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Daniel Wilco | NCAA.com | March 11, 2018

Tracking the 43 teams that have never made the NCAA tournament

In the long history of the NCAA tournament, a field that has now grown to 68 teams, there are still a surprising number of programs waiting to participate in their first March Madness.

If you go back to the tournament's inception in 1939, there have been 3,225 total spots available. Yet, of the 351 basketball teams currently in Division I, 43 have never made the NCAA tournament. 

Below is the full list, and where each stands in its conference tournament. A reminder, winning a conference tournament grants a team an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Lipscomb became the first of the 43 to do that this year, topping FGCU in the A-Sun tournament championship game on March 4. All 42 of the other teams either did not make their conference tournament or were eliminated in tournament play:

Team Conference Tournament start Tournament end Tournament status
Lipscomb A-Sun Mon., Feb. 26 Sun., March 4 Clinched NCAA tournament berth
N.J.I.T. A-Sun Mon., Feb. 26 Sun., March 4 Eliminated
Kennesaw State A-Sun Mon., Feb. 26 Sun., March 4 Eliminated
Stetson A-Sun Mon., Feb. 26 Sun., March 4 Eliminated
USC Upstate A-Sun Mon., Feb. 26 Sun., March 4 Eliminated
Hartford AEC Sat., March 3 Sat., March 10 Eliminated
UMass-Lowell AEC Sat., March 3 Sat., March 10 Eliminated
New Hampshire AEC Sat., March 3 Sat., March 10 Eliminated
Maine AEC Sat., March 3 Sat., March 10 Eliminated
Sacramento St. Big Sky Tue., March 6 Sat., March 10 Eliminated
High Point Big South Tue., Feb. 27 Sun., March 4 Eliminated
Gardner-Webb Big South Tue., Feb. 27 Sun., March 4 Eliminated
Presbyterian Big South Tue., Feb. 27 Sun., March 4 Eliminated
Longwood Big South Tue., Feb. 27 Sun., March 4 Eliminated
UC Riverside Big West Thurs., March 8 Sat., March 10 Eliminated
William & Mary CAA Sat., March 3 Tue., March 6 Eliminated
Elon CAA Sat., March 3 Tue., March 6 Eliminated
Youngstown St. Horizon Fri., March 2 Tue., March 6 Eliminated
Quinnipiac MAAC Thurs., March 1 Mon., March 5 Eliminated
Bethune-Cookman MEAC Mon., March 5 Sat., March 10 Eliminated
Savannah St. MEAC Mon., March 5 Sat., March 10 Eliminated
Maryland-ES MEAC Mon., March 5 Sat., March 10 Eliminated
St. Francis (BKN) NEC Wed., Feb. 28 Tue., March 6 Eliminated
Sacred Heart NEC Wed., Feb. 28 Tue., March 6 DNP
Bryant University NEC Wed., Feb. 28 Tue., March 6 DNP
Tennessee-Martin OVC Wed., Feb. 28 Sat., March 3 DNP
SIUE OVC Wed., Feb. 28 Sat., March 3 DNP
Army Patriot Tue., Feb. 27 Wed., March 7 Eliminated
Citadel Southern Fri., March 2 Mon., March 5 Eliminated
Central Ark. Southland Wed., March 7 Sat., March 10 Eliminated
Abilene Christian Southland Wed., March 7 Sat., March 10 DNP
Incarnate Word Southland Wed., March 7 Sat., March 10 DNP
South Dakota Summit Sat., March 3 Tue., March 6 Eliminated
Denver Summit Sat., March 3 Tue., March 6 Eliminated
IPFW Summit Sat., March 3 Tue., March 6 Eliminated
Nebraska-Omaha Summit Sat., March 3 Tue., March 6 Eliminated
Western Illinois Summit Sat., March 3 Tue., March 6 Eliminated
Grambling State SWAC Tue., March 6 Sat., March 10 Ineligible
Utah Valley WAC Thurs., March 8 Sat., March 10 Eliminated
Grand Canyon WAC Thurs., March 8 Sat., March 10 Eliminated
UTRGV WAC Thurs., March 8 Sat., March 10 Eliminated
UMKC WAC Thurs., March 8 Sat., March 10 Eliminated
Chicago State WAC Thurs., March 8 Sat., March 10 Eliminated

The tournament has grown from an initial eight teams, moving to 16 in 1951 and then growing steadily until 1985, when it reached its familiar format of 64.

Play-in games have made appearances throughout the years, but became a permanent fixture in 2001, when the total number of teams was bumped to 65. In 2011, the play-in was expanded to create the First Four, an opening round that helped fill out the Round of 64. Thus, since 2011, 68 teams have made the NCAA tournament every year.

Two teams have made the NCAA tournament but haven’t been part of the bracket as most of us know it. Houston Baptist made the preliminary round in 1984, when there were 53 teams in the tournament, but lost to Alcorn State. Alabama A&M won the SWAC in 2005, earning the school’s lone automatic bid, but fell to Oakland 79-69 in the tournament’s play-in game. 

There is another small, but more impressive group included in this list — the four teams that have been eligible for every NCAA tournament but have failed to make it to one.

Last year, 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.

The other four teams to have been eligible for every tournament and not been dancing once 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.

Conference Teams that have never made the NCAA tournament Teams
A-Sun 5 Kennesaw State, Lipscomb, NJIT, Stetson, USC Upstate
WAC 5 Chicago State, Grand Canyon, Texas-Rio Grande Valley, UMKC, Utah Valley
Summit 5 Denver, IPFW, Nebraska-Omaha, South Dakota, Western Illinois
AEC 4 Hartford, Maine, Massachusetts-Lowell, New Hampshire
Big South 4 Gardner-Webb, High Point, Longwood, Presbyterian
Southland 3 Abilene Christian, Central Arkansas, Incarnate Word
MEAC 3 Bethune-Cookman, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Savannah State
NEC 3 Bryant, Sacred Heart, St. Francis (NY)
CAA 2 Elon, William & Mary
OVC 2 SIU-Edwardsville, Tennessee-Martin
SWAC 1 Grambling
Big Sky 1 Sacramento State
Big West 1 UC Riverside
Horizon 1 Youngstown State
MAAC 1 Quinnipiac
Patriot 1 Army
Southern 1 Citadel

But of course, the list of 42 isn't made up of basketball's blue bloods. You'll find no Power 5 teams among the uninvited. For the most part, these aren't teams that will find themselves ranked in the AP Top 25 and earn a spot in the NCAA tournament on their resumes alone.

Realistically speaking, the best option for virtually any of these teams to make the NCAA tournament will be to win their conference tournament, a feat that grants an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the winners of all 32 conferences.