Of the 353 teams currently in Division I basketball, 44 have never made the NCAA tournament.

Two years ago, Northwestern belonged to that group before the Wildcats broke their curse (and even won their first-round game). Last year, it was Lipscomb that earned its first invitation.

So which of the remaining 44 has the best shot at its first NCAA tournament this season?

RELATED: The 44 teams that have never made the NCAA tournament

We looked at how each team performed last season to get a good idea.

While any team is eligible for an at-large bid, the teams in this list will realistically have to rely on an automatic bid to get their invitation. That means winning the conference tournament.

So we had three criteria for a promising season:

  1. Finish in the top three of their conference last season
  2. Have an overall record above .500 last season
  3. Return at least three starters

That left us with four teams:

(Two of the 44 teams — North Alabama and California Baptist — will be playing their first seasons at the Division I level this season after moving from Division II, so we had no relevant data to look at).


Conference: MEAC
2017-18 record: 18-14 (12-4, 1st in MEAC)
2017-18 conference tournament result: Lost to Morgan State 78-77 in quarterfinal
Returning starters: Isaiah Bailey, Shawntrez Davis, Soufiyane Diakite, Malik Maitland

Bethune-Cookman bounced back from a 10th place MEAC finish in 2016-17 to win a share of the regular season crown. But after a first-round bye in the conference tournament, the Wildcats season was cut short when 7-seed Morgan State hit two free throws with 7.9 seconds left to secure the one-point upset.

Bethune-Cookman lost MEAC Player of the Year Brandon Tabb, but return last year’s DPOY in Soufiyane Diakite, who averaged 10.5 points and 9.8 rebounds as a junior, and guard Isaiah Bailey, who had 16.1 points and 4.8 assists per game.

It helps that the MEAC looks a bit more open at the top this year. Savannah State — which also finished 12-4 in conference play — lost all but one of its starters from a team that only had a 15-17 overall record last season.


Conference: SWAC
2017-18 record: 17-14 (13-5, 1st in SWAC)
2017-18 conference tournament result: Ineligible
Returning starters: Ivy Smith, Anthony Gaston, Devante Jackson, Axel Mpoyo

The Tigers have managed one of the most-impressive turnarounds in recent college basketball history. After going a combined 18-127 (.124 winning percentage) from 2012-2016, Grambling went 16-17 in 2017 and 17-14 in 2018 — the school’s first winning season since 2006. That included this absurd win against Georgia Tech: