Every year we write the story and hope we never have to again.
Last season saw five programs leave the Never Made the Tournament Club (NMTC). Jacksonville State, Northern Kentucky, North Dakota, UC-Davis, and, yes, Northwestern all danced for the first time at the NCAA’s March Madness.
Northwestern, DU’s sister school, once the defining member of the club, is gone, replaced by new member Grand Canyon in their first year of postseason eligibility as the odds-on-favorite of the current NMTC members to make the NCAA Tournament. The remaining oldest D-I members of the club, Army, St. Francis (NY), William & Mary, and The Citadel are the only schools who, in consecutive seasons since 1943, have been unable to make the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, Denver, which started playing basketball in 1904, is a member of the club, too, but exited Division I play for 20 years, escaping national scrutiny as one of the oldest programs to not receive an invitation.
DU began playing basketball in 1904, playing primarily regional schedules until after WWII, when it became an NCAA independent Division I program until 1979. In 1979, under financial pressure, DU joined the NAIA where it played until 1992 when it joined the NCAA again as a Division II program. In 1999, the program returned to NCAA Division I, when it became a member of the Sun Belt Conference until 2012 when it joined the Western Athletic Conference for one season before joining the Summit League in 2013. DU Basketball was unable to win a conference tournament since that time.
Could this be the year when Denver leaves the NMTC club?
Denver was picked by Summit League coaches to finish 5th in the League this season but exceeded expectations and finished alone in 3rd place. They are on a four-game winning streak entering the tournament. After a shaky start, Denver is playing their best basketball at the right time.
But it will be a difficult task. Denver must go on the road and, most likely, beat league co-favorites South Dakota and South Dakota State on essentially their home floor in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. An optimistic head coach Rodney Billups said, “We can beat any team in the league.” But, as the Pioneers have shown this season, Denver is also capable of falling to nearly any team in the league, too.
Comprehensive Never Made the Tournament Club Class of 2018
America East: Hartford Hawks, Maine Black Bears (Maine is the only state in the contiguous United States to have never experienced March Madness), New Hampshire Wildcats, UMass Lowell River Hawks
Atlantic Sun: Kennesaw State Owls, Lipscomb Bisons, NJIT Highlanders, South Carolina Upstate Spartans, Stetson Hatters (Great name!)
Big Sky: Sacremento State Hornets
Big South: Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs, High Point Panthers, Longwood Lancers, Presbyterian Blue Hose (Another great name!)
Big West: US Riverside Highlanders
CAA: William & Mary Tribe, Elon (Musk) Phoenix
Horizon League: Youngstown State Penguins
MAAC: Quinnipiac Bobcats
MEAC: Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, *Savannah State Tigers, Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks
Northeast Conference: Bryant Bulldogs, St. Francis (NY) Terriers, Sacred Heart Pioneers (Not another one!)
Ohio Valley Conference: SIU-Edwardsville Cougars, Tennessee-Martin SkyHawks
Patriot League: Army Black Knights (Won the right to go to the NCAA’s but elected to go to the NIT because NYC has great bars)
SoCon: The Citadel Bulldogs
Southland Conference: Abilene Christian Wildcats, Central Arkansas Bears, Incarnate Word Cardinals
SWAC: Grambling Tigers
Summit: Denver Pioneers, Fort Wayne Mastodons, Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, South Dakota Coyotes (South Dakota State keeps getting in the way), Western Illinois Leathernecks
WAC: Chicago State Cougars, Grand Canyon Antelopes (A cinch to go in their first year of eligibility in this horrible conference), Texas Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros, Utah Valley Wolverines, UMKC Kangaroos
Teams Returning for 2019
Grambling Tigers (Academically ineligible)
*Savannah State is playing their final D1 season due to financial issues and has their last, unlikely, chance to break into March Madness
Later this week, Chris Shockey will be leading a Summit League pre-tournament podcast for LetsGoDU on DU’s chance to leave the NMTC club this season. The Pioneers face Oral Roberts Sunday night at 7:30 pm MT in Sioux Falls, SD.
(EDITORS NOTE: The is the first time ‘ignominious’ has ever been used in a LetsGoDU article.)