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
|Florida Gulf Coast||2011||3||93||143|
|North Carolina Central||2011||3||91||151|
|William & Mary||1906||108||2446||213|
|South Carolina Upstate||2011||3||95||214|
|Cal State Bakersfield||2011||3||87||248||Ineligible|
|St. Francis (NY)||1902||94||2314||223||Ineligible|