5 teams that could dance for the first time ever, and 47 that probably won’t

Based on data obtained from Sports-Reference.com's excellent college basketball website, we know that 52 currently-active Division-I men's basketball teams have never set foot in the NCAA Tournament.

That includes teams from a variety of backgrounds. On one end of the spectrum there's Army, Northwestern and William & Mary, which haven't danced in a combined 327 years, and then there are programs such as Florida Gulf Coast, North Carolina Central and South Dakota, which have only each spent the past three years at the D-I level.

Which of these 52 teams is poised to make history with their first-ever ticket to the big dance?

Not Cal-State Bakersfield, Cal-State Riverside, Chicago State, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, Nebraska-Omaha, NJIT, Northern Kentucky, Sacred Heart, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, St. Francis (NY), Texas-Pan American or Utah Valley, because those 13 teams are ineligible for a variety of reason.

The dreams of an additional eight teams have already been crushed in conference tournament play, and let's go ahead and cross off Grambling, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Citadel and UMKC — teams that don't have a shot.

That leaves 27 teams with a chance. Of those, here are the five candidates that are the most likely to punch their first ticket in school history. The full list of 52 tourney virgins is at the bottom.

1. Stony Brook (23-6 overall, 14-2 AE) - The Seawolves set a D-I program record when they won their 23rd game on Sunday —  a statement win over Albany, 75-70, and their sixth straight. They earned the top seed for the American East Conference Tournament, which begins Saturday, for the third time in the past four seasons, and are better equipped than ever to take advantage.

Stony Brook boasts utterly insane defense (0.83 ppp!) to go with their conference's most efficient offense (1.06 ppp). You should read up on freshman phenom Jameel Warney. We'll be seeing the Seawolves for a little whille yet, 14 years after they moved up to D-I.

2. Denver (20-8, 15-2 WAC) - Lurking in the shadows of Louisiana Tech's flashy 26-win record are the more efficient Denver Pioneers. The Western Athletic Confernece Tournament doesn't start until Tuesday, and due to some genius in the scheduling department, Tech and Denver are set for a Saturday showdown in the mile-high city that offers the pioneers a shot at nabbing a share of the regular season title in just their first season as a member of the WAC.

The Pioneers played a rigorous non-conference schedule against the likes of California, Colorado State and Stanford, but have won 16 of their last 17 games and boast the WAC's most efficient offense (1.12 ppp) and second-best defense (0.88 ppp). If they can win the WAC Tournament, Denver will earn their first NCAA Tournament berth in 90 years.

3. Western Illinois (21-8, 13-3 Summit) – The Leathernecks came so close last season. As a No. 4 seed in the Summit League Conference Tournament, WIU led Nate Wolters' South Dakota State by 12 points in the second half of the championship game, but fell in overtime.

Now they return as a No. 2-seed to take another shot at getting past Wolters, but Western's chances may rest on the health of senior center Terell Parks' foot. If WIU and their obnoxiously slow pace can pull it off, they'll punch their ticket for the first time in 32 seasons.

4. Gardner-Webb (21-11, 11-5 Big South) - In their fifth season as a member of the Big South Conference, the Runnin' Bulldogs have earned their highest-ever seeding for the conference tournament, which is already underway.

One of a pair of No. 2 seeds, Gardner-Webb is scheduled to take on No. 5 Liberty in the tournament semis on Saturday. The remaining 1-seed in the tournament, Charleston Southern, twice beat the Bulldogs in overtime during the regular season. If GW can pull off a coup and snag a ticket, it'll be 11 years coming.

5. Elon (20-10, 13-5 Southern) - The Phoenix have already posted their winningest season in D-I program history, and as a No. 2 seed for the Southern Conference Tournament, which begins today, they have a shot at more history.

They have to get past top-seeded Davidson to earn their first NCAA berth in 14 season.

Currently-active teams that have never made the NCAA Tournament
Sorted by status and Pomeroy ranking

Team Began Years Games KenPom Status
Denver 1904 90 1887 42  
Stony Brook 2000 14 414 56  
Northwestern 1905 108 2408 132 LOL
Cal Poly 1995 19 546 133  
California-Irvine 1978 36 1047 142  
Florida Gulf Coast 2011 3 93 143  
North Carolina Central 2011 3 91 151  
Army 1903 111 2296 158  
Western Illinois 1982 32 915 159  
Buffalo 1907 44 1000 179  
Gardner-Webb 2003 11 333 183  
California-Davis 2008 6 184 195  
Elon 2000 14 421 205  
Youngstown State 1981 33 935 206  
Hartford 1985 29 842 212  
William & Mary 1906 108 2446 213  
South Carolina Upstate 2011 3 95 214  
Savannah State 2003 11 322 222  
Stetson 1972 42 1172 243  
IPFW 2003 11 327 246  
South Dakota 2011 3 90 252  
Maine 1904 69 1614 256  
New Hampshire 1927 61 1532 265  
North Dakota 1905 20 289 271  
Bethune-Cookman 1981 33 960 277  
Sacramento State 1992 22 610 279  
Central Arkansas 2011 3 86 306  
Missouri-Kansas City 1990 24 697 323 LOL
Citadel 1913 101 2171 328 LOL
MD-Eastern Shore 1974 34 960 343 LOL
Grambling 1978 36 1008 347 LOL
Bryant 2011 3 89 278 Out
High Point 2000 14 417 209 Out
Lipscomb 2004 10 301 305 Out
Longwood 2008 6 187 336 Out
North Florida 2010 4 128 263 Out
Presbyterian 2011 3 92 333 Out
Quinnipiac 1999 15 442 203 Out
Tennessee-Martin 1993 21 602 330 Out
Cal State Bakersfield 2011 3 87 248 Ineligible
California-Riverside 2002 12 345 315 Ineligible
Chicago State 1985 29 827 309 Ineligible
Jacksonville State 1996 18 515 202 Ineligible
Kennesaw State 2010 4 125 332 Ineligible
Nebraska-Omaha 2013 1 31 320 Ineligible
NJIT 2010 4 120 244 Ineligible
Northern Kentucky 2013 1 26 251 Ineligible
Sacred Heart 2000 14 409 267 Ineligible
S. Illinois-Edwardsville 2011 3 83 308 Ineligible
St. Francis (NY) 1902 94 2314 223 Ineligible
Texas-Pan American 1969 45 1242 319 Ineligible
Utah Valley 2010 4 123 283 Ineligible

 

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