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.

Team Conference Last season Best season since 1985?
Abilene Christian Southland 13-16 13-16 in 2016-17
Army Patriot 13-19 19-14 in 2015-16
Bethune-Cookman MEAC 10-22 21-13 in 2010-11
Bryant University NEC 12-20 19-12 in 2012-13
Central Arkansas Southland 8-24 14-16 in 2007-08
Chicago State WAC 6-26 22-6 in 1985-86
Citadel Southern 12-21 20-13 in 2008-09
Denver Summit 16-14 22-9 in 2011-12
Elon CAA 18-14 21-12 in 2012-13
Gardner-Webb Big South 19-14 21-13 in 2012-13
Grambling State SWAC 16-17 16-12 in 1997-98
Grand Canyon WAC 22-9 27-7 in 2015-16
Hartford AEC 9-23 17-11 in 1996-97
High Point Big South 15-16 23-10 in 2014-15
Incarnate Word Southland 12-17 21-6 in 2013-14
IPFW Summit 20-13 24-10 in 2015-16
Kennesaw State A-Sun 14-18 14-18 in 2016-17
Lipscomb A-Sun 20-13 21-11 in 2005-06
Longwood Big South 6-24 17-14 in 2008-09
Maine AEC 7-25 24-7 in 1999-00
Maryland-Eastern Shore MEAC 14-20 16-12 in 1993-94
Massachusetts-Lowell AEC 11-20 12-17 in 2014-15
N.J.I.T. A-Sun 11-20 21-12 in 2014-15
Nebraska-Omaha Summit 18-14 18-14 in 2016-17
New Hampshire AEC 20-12 19-9 in 1994-95
Presbyterian Big South 5-25 14-15 in 2011-12
Quinnipiac MAAC 10-21 23-10 in 2009-10
Sacramento State Big Sky 13-18 21-12 in 2014-15
Sacred Heart NEC 13-19 18-14 in 2007-08
Savannah State MEAC 13-16 21-12 in 2011-12
SIU-Edwardsville OVC 6-24 12-16 in 2014-15
South Dakota Summit 22-12 22-10 in 2009-10
St. Francis (BKN) NEC 4-27 20-8 in 1998-99
Stetson A-Sun 11-21 17-12 in 2000-01
Tennessee-Martin OVC 22-13 22-10 in 2008-09
Texas-Rio Grande Valley WAC 10-22 20-8 in 1985-86
UC Riverside Big West 8-21 17-13 in 2008-09
UMKC WAC 18-17 21-7 in 1991-92
USC Upstate A-Sun 17-16 24-12 in 2014-15
Utah Valley WAC 17-17 22-7 in 2006-07
Western Illinois Summit 8-20 20-8 in 1994-95
William & Mary CAA 17-14 20-7 in 1997-98
Youngstown State Horizon 13-21 20-9 in 1997-98

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 43 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.

But the 43 teams come from 17 different conferences, so in the best case realistic scenario for these teams, only 17 could break the curse in 2018.



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