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  • Power conference schools rarely go long without a trip to the NCAA tournament, but these 21 teams will all be looking to break through this year.
By Khadrice Rollins
October 26, 2018

With the start of each new season comes the hope for many teams that this is the year it will cut down the nets after winning the NCAA tournament.

For some teams though, simply getting to the Big Dance is a big accomplishment on itself.

In 2018, three teams got back to the tournament after decently long hiatuses. Clemson (seven years), Auburn (15 years) and TCU (20 years) all ended March Madness droughts last season, and both Tiger squads picked up win at least one win.

Of the 87 teams that span the seven major conferences (Power 5, Big East and American), only 21 teams—just under a quarter—have not gone dancing in any of the last three seasons, though some droughts have been far longer than others. We looked at which of those 20 teams are the least and most likely to end their droughts and reach the promised land this season.

21. Rutgers | Last Season: 15–19 (3–15 Big Ten) | Last tournament appearance: 1991

The deck is very much stacked against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have won nine Big Ten games over four seasons, so that gives them the worst chance to end their drought this season. Add in that the two leading scorers from last season (Corey Sanders with 15.2 points and DeShawn Freeman with 11.1 points) are gone and you are left realizing that 2019–20 is the next time Rutgers fans could start to hope.

20. Tulane | Last Season: 14–17 (5–13 AAC) | Last tournament appearance: 1995

Coach Mike Dunleavy’s team took a big leap from his first year to his second year, improving by eight wins and more than doubling the six they totaled in Dunleavy’s inaugural season. But it will be too hard to take another step forward this season after losing a combined 31 points a night from Melvin Frazier and Cameron Reynolds.

19. East Carolina | Last Season: 10–20 (4–14 AAC) | Last tournament appearance: 1993

Joe Dooley’s first season is sure to be a bumpy one after the way things went down for the Pirates last year. Getting to work with the second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers from last season will make his transition a bit easier, but East Carolina shouldn’t expect to make a breakthrough this season. If Dooley gets some time, maybe toward the end of sophomore Shawn Williams’s career the Pirates can start thinking of playing deeper into March.

18. South Florida | Last Season: 10–22 (3–15 AAC) | Last tournament appearance: 2012

Sophomore guard David Collins will likely have a heavy workload this season. In year two under coach Brian Gregory, the Bulls should see some more signs of the improvement they made last season, but losing so many seniors will make it too difficult to expect major improvements.

17. Washington State | Last Season: 12–19 (4–14 Pac-12) | Last tournament appearance: 2008

The Cougars couldn't even compete in a Pac-12 that went through a down year last season and lost star point guard Malachi Flynn, among others, to transfer. Robert Franks will be depended on even more and Wazzu will likely continue to rain down threes, but it's hard to see its ceiling being more than a few spots above the Pac-12 cellar.

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16. Ole Miss | Last Season: 12–20 (5–13 SEC) | Last tournament appearance: 2015

The SEC is just too loaded for Ole Miss to have a chance. An abrupt and sour end to Andy Kennedy’s time as coach was the highlight of last season’s lackluster conference play for the Rebels. Terence Davis and Breein Tyree should make games fun, but wins will still be at a minimum.

15. Georgia Tech | Last Season: 13–19 (6–12 ACC) | Last tournament appearance: 2010

Josh Pastner might not have to deal with as many off the court issues this season, but losing Josh Okogie on the court is way more important than anything else for this program. Guard Jose Alvarado showed promise his freshman year, but the Yellow Jackets just have too much to replace to think this is the year, especially after decreasing in wins this past season.

14. Memphis | Last Season: 21–13 (10–8 AAC) | Last tournament appearance: 2014

It feels like everybody is pulling for Penny Hardaway and the Tigers. No matter how much support they get this year though, getting back to the tournament this quickly is too tall a task for Coach Penny. But the strong recruiting class he brought in this year should be poised to return the Tigers to their glory years pretty soon.

13. Stanford | Last Season: 19–16 (11–7 Pac-12) | Last tournament appearance: 2014

Losing Reid Travis is a hefty blow to Stanford’s chances of going dancing. The returns of Daejon Davis, Kezie Okpala and Oscar Da Silva will allow the Cardinal to stay competitive, but not too competitive.

12. DePaul | Last Season: 11–20 (4–14 Big East) | Last tournament appearance: 2004

If Max Strus can do something bonkers his senior season, maybe the Blue Demons could force their way onto the bubble. It’s not too likely, but it’s easier to lie to yourself when you have a have a player coming back who averaged 16.8 last season. The Big East is still too deep for DePaul to really make a great push this season, but the right upsets and a miracle run in the conference tournament led by Strus could make this season a memorable one.

11. Illinois | Last Season: 14–18 (4–14 Big Ten) | Last tournament appearance: 2013

Filling the rebounding void left by Leron Black and Michael Finke will be part of the responsibilities Trent Frazier, Aaron Jordan and Kipper Nichols take on this season. There’s a shot at improvement this season for the Illini, but they are still toward the bottom of the Big Ten, which makes any shot at the tournament seem too impossible still. However, Brad Underwood could establish something to build off for the rest of his tenure.

10. Georgia | Last Season: 18–15 (7–11 SEC) | Last tournament appearance: 2015

The SEC is so deep that Georgia will almost certainly struggle. Tom Crean will have his hands full in his first year back on the sideline, but he could lay the groundwork for his future in Athens. This team should be solid, but reaching the tournament is too much to ask. Within the next two years though, Crean could be planning for long March runs.

9. Georgetown | Last Season: 15–15 (5–13 Big East) | Last tournament appearance: 2015

If Patrick Ewing can return the Hoyas to their past level of prominence, it would be one of the greatest things going for college basketball. This season should be one of growth, but there just aren’t enough pieces for them to really contend at the top of the Big East. In a couple years if Jahvon Blair and Jamorko Pickett are still around, maybe then Ewing’s unit can get to the next level.

8. Penn State | Last Season: 26–13 (9–9 Big Ten) | Last tournament appearance: 2011

The defending NIT champions should feel good about who they are after a strong close to their season. However, losing Tony Carr and Shep Garner means Josh Reaves is the only holdover from last year’s stellar backcourt. If Lamar Stevens can push his game up another notch, then the Nittany Lions will be on the bubble with a shot to sneak in depending how they close their year. Conference wins are going to be important, but the team’s path in the Big Ten tournament could be the deciding factor for whether or not Penn State ends its drought.

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7. Boston College | Last Season: 19–16 (7–11 ACC) | Last tournament appearance: 2009

Jordan Chatman and Ky Bowman could be enough to return BC to the tournament for the first time in a decade. Jerome Robinson was the primary scorer last season, but Bowman and Chatman combined for 30.5 points a night themselves. The ACC is really deep, but a strong non-conference effort, and enough quality wins against the top ACC squads could have the Eagles in contention if they avoid too many bad losses.

6. St. John’s | Last Season: 16–17 (4–14 Big East) | Last tournament appearance: 2015

Mustapha Heron helped Auburn end its tournament drought last season and now he could help St. John’s do the same. If the Red Storm can finish up toward the top of the conference, like they are projected, this year should be the one coach Chris Mullin and his squad gets to go dancing. St. John's doesn't play a particular hard non-conference slate, but taking care of business against the major conference teams it faces will also be key for St. Johns to lock up a bid. Winning the Big East tournament for the automatic bid is also on the table.

5. UCF | Last Season: 19–13 (9–9 AAC) | Last tournament appearance: 2005

With so much of last season’s team returning, UCF should expect to being playing in March going into this season. The Knights are going to be in contention with Cincinnati for the AAC regular-season title and they will also have a great shot at taking the automatic bid. If UCF doesn’t fully take advantage of its weak non-conference schedule though, it could make things more difficult than they should be.

4. Washington | Last Season: 21–12 (10–8 Pac-12) | Last tournament appearance: 2011

Jaylen Nowell and Noah Dickerson could be one of the best duos in the Pac-12 this season. The Huskies should be in contention for the regular-season conference championship and that alone should wrap up an at-large bid for this season. So much of last year’s team is back and there’s no reason, barring disappointment or injury, that could really make people think Washington won't end its drought this year.

3. Nebraska | Last Season: 22–11 (13–5 Big Ten) | Last tournament appearance: 2014

Last year was only the second time Nebraska won at least 10 games in the Big Ten in seven seasons. The senior trio of James Palmer Jr, Isaac Copeland Jr. and Glynn Watson Jr. combined with whatever improvement junior Isaiah Roby makes will have the Cornhuskers going for one of their best seasons in recent history.

2. Mississippi State | Last Season: 25–12 (9–9 SEC) | Last tournament appearance: 2009

After reaching the NIT semifinals last year, coach Ben Howland returns with one of the top 20 recruiting classes in the nation. The Weatherspoon brothers and Aric Holman will be the keys in making it all click with the freshmen, but that shouldn’t be an issue after the seasons those three had last year. The Bulldogs should be dancing, but after what happened last year, they need to make sure they do everything possible early to avoid getting left out once more.

1. LSU | Last Season: 18–15 (8–10 SEC) | Last tournament appearance: 2015

Nazreon Reid and Emmitt Williams will look to do what Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney couldn’t do as freshman and take LSU back to the tournament. Tremont Waters and Skylar Mayes should provide enough veteran leadership to make this season a beautiful one in Baton Rouge. The right upsets could give the Tigers a shot at the conference crown, but just meeting expectations will have them in the tournament with no trouble.

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