last eight at-large teams play in 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 main draw. Always.

Good luck, dreamers.