CBB Teams Most Likely to Break Lengthy NCAA Tournament Droughts in 2014-15
It has been more than two decades since Southern Methodist was last invited to the NCAA tournament, but the Mustangs are one of the 20 college basketball teams with a good chance of finally putting an end to a lengthy drought in 2015.
There are well more than 100 schools that haven't made the tournament in the past 10 years, but most of them don't have much hope of changing that any time soon.
For these 20 schools, there's at least cause for optimism.
Several of the teams on this list have yet to go dancing in program history. Army, Denver, St. Francis (NY) and William & Mary have been playing college basketball since long before the NCAA tournament even existed and have not once tasted its sweet nectar.
But this is their year.
Some of these schools have at least been fortunate enough to make the tournament since the players on their roster were born, but not one of them has earned a bid since 2005.
The following slides are ranked based on how likely each team is to end its dry spell.
Honorable Mention: Northwestern
2013-14 record: 14-19 (6-12 in Big Ten)
Last bid: Never
No piece on tournament droughts would be complete without including the most infamous of them all.
Cubs fans think their team is cursed for having not won a World Series since 1908, but at least they've had some high-quality seasons along the way, making the playoffs 13 times since then. Over the past 111 years, the Cubs have won 50.3 percent of their regular-season games.
So I'll take Northwestern for the honor of the most ill-fated "franchise" in northeast Illinois.
Prior to 2009-10, the Wildcats had never won more than 17 games in a season. They have an all-time winning percentage of .410. And perhaps worst of all, the greatest season in school history came eight years before the inception of the NCAA tournament: Northwestern went 16-1 in 1930-31.
But with do-it-all Drew Crawford graduating, it would be hard to argue that this is the year that Northwestern finally dances.
Anything is possible. Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State may be headed for a rebuilding season, leading to a year of parody in the Big Ten.
I just don't see Chris Collins' team having enough offensive firepower to win 20 games.
20. William & Mary
2013-14 record: 20-12 (10-6 in CAA)
Last bid: Never
The Tribe came oh so close to finally making the tournament this past season. They held a six-point lead over Delaware with 1:10 remaining in the CAA championship game, but they let it slip away.
Marcus Thornton—the man who led the team in scoring but missed the final two shots of the season—may need to have one heck of a year in order for William & Mary to get that close again. He paced the team with 18.7 points per game, but four of the other six players in the top seven in scoring are graduating this summer.
The Tribe does retain some crucial players, though. They'll have their three leaders in assists and steals back, the top two rebounders and two of the three best shot-blockers.
With Delaware losing three of its four leading scorers from last season and no one else in the conference jumping out as a clear favorite, that might be enough for this to finally be William & Mary's year.
19. Eastern Michigan
2013-14 record: 22-15 (10-8 in MAC)
Last bid: 1998
The Eagles are losing six players to graduation, but they will return the three leading scorers from the team that had at least one win last season against each of the MAC's top dogs: Buffalo, Toledo and Western Michigan.
Most notably among them is Karrington Ward, who led the team in points, rebounds and steals. The JUCO transfer did a little bit of everything for Eastern Michigan, but he was almost non-existent when the team needed him most in the MAC semifinals against Toledo.
The big question to be answered is how this team adjusts to life without so many of its role players.
Da'Shonte Riley was one of the best shot-blockers in the country and grabbed more than a few rebounds. Glenn Bryant wasn't all that far behind Riley in either of those departments. Daylen Harrison didn't score a ton, but he started for most of the season and was a plus defender.
Whether seldom-used players like Lekan Ajayi and Ali Farhat or incoming transfers Mike Samuels (Indiana State) or Anali Okoloji (George Mason) can provide quality minutes will determine Eastern Michigan's dancing prospects.
2013-14 record: 15-16 (10-8 in Patriot)
Last bid: Never
When the 2013-14 regular season ended, Boston University was the overwhelming favorite to win the 2014-15 Patriot League championship. However, two of the Terriers' best non-graduating players have elected to transfer, leaving the Patriot's automatic bid very much up in the air.
Perhaps the Black Knights of Army can finally make their way to the promised land.
Over the past two seasons, Army has a record of 31-31—a disappointing stretch for many teams, but light years ahead of the 242-515 record posted from 1985-2012.
Much of that improvement has been due to Kyle Wilson. He averaged 13.0 points per game as a freshman and led the team with 18.4 PPG this past season. Moreover, he has made 42.7 percent of his 234 three-point attempts over the course of those two years.
Beyond Wilson, though, it's somewhat of a buffet of role players. Seven other players averaged at least 17.0 minutes per game, but only one—leading rebounder and shot-blocker Kevin Ferguson—got more than 23.0 minutes on average.
As recently as two years ago, we've seen that kind of strategy work to near perfection. Middle Tennessee had one leading scorer and a revolving door of supporting cast members en route to a 28-6 season.
17. Northern Illinois
2013-14 record: 15-17 (8-10 in MAC)
Last bid: 1996
Our second of three teams on the list from the MAC was nothing special last season. The Huskies had a sub-.500 record and ranked 338th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com (subscription required).
Their 0.58 assist-to-turnover ratio would have been the worst in the country were it not for Howard University.
So why are we moderately optimistic that Northern Illinois will make the tournament for the first time in 19 years?
Quite simply, every important player will be back with an added year of experience.
The Huskies' six leading scorers were underclassmen. Arguably their best player, freshman Dontel Highsmith, suffered a torn ACL 11 games into the season, but he may be back for the start of the 2014-15 season. Before getting injured, he was averaging 18.3 points per 40 minutes.
Having Highsmith back should make a world of difference. Despite the terrible offensive numbers, Northern Illinois played above-average defense. The Huskies won a game in overtime last season while scoring just 54 points, and they won a double-overtime game with just 61 points.
Reintroducing to the mix a player who can actually score could be worth at least a half-dozen wins.
2013-14 record: 19-14 (9-5 in Ivy)
Last bid: 1962
Justin Sears was the heart and soul of this better-than-most-realized Yale squad.
The sophomore led the Bulldogs in scoring (16.9 PPG), rebounding (6.9 RPG) and shot-blocking (1.9 BPG). He had 31 points in a near upset at Providence and averaged 24.5 points and 12.0 rebounds in two games against Harvard.
Will that be enough to vault Yale ahead of Harvard? Yale finished in second place in the Ivy standings this past season, but it was four games behind the Crimson.
In a league with no conference tournament, that's a lot of ground to make up. With the Bulldogs bringing back each of their eight leading scorers, though, it's at least within the realm of possibility.
15. Illinois State
2013-14 record: 18-16 (9-9 in MVC)
Last bid: 1998
Were it not for the never-ending epidemic of college basketball players transferring, the Redbirds almost certainly would have been in the top 10 on this list.
Not a single player on last year's Illinois State team was a senior, but that doesn't mean everyone is coming back.
Zach Lofton was the team's second-leading scorer at 11.3 points per game, but he's transferring to Minnesota after losing his starting job midway through the season. Nick Zeisloft was fifth on the team in scoring and was the team's best three-point shooter, but he has elected to transfer to parts still unknown at this time.
Still, a lot of key pieces are back, including a pair of players who started more often than not last season as freshmen.
Though he didn't do much in terms of points or assists, Paris Lee was the starting point guard for all but one game last year. He played well over the first two months but disappeared for large stretches of the conference portion of the season.
Meanwhile, big man Reggie Lynch led the nation in block percentage, according to KenPom.com (subscription required).
The Redbirds would need an awful lot of luck to finish ahead of Wichita State in the regular-season standings, but anything can happen once Arch Madness begins.
14. UC Irvine
2013-14 record: 23-12 (13-3 in Big West)
Last bid: Never (first year for basketball program was 1977-78)
Not only does UC Irvine have one of the greatest nicknames in sports, but the Anteaters also have one of the best shot-blockers in the world.
Standing 7'6" tall, Mamadou Ndiaye barely even needs to jump to reject two-point field-goal attempts. Ndiaye averaged 5.9 blocks per 40 minutes last year as a freshman and "shot" 70.7 percent from the field—though he was effortlessly dropping the ball into the hoop on most of those attempts.
He came within one bucket of a triple-double against Long Beach State, tallying 11 blocks, 10 rebounds and eight points.
With their giant in the paint, the Anteaters won the Big West regular-season title last season. They only have one graduating player from that team.
But you have to like UC Santa Barbara's chances of finally representing the Big West in the NCAA tournament in Alan Williams' final season. Perhaps UC Irvine can break the drought this year, but it would seem more likely to happen in 2015-16.
2013-14 record: 21-13 (8-6 in Ivy)
Last bid: 1968
Columbia is the second team on the list from the Ivy League, which probably sets a new world record for preseason hype for those brainiacs.
If you'll recall, the Lions made some waves early last season. Three days after blowing a game against a quality Manhattan team, they were down by just one point at Michigan State at the final media timeout of the game.
Though they lost 13 games, only two of them were decided by more than 10 points—one at Portland before leading scorer Alex Rosenberg became a starter and the other at Harvard after third-leading scorer Grant Mullins suffered a season-ending concussion.
From that better-than-the-win-loss-record team, no one is transferring, and the only senior on the roster (Van Green) hasn't played a game since the 2011-12 season.
They finished a game behind Yale last season, but the Lions are the team most likely to have a chance at putting an end to Harvard's run of three straight tournament appearances.
2013-14 record: 25-11 (10-4 in Summit)
Last bid: Never (first year for basketball program was 2003)
This isn't so much a vote of confidence in IPFW as it is a concession that someone has to represent the Summit League in the NCAA tournament.
South Dakota State had a nice run for a couple years, and North Dakota State was one of the best mid-major teams in the country last season. But both teams are losing a ton of players to graduation this season, opening the door for the Mastodons to steal a bid.
IPFW has a fair degree of turnover in its own right, including leading scorer Luis Jacobo and starting point guard Pierre Bland.
Getting another year from Steve Forbes could be the thing that puts the Mastodons at the head of the class. The mid-major version of Marquette's Davante Gardner barely played 20 minutes per game, but he averaged 22.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per 40 minutes.
2013-14 record: 16-15 (8-6 in Summit)
Last bid: Never
Similar rationale as the previous slide for IPFW, except Denver is only losing one key player (Chris Udofia).
Last year was Denver's first in the Summit League. The Pioneers were 22-9 in the Sun Belt in 2011-12 and went 22-10 in the WAC in 2012-13.
Perhaps getting to actually stay in the same conference for a second straight season will provide enough stability to finally get this team to the tournament.
Brett Olson will be the key to the Pioneers' success. Through three seasons, he is a career 44.3 percent three-point shooter and has made 91.0 percent of his free-throw attempts. His peripheral stats also improved this past season, as he averaged 3.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game.
Marcus Byrd's ability to play in the paint could also make or break their season. With Udofia graduating and three seldom-used forwards transferring, Byrd is the only returning player taller than 6'5" who actually played a minute last season.
They do have a 6'11" incoming freshman, but there's no telling how much of an immediate impact Daniel Amigo will be able to make.
10. Eastern Washington
2013-14 record: 15-16 (10-10 in Big Sky)
Last bid: 2004
If there's a conference that is going to be more of a crapshoot than the Big Sky next season, I haven't found it. There are some obvious bottom-feeders in Southern Utah, North Dakota, Idaho State and Montana State, but each of the remaining eight teams has at least a 10 percent chance of being a No. 16 seed in the 2015 NCAA tournament.
So why not Eastern Washington?
The Eagles certainly weren't stellar last season, but they were five games better than the previous year and didn't have a single senior on the roster.
Better yet, they still have one of the best scorers in the country in Tyler Harvey (21.8 PPG), and they get back a pair of potentially crucial redshirts—freshman Sir Washington and 7'1" sophomore Frederik Jorg.
We'll see if they can actually play some defense after allowing opponents to average 75.1 points per game last year.
9. St. Francis (NY)
2013-14 record: 18-14 (9-7 in NEC)
Last bid: Never
For what feels like the first time in more than a decade, someone other than LIU Brooklyn or Robert Morris might actually have a shot at winning the Northeast regular-season title.
Frankly, the Terriers weren't far from being the team to beat this past season.
Including the conference tournament, they suffered a total of eight losses against NEC opponents. Five of those losses were by one possession, and seven of the eight were by six points or fewer. Save for the one blowout loss to Robert Morris, they were a few fortunate bounces away from going undefeated in conference play.
They're losing one crucial player in Ben Mockford—pretty much the only three-point threat on last year's team. However, they will have potential conference POY Jalen Cannon back in the mix, as well as one of the best point guards in the country in Brent Jones. Last season, Jones averaged 9.1 assists per 40 minutes and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.67.
Keep an eye out for Wayne Martin, too. His per-game numbers were nothing outstanding, but he only played 16.9 minutes per game as a freshman. Per 40 minutes, he averaged 16.6 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.3 blocks. In 24 minutes of action against Wagner in February, he had 17 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks.
2013-14 record: 17-14 (7-9 in C-USA)
Last bid: 2005
After an eight-year hiatus to the A-10, Charlotte's first year back in C-USA wasn't much to write home about. In addition to getting blown out in every game against Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss, the 49ers were also responsible for three of the 10 wins that Marshall, Rice and UTSA had in conference play.
I wouldn't say they have nowhere to go but up, but it's certainly hard to imagine things going worse than they did over the final two months of last season.
Might we get to see the version of Charlotte that stunned Kansas State and Michigan in winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off?
The five leading scorers are back, including one of the three players in the country who averaged at least 10.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game. Pierria Henry joined Utah's Delon Wright and Louisiana-Lafayette's Elfrid Payton on the short list of players who did more than a little bit of everything.
(Henry's most ridiculous line from last season: 23 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, four steals, two blocks and one turnover against North Carolina A&T.)
Charlotte also adds Florida transfer Braxton Ogbueze to an already strong core.
2013-14 record: 27-7 (14-4 in MAC)
Last bid: 1980
Not that long ago, Toledo was the laughingstock of the MAC. From 2008-11, the Rockets had an overall record of 15-81 and a conference record of 7-41.
They were back in a big way this past season, winning 18 of their first 20 games and almost, sort of, kinda flirting with an upset at Kansas.
Rian Pearson is the only departing member from the primary seven-man rotation. He will be missed, but Toledo should still be the favorites in the MAC without him.
Julius Brown and Justin Drummond will be the primary senior leadership after both averaging better than 14.0 points per game last season. Also playing out his final season and expected to lead the team will be former Ohio State transfer J.D. Weatherspoon, who led the Rockets in rebounding this past season while also scoring better than 10 points per game.
6. High Point
2013-14 record: 16-15 (12-4 in Big South)
Last bid: Never (first year for basketball program was 1999-00)
In any other conference, I wouldn't touch High Point with a 10-foot pole.
Over the last two years, the Panthers are 9-19 against nonconference opponents, including gems this past season such as the 28-point loss to Wofford, the 35-point loss to Georgetown and the 41-point loss to Arkansas.
But they're 24-8 in the regular season against Big South opponents during that same stretch.
They just can't seem to catch a break in the conference tournament, losing to Winthrop on a buzzer-beater last year and falling to Liberty by one point two years ago.
Could this finally be the year that John Brown and company get to dance? Their do-it-all big man had an incredible line of 19.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.6 BPG and 1.5 SPG last season, leading the team in every category except for assists.
5. Stony Brook
2013-14 record: 23-11 (13-3 in America East)
Last bid: Never (first year for basketball program was 1999-00)
Like High Point, Stony Brook has been a D-I program for 15 years and has yet to make the NCAA tournament.
Also like High Point, the Seawolves have been exceptionally unlucky in their conference tournaments. This past season was the fourth consecutive year in which they advanced to the conference championship game, only to lose by fewer than 10 points.
But this is their year. I can feel it.
Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy were the team's leading scorers last year as sophomores and should only continue to improve this coming season.
The Seawolves are losing a trio of important seniors, but that just means more playing time for Scott King and Rayshaun McGrew, who were more than serviceable during the limited playing time they received last year.
4. Green Bay
2013-14 record: 24-7 (14-2 in Horizon)
Last bid: 1996
Green Bay should have made the tournament last season. I say that not because the Phoenix finished in first place in their conference, but because I still believe they should have received the final at-large bid.
The past is the past, though, and they certainly didn't help my argument when they got destroyed by Belmont in their first NIT game.
But Keifer Sykes didn't play in that game, and he's pretty much the beginning and the end of the argument for why Green Bay should make the tournament this year.
Sykes was one of just five players in the country to average better than 20.0 points, 4.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game—and he's the only member of the club that didn't graduate this summer. Those four seniors (Billy Baron, Patrick Miller, Kendrick Perry and Deonte Burton) each averaged at least 36.5 minutes per game.
Sykes only averaged 34.3 minutes per game, making his feat even more impressive.
We'll see if he can replicate or even improve upon those numbers without big man Alec Brown. The 7'1" senior shot 42.0 percent from three-point range and averaged 3.1 blocks per game. He was the only player in the country to average at least three blocks and one made three-pointer per game, so it's safe to say he was fairly unique.
However, the team is still in great hands with Carrington Love, Greg Mays and Jordan Fouse serving as Sykes' supporting cast.
3. Louisiana Tech
2013-14 record: 29-8 (13-3 in C-USA)
Last bid: 1991
The Bulldogs are losing an awful lot this offseason. Four of their seven leading scorers are graduating, and one of their reserve forwards is transferring.
And yet, here they are at No. 3 on the list.
The pieces that are still in town are pretty noteworthy.
Alex Hamilton led the team in scoring. Raheem Appleby led Louisiana Tech in scoring the previous two seasons, but he missed a good chunk of last year due to an ankle injury. Kenneth Smith ranked second in the nation in assists per game. Michale Kyser averaged 7.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in just 23.3 minutes per game.
The Bulldogs also have a 6'10" junior by the name of Gilbert Talbot who played sparingly but averaged better than 14 points and 12 rebounds per 40 minutes. If Talbot doesn't pan out with extended time, Louisiana Tech also has Joniah White on the way—a 6'11" freshman.
Louisiana Tech will have some stiff competition from Charlotte and UTEP, but the Bulldogs should be the favorites to represent Conference USA in the NCAA tournament.
2. Georgia State
2013-14 record: 25-9 (17-1 in Sun Belt)
Last bid: 2001
Now we're getting serious.
Those first 18 teams have a reasonable shot at making the tournament, but these top two are all but guarantees.
In a conference that included a guard who might be a first-round pick in a few weeks (Elfrid Payton) and a forward who averaged 18.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game (Shawn Long), it was Georgia State's R.J. Hunter who was named the Sun Belt POY.
And frankly, teammate Ryan Harrow was every bit as deserving of the award.
The Panthers do have two graduating seniors who each averaged 33 minutes per game, but they remain unquestionably the class of the Sun Belt so long as Harrow and Hunter are in town.
And with Devonta White and Manny Atkins leaving, there's enough room in the lineup for both Curtis Washington and Markus Crider—which should do wonders to improve Georgia State's terrible rebounding numbers from last season.
1. Southern Methodist
2013-14 record: 27-10 (12-6 in American)
Last bid: 1993
Whether you have the Mustangs ranked nationally in the top 10 or the top 20 or whether you have them finishing in first or second place in the American is irrelevant.
I think we can all agree that this team is going to break its tournament drought of more than two decades this coming season.
The team leader in minutes played is graduating, but Nick Russell was actually one of the least efficient players on the team. According to KenPom.com (subscription required), Russell had an O-Rating of 98.8, while everyone else who played at least 200 minutes checked in at 101.7 or higher. Markus Kennedy had a score of 106.1. Nic Moore's was 117.6.
Taking Russell's minutes in the starting rotation is merely one of the five highest-rated recruits in the country. Emmanuel Mudiay could be a huge difference-maker for a team that was already arguably deserving of making the tournament.
The Mustangs will have the talent to not only make the tournament, but to do some serious damage once they're there.
Let's just hope their nonconference strength of schedule is strong enough to keep them away from the bubble this time.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.