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The 10 NCAA Tournament Dry Spells Most Likely to End This Season

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 23, 2014

The 10 NCAA Tournament Dry Spells Most Likely to End This Season

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    Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

    For teams like Massachusetts, NCAA tournament dry spells have lasted so long that the "Macarena" was still cool the last time they made the Big Dance.

    Unlike Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State and Wisconsin—teams that have been in every tournament since 2000—this list features teams that haven't made a single tournament in at least 15 years but ones that have a realistic chance of finally breaking that streak this season.

    In case you weren't sure, 15 years is a long time. BuzzFeed's Arielle Calderon wrote an article in August 2013, highlighting 25 things that were totally normal in 1999, including such now-foreign concepts as rewinding VHS tapes, saving files on a floppy disk and burning CDs to play in your Sony Walkman. 

    Heck, a couple of these teams were still listening to eight tracks on the way to their last NCAA tournament game.

    Will this be the year they finally snap out of what must feel like an eternal funk?

     

    The following slides are sorted in alphabetical order of school. Unless otherwise noted, stats are current through the start of play on Thursday, Jan. 23, and courtesy of ESPN or KenPom.com.

Canisius Golden Griffins

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    Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Canisius Golden Griffins

    Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1996

    Current Resume: 13-6 overall (7-2 in MAAC), RPI rank: 91, KenPom rank: 124

     

    Season Highlights

    Canisius is 0-2 against the RPI Top 100 this year, so the highlight of its season might be going on the road and pushing Notre Dame to overtime before eventually losing the game. The Golden Griffins also lost to D-II Metro State back in late November, so let's go ahead and rule out any possible pipe dreams about making the tournament as an at-large bid.

    They are, however, one of the three or four teams from the MAAC with a realistic chance of representing the conference in the NCAA tournament by way of an automatic bid.

    Led by Virginia—and Rhode Island-transfer Billy Baron—Canisius ranks ninth in the nation in three-point percentage. In recent wins over Siena and Monmouth, the Golden Griffins combined to make 29 of their 56 long-range shots (51.8 percent). And as Creighton displayed on Monday night against Villanova, when a team has four players who shoot better than 41 percent from three, anything's possible.

    Of course, anything is also possible in any conference tournament. Once they get George Beamon back from a shoulder injury, the Manhattan Jaspers figure to be the favorite to win the MAAC tournament. Quinnipiac leads the nation in rebounds per game, and Iona has one of the 10 most efficient offenses in the country.

    It certainly won't be a cakewalk, but it's not difficult to see Canisius shooting its way into the tournament for the first time in nearly two decades.

     

    Chance of Dancing: 25 percent

Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens

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    Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens

    Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1999

    Current Resume: 13-7 overall (5-0 in CAA), RPI rank: 74, KenPom rank: 89

     

    Season Highlights

    Until their 13-point win at Drexel on Jan. 20, the Fightin' Blue Hens didn't have a single win in six tries against the RPI Top 150.

    That's a bit deceptive, though, because Delaware has played quite well in the majority of those other six road games. Of those six losses, four were by single digits, and Delaware was tied with Villanova in the final three minutes at the Pavilion.

    Then again, Delaware has also won six of its last eight games by single digits, so perhaps this team just enjoys playing close games.

    They don't play much defense, but the Fightin' Blue Hens have three players averaging more than 17 points per game. Devon Saddler has scored at least 13 points in every game this season and has scored at least 22 in Delaware's last six games—impressively adding in 15 assists over the last two games. Also, Jarvis Threatt and Davon Usher have each gone over 25 in a game on multiple occasions.

    With the CAA a mere shell of what it used to be without George Mason and VCU, those three players should be more than enough to carry Delaware to a regular-season conference title. Towson and Drexel might put up a fight in the conference tourney, but if it started today, the smart money would be on the Fightin' Blue Hens.

     

    Chance of Dancing: 45 percent

Green Bay Phoenix

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    Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Green Bay Phoenix

    Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1996

    Current Resume: 13-3 overall (6-0 in Horizon), RPI rank: 47, KenPom rank: 49

     

    Season Highlights

    Before we get into any sort of summary of Green Bay's season, do yourself a favor and watch this video of the two dunks Keifer Sykes threw down against UIC on Jan. 19.

    Make no mistake about it, Green Bay is the team to beat in the Horizon League. Led by the 5'11" Sykes and 7'1" Alec Brown—who have combined to average 43 points per game in conference play—the Phoenix just might run the table.

    They already have road wins over Wright State and Milwaukee and scored a 16-point win at home over Youngstown State. If anyone is capable of beating them in conference play, it would have been one of those teams.

    Before conference play began, though, they picked up a win over the same Virginia team that just spanked North Carolina by 15 points on Jan. 20. They also nearly pulled off an upset over Wisconsin, ultimately losing to the Badgers by just three points.

    Many of the teams on this list will only make the NCAA tournament if they win their conference tournaments, but Green Bay is a legitimate threat to get an at-large bid if it falters in the Horizon conference tourney. But with 11 consecutive wins and counting, that scenario shouldn't even come into play.

     

    Chance of Dancing: 75 percent

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Team: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

    Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1991

    Current Resume: 15-4 overall (4-1 in C-USA), RPI rank: 78, KenPom rank: 36

     

    Season Highlights

    Louisiana Tech is just 3-4 versus the RPI Top 150, and Conference USA isn't going to give the Bulldogs many opportunities to add to that win total. They do have a crucial road win over Oklahoma, but unless the Sooners somehow manage to win the Big 12, that singular win won't be nearly enough to put Louisiana Tech in position for an at-large bid.

    It's a crying shame, too, because this is a quality team.

    Playing on the road without their leading scorer (Raheem Appleby), the Bulldogs nearly gutted out a win against Southern Miss on Jan. 19. Rebounding has been one of their biggest strengths all season, but it was nowhere to be found in that game, as they were outrebounded 48-26 by the Golden Eagles.

    Despite playing with one of the fastest tempos in the country, Louisiana Tech has a very good defense. The Bulldogs average 72.6 possessions per game, according to Ken Pomeroy (subscription required), yet they have held 11 of their 19 opponents to fewer than 65 points.

    They'll need to rediscover that defensive prowess for the presumed rematch with Southern Miss in the conference tournament final. With nary an RPI Top 100 opponent left on their schedule, it's auto bid or bust.

     

    Chance of Dancing: 35 percent

Massachusetts Minutemen

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    Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Massachusetts Minutemen

    Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1998

    Current Resume: 16-2 overall (3-1 in Atlantic 10), RPI rank: 5, KenPom rank: 31

     

    Season Highlights

    It might seem like poor timing to praise the Minutemen less than 24 hours after losing to Richmond, but they remain by far the most likely team from this list to actually make the tournament. And for what it's worth, many sites had Richmond listed as a three-point favorite in that game, so let's not act like they lost at home to "Garbage A&M."

    Massachusetts has been at or near the top of the RPI rankings since late November.

    From a computer-profile point of view, the Minutemen are basically a carbon copy of last year's New Mexico squad that earned a No. 3 seed in the tournament. They don't have any amazing wins and haven't even played a game this season against a team that is currently ranked. However, they do have 10 RPI Top 100 wins and figure to only add to that list as A-10 play continues.

    Along with Cameron Bairstow and Cleanthony Early, Massachusetts' Chaz Williams (15.8 PPG, 7.3 APG) was one of just three players from a non-major conference to have made the cut in the Wooden Watch's Midseason Top 25. Cady Lalanne (14.0 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 58.6 field-goal percentage) arguably deserved to be on the list as well.

    We'll see how well they bounce back from Wednesday night's loss. After Sunday's home game against Fordham, there aren't very many cupcakes left in their A-10 schedule. But at this point, it would take a collapse of epic proportions for the Minutemen to miss the NCAA tournament.

     

    Chance of Dancing: 98 percent

Mercer Bears

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    Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Mercer Bears

    Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1985

    Current Resume: 13-5 overall (7-1 in Atlantic Sun), RPI rank: 72, KenPom rank: 80

     

    Season Highlights

    When Mercer came within one bucket of winning at Texas on the opening night of the season, we merely took it as a sign that it was going to be another long year for the Longhorns. As it turns out, though, Texas is gradually creeping into the Top 25 discussion, and Mercer might be the best "minor-conference" team in the country.

    A road win over Ole Miss in regulation may not seem like much of a staple victory, but thus far the Bears are the only team to have done so this season. They also beat Seton Hall in double overtime, which is more than Providence can claim.

    Led by Langston Hall (14.6 points and 5.6 assists per game), Mercer is averaging 81.8 points per game this season. Despite playing at a slower tempo than most teams, the Bears are one of the 25 highest-scoring teams in the country.

    According to Ken Pomeroy (subscription required), this team is the class of the Atlantic Sun Conference, and it's not even close. The Bears are 80th overall in his rankings, while no other conference rival ranks in the Top 210.

    Between the 6-1 start in conference play and last year's memorable tournament run, Florida Gulf Coast is still a sentimental favorite to win the conference. However, that should change after Mercer's 13-point win over FGCU on Thursday night.

     

    Chance of Dancing: 80 percent

Missouri State Bears

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Team: Missouri State Bears

    Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1999

    Current Resume: 12-6 overall (3-4 in Missouri Valley), RPI rank: 76, KenPom rank: 159

     

    Season Highlights

    Slim to none doesn't even begin to describe the Bears' at-large dreams, as they are 0-5 versus the RPI Top 100 and lost by 32 to Loyola (IL), which currently has an RPI bordering on 300. In addition to that disaster, they lost by 20 to Virginia and lost by 30 to Louisville.

    Statistically, they're a bit of a mess. The Bears are one of the poorest rebounding teams in the country, and their opponents have a higher effective field-goal percentage than they do.

    However, they're the only team to have held a lead over Wichita State in the final three minutes of a game this season. They even went so far as to push the Shockers to overtime, so we have to at least throw the Bears a bone.

    Could they win three straight games in St. Louis to make the NCAA tournament? Sure. Why not? But it's far more likely that Wichita State finishes the season undefeated.

     

    Chance of Dancing: 1 percent

Oregon State Beavers

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    Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Oregon State Beavers

    Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1990

    Current Resume: 11-7 overall (3-3 in Pac-12), RPI rank: 86, KenPom rank: 100

     

    Season Highlights

    Oregon State's season started out about as poorly as possible, losing at home to a Coppin State team that currently has a 6-12 record.

    There's nowhere to go but up, right?

    Since then, the Beavers have picked up three RPI Top 100 wins and have avoided adding any other horrendous losses to their resume. They nearly won at Colorado (before Spencer Dinwiddie's injury) and held a 10-point halftime lead at home against California before eventually letting it slip away.

    Almost-wins don't count for anything, but in conjunction with big wins over Oregon and Stanford, it could be a signal that this team is ready to finish at or above .500 in conference play for the first time since the 1992-93 season.

    In their next six games, they play on the road against Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and Washington, and they play at home against UCLA and USC. The old Oregon State would have lost at least five of those six games.

    Can Roberto Nelson (21.6 PPG) and company reverse two decades' worth of incessant losing?

    Perhaps reaching the NCAA tournament is asking too much, but it would be nice to see the Beavers finish with an overall record above .500 for just the third time in the last 24 years.

     

    Chance of Dancing: 10 percent

Southern Methodist Mustangs

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    Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Southern Methodist Mustangs

    Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1993

    Current Resume: 15-4 overall (4-2 in American), RPI rank: 44, KenPom rank: 25

     

    Season Highlights

    Markus Kennedy might be the most underappreciated player in the country, which makes sense, as he's arguably the best player on one of the most underrated teams.

    Early in the season, he was nothing special. Kennedy averaged 8.9 points and 4.8 rebounds over his first nine games. Since then, however, he is averaging 13.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Kennedy is also blocking 7.6 percent of opponent's two-point field-goal attempts when he is in the game, which puts him in the top 100 in the country in that category.

    Despite being a big man, he is also in the top 100 in steal percentage, recording a steal in 3.6 percent of defensive possessions in which he is on the court.

    According to Ken Pomeroy (subscription required), Kennedy's numbers are comparable to those of 2010-11 Mike Muscala, 2011-12 C.J. Leslie, 2012-13 Alex Kirk and 2013-14 Brice Johnson. You certainly wouldn't know it from the lack of national attention he's receiving, though.

    Kennedy has at least 10 points and seven rebounds in each of his last 10 gamesa stretch which includes SMU's two biggest wins of the season and a couple of narrow losses on the road to Cincinnati and Louisville. We'll see if he maintains a starting job after Yanick Moreira returns from a slightly torn MCL, but he has certainly earned it.

    Southern Methodist looks like a Sweet 16-type team with him on the court.

     

    Chance of Dancing: 65 percent

Toledo Rockets

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    John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Toledo Rockets

    Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1980

    Current Resume: 15-2 overall (4-1 in MAC), RPI rank: 39, KenPom rank: 68

     

    Season Highlights

    If you're having trouble remembering the last time Toledo was in the NCAA tournament, that's because it was 34 years ago.

    Season highlights are few and far between. The Rockets have only played one game against an RPI Top 100 team, but they were 12-0 before that 10-point loss at Kansas.

    One of Toledo's most intriguing aspects is its ball distribution. Most above-average mid-major teams have one or two players who carry the scoring load but not the Rockets. They have five players averaging better than 10 points per game, and only once this season (Rian Pearson's 30-point game against Detroit) has an individual player scored more than 25 points in a game.

    Julius Brown is averaging 6.5 assists per gamegood for ninth-most in the country—which is carrying Toledo into the Top 25 in team assists per game. The Rockets are also quite adept at avoiding turnovers, averaging just over 10 per game, which puts them 12th in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio.

    Of course, this might be all for naught if they don't win the MAC conference tournament. Should they falter, they will make for an interesting at-large case study, depending on how well they do the rest of the season. The MAC sent multiple teams to the NCAA tournament four times in a span of five years in the late 1990s, but it hasn't received an at-large bid since 1999.

    If Toledo can finish the regular season with no worse than a 26-4 record, perhaps this will be the year that streak is broken.

     

    Chance of Dancing: 40 percent

     

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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