Could this be the year of the Rainbows? Perhaps the streaking Yale Bulldogs will finally dance? Is this a high point for High Point?
Well documented are the NCAA men's basketball tournament droughts endured by original Division I members William & Mary, Northwestern, Army, St. Francis (NY) and The Citadel. That quintet have been around since 1947-48, when the NCAA established divisions, yet never cracked the bracket.Beyond Northwestern, which still has an outside chance at snagging a spot in the tournament, an at-large bid is likely out of reach for each of the “original five.” So once again, they’ll enter March needing a historical run to a conference tournament championship to join the Madness.
But there are other programs who have been on the outside looking in for too long. Here are nine teams having a fine regular season while aiming for their first appearance in a long time, if not ever.
Record: 11-5, 2-0 Ivy
John F. Kennedy was the President of the United States the last time Yale played in the NCAA tournament. Kennedy was a Harvard man, of course. His alma mater won the last four Ivy League regular season titles (and automatic bids), nipping the Bulldogs by two points in a one-game playoff last March. Yale eyes revenge this season, putting faith in a rugged defense that allows 0.97 points per possession and sophomore guard Makai Mason (15.4 ppg).
Bowling Green (1968)
Record: 13-7, 4-3 MAC
Long before coach Bill Fitch led Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics to the 1981 World Championship he guided Bowling Green to 18 victories and an NCAA appearance in 1967-68. Fitch went on to win 944 games as an NBA coach, and the Falcons have had only five 20-win seasons and an NCAA tournament shutout since. The MAC is a one-bid league this season, and first-year coach Michael Huger hopes senior forward Spencer Parker (14.0 ppg) can lead the program to a championship on LeBron’s home floor in Cleveland.
Record: 13-6, 2-0 Ivy
'Hey Jude' topped the charts the last time the Lions won the Ivy League and basketball scarce has been scarce as the program has recorded five winning seasons since 1980. Still, there have been signs of promise of late. Coach Kyle Smith is 89-78 in his six seasons, and in 2014 steered Columbia to its first 20-win season since 1970. Senior guard Maodo Lo, a native of Berlin, averages 16.4 ppg.
Northern Illinois (1996)
Record: 16-4, 5-2 MAC
The Huskies were not good in coach Mark Montgomery’s first four seasons, sputtering to a 39-86 record. They’re enjoying one of the best turnarounds in college basketball this season, though and are one win from ensuring the first winning season in DeKalb since 2005-06. You have to go back another decade to find the program’s last NCAA appearance. Balanced scoring (four in double figures) and the best defense in MAC play (0.96 pts. per possession allowed) have fueled Northern Illinois’ success.
Record: 15-5, 6-1 Patriot
There have been pockets of postseason participation in Annapolis, with the David Robinson Era from 1985 to 1987 the pinnacle that will likely never be surpassed. Former Penn State coach Ed DeChellis is in his fifth season at the helm and pursuing only the school's third winning season since 2002. The Midshipmen have won six in a row thanks to a solid defense that surrenders 61.7 points per game (0.95 per possession).
High Point (Eligible since 2000, never qualified)
Record: 13-7, 6-3
In each of the last three seasons, High Point has won outright or shared the Big South regular season title. And each season, the Panthers have dropped their opening game in the conference tournament. It’s tournament or bust this season for the Panthers, who have a senior-laden lineup led by springy forward John Brown, the best player in school history (19.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and 3-point marksman Lorenzo Cugini (53.3 pct., 2nd in nation).
Stony Brook (Eligible since 2000, never qualified)
Record: 16-4, 6-0 America East
The Seawolves have won 12 in a row and dispatched nemesis Albany last Friday on national television. They have the best offense and best defense in America East games and the best player in the conference in 6-8, 245-pound forward Jameel Warney (126.3 offensive rating). They have the inside track on homecourt advantage in the conference tournament, an important ingredient because conference tournament games are played on the campus of the higher seeded team, to help protect the the best teams.
Record: 16-2, 5-0 Big West
The Rainbows have never won an NCAA tournament game in four appearances, but on the heels of consecutive 20-win seasons appear prepared to end their absence and make an impact on the bracket. They’re tied for first in the Big West with UC-Irvine, which made its first NCAA tournament in 2014.
Hawaii has won eight in a row and faces UC-Irvine twice in 10 days in February.
South Carolina (2004)
Record: 18-2, 5-2 SEC
The Gamecocks are the lone team on this list with at-large worthy credentials. One of the last remaining unbeatens before it fell at Alabama on Jan. 13th, coach Frank Martin’s fourth edition in Columbia plays tenacious defense (0.94 points per possession), hammers teams on the offensive glass (grabs 40 percent of missed shots) and gains an edge at the free throw line (outscored opponents 413-300). Worth noting: The Gamecocks have yet to play a team with a top 50 RPI.