You know you have a huge test tomorrow. There is also a term paper due at the end of the week. However, you find yourself in a packed gym surrounded by other students, alumni, and fans. Your school is playing for a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. ESPN2 is covering the game because, well, Gonzaga happens to be playing at the same time.
Fast forward to two hours later. There are three seconds left on the clock, and your school is down by one. The ball is inbounded from under the basket after a lengthy review about who should possess the ball. Your star player has it in his hands. Two seconds. He takes one dribble and turns. One second. The shot goes up…and rims out. Students from the other school storm the court, and you are left with nothing but a deflating feeling. Once again, your school misses out on the Big Dance.
The Best Non-NCAA Tournament Programs
NCAA Tournament Honorable Mentions
Cal Baptist Lancers
Cal Baptist has only been Division I for two seasons, meaning they have yet to be eligible for the NCAA Tournament. However, they have had two winning seasons and played in the CBI in their first season at this level. The Lancers would have played in a postseason tournament this past year as well.
Merrimack made quite a first impression in their first season as a Division I program. The Warriors captured the NEC title outright, becoming only the second program to ever do so in their first year. They were not eligible to participate in the NCAA Tournament had it been played. However, one wonders how they would have done if they could have played.
10. Purdue-Fort Wayne Mastodons
Purdue-Fort Wayne checks in at tenth on the list with a program all-time winning percentage of 46.8. The Mastodons spent five years as a Division I independent before joining the Summit League for the 2007-08 season. They shared a piece of the league title in 2016, the only time they have ever won a regular-season title. That was their best season at the Division I level, being led by John Konchar, a four-time first-team league selection. However, the closest the program came was losing in the conference championship game in 2014. The pinnacle of their national postseason appearances was playing in the NIT in 2016.
9. William & Mary Tribe
William and Mary checks in with a 47 percent winning percentage all-time. They are one of four original Division I programs to never have made the NCAA Tournament. Overall, there have been 115 seasons of basketball played in Williamsburg, VA. The 1997-98 team was the best in school history, coming in at 20-7 overall. They tied for the regular-season title that season, as well as at least earning a share in two other seasons. The Tribe have lost in nine conference championship games, most recently in 2015. However, their one-point loss to Delaware in 2014 remains the closest they have come to erasing their drought.
T8. High Point Panthers
High Point ties for the eighth spot with a 47.6 percent all-time winning percentage. The Panthers have been playing Division I basketball for 21 years, playing in the Big South the entire time. Their 23-10 finish in 2014-15 was the best season in school history, tying for the regular-season title. That came during a stretch where the program earned at least a share of the regular-season championship for four straight years. However, they only made it to the semifinals during that stretch. The Panthers played in conference championship games in 2002 and 2004, getting blown out in both instances.
T8. Quinnipiac Bobcats
Quinnipiac also checks in with a 47.6 percent all-time winning percentage. The Bobcats have played one more season of basketball at the Division I level than High Point, joining in 1998-99. They played in the NEC from until 2013-14, switching to the MAAC. The 2009-10 team went 23-10, the best season at this level for the program. The closest Quinnipiac came was a two-point defeat in the conference title game against Robert Morris in 2010. That led them to the NIT, still the best national postseason tournament they have participated in.
6. Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks
Omaha has been playing Division I basketball for eight seasons, winning 48.6 percent of their games thus far. The sample size may be small, but the Mavericks have had some good teams already in their short stint. Their best season came in 2018-19, going 21-11 and finishing in second place. They have already played in two conference title games, losing by just two to North Dakota State in 2017. For now, Omaha has settled for one appearance each in the CIT and CBI, though this is a program on the rise in the Summit League.
5. St. Francis-Brooklyn Terriers
St. Francis joins William and Mary as another original Division I program to not make the tournament. The Terriers have won 48.8 percent of their all-time games over 101 seasons. They have won at least a share of six regular-season titles, most recently in 2015 as a member of the NEC. However, the best team in program history was in 1955-56, going 21-4, and making the NIT Final Four. The best days of the program came during that time, participating in numerous NITs, which was the premier tournament in that era. The Terriers have played in three NEC conference championship games, losing twice by three points (2001 and 2015).
4. Army Black Knights
Army is yet another of the four original Division I programs to not make the NCAA Tournament. The other is The Citadel, which did not make this list. The Black Knights have a 49.7 percent all-time winning percentage. However, they have never won a regular-season title and are most well-known for starting the coaching careers of Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski. Their 20-5 record in 1967-68 remains the best in school history. All of the success under the aforementioned coaches led them to the NIT. As a member of the Patriot League, Army has never made it further than the conference tournament semifinals.
3. South Dakota Coyotes
South Dakota joined Division I in 2009-10, winning 52.7 percent of their all-time games to this point. The Coyotes spent two years playing in the now-defunct Great West Conference before joining the Summit League. They won the Great West regular-season and tournament titles in 2010, but the league did not have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. South Dakota’s 26-9 record in 2017-18 is their best season, losing in the conference tournament championship game. They will have to break through the success of their South Dakota State rivals to take that next step.
2. Utah Valley Wolverines
Utah Valley continues the trend of recent programs to transition to Division I on the list. The Wolverines have won 54.8 percent of their all-time games over 16 seasons. They also joined the Great West Conference before moving to the WAC in 2013-14. Utah Valley won two regular-season titles in the Great West as well as the WAC title in their first season there. The program went 25-10 in 2018-19, their best year ever. However, the Wolverines have only made to the conference tournament semifinals, doing so four times as a WAC member.
1. Grand Canyon Antelopes
The argument can be made that Grand Canyon does not have a big sample size, having only been a Division I program for seven years. However, the Antelopes boast a 60.4 percent winning percentage in that time. In fact, this past season was the first time they have had a losing record since making the transition. The Lopes’ 27-7 record in 2015-16 remains their best season in school history. Grand Canyon has made the WAC championship game in both seasons of eligibility for the NCAA Tournament, losing to rival New Mexico State each time. The Antelopes seem poised to be the next program to break through and make the Big Dance.