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Daniel Wilco | NCAA.com | October 17, 2018

The 44 teams that have never made the NCAA tournament

USA Today Sports Images Grand Canyon Basketball Grand Canyon, one of 44 Division I teams to never make the NCAA tournament, lost in the WAC tournament championship game last season, finishing one win away from making its March Madness debut.

Since the NCAA tournament started in 1939, there have been 3,293 total spots available. But of the 353 teams currently in Division I, 44 have never made the field.

Two of those teams have a pretty valid excuse. Both North Alabama (ASUN) and California Baptist (WAC) make the jump from Division II to Division I this season, and therefore have never been eligible for the Division I tournament.

And it’s important to remember that the NCAA tournament’s format has changed drastically throughout the years. The first tournament in 1939 only had eight teams and didn’t expand to 16 until 1951. The modern 64-team format didn’t appear until 1985, and it wasn’t until 2011 that the field expanded to the full 68 teams (including the First Four) that we’re familiar with now. 

What’s more, the current process for selecting tournament teams is only two years old. In 2017, the Ivy League became the final Division I conference to adopt a conference tournament. Since then, each one of the 32 conferences in Division I decide their automatic bid by conference tournaments (the other 36 teams in the field are at-large bids — teams that did not win their conference tournament but have an impressive resume).

RELATED: March Madness explained | Print the official 2019 NCAA tournament bracket

Even taking the volatility of the process into account, a small subset of these 44 teams stand out — the four teams that have been eligible for every NCAA tournament but have failed to make it to one.

In 2017, Northwestern gained plenty of attention as the Wildcats — previously one of the five original teams to never make the tournament — not only qualified for their first ever tournament, but actually picked up a win, and gave eventual runner-up Gonzaga a run for its money in the Round of 32.

Now, the four teams are Army, St. Francis (NY), William & Mary and The Citadel.

In 1968, Army actually did qualify for the NCAA tournament, but coach Bobby Knight thought the Black Knights would have a better shot in the NIT and turned down the invite. Army lost its first game in the NIT to Notre Dame.

Last year, we tracked each of the then-43 teams that had never made an NCAA tournament through their conference tournaments. Three reached the championship game.

After a close three-point win in the opening round of the WAC tournament, Grand Canyon reached the championship game with ease before losing to New Mexico State 72-58.

South Dakota finished 11-3 in Summit Conference play last year, and even handed South Dakota State its lone loss in the conference. But the Jackrabbits got revenge in the Summit title game, beating South Dakota 97-87 to secure the automatic bid.

Finally, Lipscomb had its best season in program history, going 23-10 (10-4, A-Sun) and winning the conference title with a 108-96 win over Florida Gulf Coast. That earned the Bisons their first NCAA tournament appearance, where they lost to 2-seed North Carolina 84-66 in the first round.

Lipscomb was the only team to graduate from the list last year, leaving us with 42 teams that had never made the NCAA tournament after last season. With the addition of North Alabama and California Baptist, we have 44 heading into the 2018-19 season.

Below is a list of all 44. We looked at the best season they’ve had in program history (not counting seasons played as an independent team), and their performance in conference play last year (where they finished in regular season standings and the conference tournament):

Team Conference Best season

'17-'18 conference
regular season finish

'17-'18 conference
tournament result

N.J.I.T. A-Sun 2015-16 (20-15) 4 Lost in quarterfinal
Kennesaw State A-Sun 2016-17 (14-18) 6 Lost in quarterfinal
Stetson A-Sun 2000-01 (17-12) 7 Lost in quarterfinal
North Alabama* A-Sun N/A N/A N/A
USC Upstate A-Sun 2014-15 (24-12) 8 Lost in quarterfinal
Hartford AEC 1996-97 (17-11) 3 Lost in semifinal
UMass-Lowell AEC 2014-15 (12-17) 6 Lost in quarterfinal
New Hampshire AEC 1994-95 (19-9) 6 Lost in quarterfinal
Maine AEC 1959-60 (19-4) 8 Lost in quarterfinal
Sacramento St. Big Sky 2014-15 (21-12) 11 Lost in first round
High Point Big South 2014-15 (23-10) 5 Lost in first round
Gardner-Webb Big South 2012-13 (21-13) 5 Lost in quarterfinal
Presbyterian Big South 2011-12 (14-15) 9 Lost in first round
Longwood Big South 2014-15 (11-23) 10 Lost in quarterfinal
UC Riverside Big West 2008-09 (17-13) 7 Lost in first round
William & Mary CAA 1997-98 (20-7) 4 Lost in semifinal
Elon CAA 2012-13 (21-12) 7 Lost in first round
Youngstown St. Horizon 1997-98 (20-9) 8 Lost in first round
Quinnipiac MAAC 2009-10 (23-10) 7 Lost in semifinal
Bethune-Cookman MEAC 2010-11 (21-13) 1 Lost in quarterfinal
Savannah St. MEAC 2011-12 (21-12) 1 Lost in quarterfinal
Maryland-ES MEAC 1973-74 (27-2) 12 Lost in first round
St. Francis (BKN) NEC 1955-56 (21-4) 4 Lost in quarterfinal
Sacred Heart NEC 2007-08 (18-14) 9 DNP
Bryant NEC 2012-13 (19-12) 10 DNP
Tennessee-Martin OVC 2008-09 (22-10) 9 DNP
SIUE OVC 2014-15 (12-16) 9 Lost in first round
Army Patriot 2015-16 (19-14) 8 Lost in first round
Citadel Southern 1958-59 (15-5) 8 Lost in quarterfinal
Central Ark. Southland 2017-18 (18-17) 7 Lost in second round
Abilene Christian Southland 1971-72 (17-8) 8 DNP
Incarnate Word Southland 2013-14 (21-6) 11 DNP
South Dakota Summit 2017-18 (26-9) 2 Lost in championship
Denver Summit 2011-12 (22-9) 3 Lost in semifinal
IPFW Summit 2015-16 (24-10) 4 Lost in quarterfinal
Nebraska-Omaha Summit 2016-17 (18-14) 5 Lost in quarterfinal
Western Illinois Summit 1994-95 (20-8) 8 Lost in quarterfinal
Grambling SWAC 1979-80 (22-8) 1 DNP (ineligible)
Utah Valley WAC 2017-18 (23-11) 2 Lost in semifinal
Grand Canyon WAC 2015-16 (27-7) 3 Lost in championship
UTRGV WAC 1979-80 (19-9) 5 Lost in first round
UMKC WAC 2001-02 (18-11) 6 Lost in first round
Chicago State WAC 2013-14 (13-19) 8 Lost in first round
California Baptist* WAC N/A N/A N/A

*Playing first Division I season in 2018-19