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Daniel Wilco & Zach Pekale | January 28, 2020

The 42 teams that have never made the NCAA tournament

Everything you need to know about March Madness

Since the NCAA tournament started in 1939, there have been 3,361 total spots available. But of the 353 teams currently in Division I, 42 have never made the field.

Three of those teams have a pretty valid excuse. North Alabama (ASUN), California Baptist (WAC) made the jump to Division II to Division I ahead of the 2018-19 season. Merrimack (NEC) made the move before the 2019-20 season. Therefore, none of the three have 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 three 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 2020 NCAA tournament bracket

Even taking the volatility of the process into account, a small subset of these 42 teams stand out — the four teams that have been eligible for every NCAA tournament but have failed to make 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 qualified 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-44 teams that had never made an NCAA tournament through their conference tournaments. Four reached the championship game.

After falling in the WAC tournament championship game in 2019, Grand Canyon returned to the final again after a close semifinal win. However, the conference's No. 3 seed was unable to get by New Mexico State, losing 89-57.

Nebraska-Omaha looked like the Summit Conference tournament favorite after top seed South Dakota State was ousted early. The Mavericks finished 13-3 in league play and reach the tournament's championship game, but lost 73-63 as North Dakota State secured the league's automatic bid.

Last year, two teams graduated from the list — Abilene Christian and Gardner-Webb. First up, it was the Runnin' Bulldogs breaking through after a 20-11 (10-6, Big South) season. Gardner-Webb navigated through its conference tournament, knocking off the league's top two-seeds to earn its first-ever bid. The Runnin' Bulldogs were a 16-seed and eliminated in the Round of 64. For what it's worth, they led eventual national champion Virginia at the half.

A week later, Abilene Christian joined the party as another first-time participant. The Wildcats played a close semifinal game in the Southland Conference tournament before cruising  to an automatic bid in the final. Abilene Christian earned a 15-seed in the 2019 NCAA tournament, a run that ended in the opening round following a 79-44 loss to Kentucky.

The departures of Abilene Christian and Gardner-Webb leave us with 42 teams that have never made the NCAA tournament.

Below is a list of all 42. 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

'18-'19 conference
regular season finish

'18-'19 conference
tournament result

N.J.I.T. A-Sun 2018-19 (22-13) 5 Lost in semifinal
Kennesaw State A-Sun 2016-17 (14-18) 8 Lost in quarterfinal
Stetson A-Sun 2000-01 (17-12) 9 DNP
North Alabama** A-Sun 2018-19 (10-22) 6 Lost in quarterfinal
Hartford AEC 1996-97 (17-11) 4 Lost in semifinal
UMass-Lowell AEC 2018-19 (15-17) 5 Lost in quarterfinal
New Hampshire AEC 1994-95 (19-9) 9 DNP
Maine AEC 1959-60 (19-4) 8 Lost in quarterfinal
Sacramento St. Big Sky 2014-15 (21-12) 9 Lost in quarterfinal
High Point Big South 2014-15 (23-10) 5 Lost in quarterfinal
Presbyterian Big South 2018-19 (17-14) 7 Lost in quarterfinal
Longwood Big South 2014-15 (11-23) 9 Lost in first round
USC Upstate Big South 2014-15 (24-12) 11 Lost in first round
UC Riverside Big West 2008-09 (17-13) 8 Lost in quarterfinal
William & Mary CAA 1997-98 (20-7) 4 Lost in quarterfinal
Elon CAA 2012-13 (21-12) 7 Lost in first round
Youngstown St. Horizon 1997-98 (20-9) 6 Lost in quarterfinal
Quinnipiac MAAC 2009-10 (23-10) 3 Lost in quarterfinal
Bethune-Cookman MEAC 2010-11 (21-13) 5 Lost in quarterfinal
Maryland-ES MEAC 1973-74 (27-2) 8 Lost in first round
St. Francis (BKN) NEC 1955-56 (21-4) 5 Lost in quarterfinal
Sacred Heart NEC 2007-08 (18-14) 3 Lost in quarterfinal
Bryant NEC 2012-13 (19-12) 8 Lost in quarterfinal
Merrimack* NEC N/A N/A N/A
Tennessee-Martin OVC 2008-09 (22-10) 7 Lost in quarterfinal
SIUE OVC 2014-15 (12-16) 8 Lost in first round
Army Patriot 2015-16 (19-14) 6 Lost in quarterfinal
The Citadel Southern 1958-59 (15-5) 10 Lost in first round
Central Ark. Southland 2017-18 (18-17) 7 Lost in second round
Incarnate Word Southland 2013-14 (21-6) 13 DNP
South Dakota Summit 2017-18 (26-9) 6 Lost in quarterfinal
Denver Summit 2011-12 (22-9) 9 DNP
Purdue Fort Wayne Summit 2015-16 (24-10) 3 Lost in semifinal
Omaha Summit 2018-19 (21-11) 2 Lost in championship
Western Illinois Summit 1994-95 (20-8) 8 Lost in semifinal
Grambling SWAC 1979-80 (22-8) 4 Lost in semifinal
Utah Valley WAC 2018-19 (25-10) 2 Lost in semifinal
Grand Canyon WAC 2015-16 (27-7) 3 Lost in championship
UTRGV WAC 1979-80 (19-9) 4 Lost in semifinal
Kansas City WAC 2001-02 (18-11) 7 Lost in first round
Chicago State WAC 2013-14 (13-19) 8 Lost in first round
California Baptist** WAC 2018-19 (16-15) T-5 DNP (Ineligible)

* – Playing first Division I season in 2019-20
** – Played first Division I season in 2018-19, ineligible for NCAA tournament

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