Pioneers remain stuck in ‘Never Made the Tournament Club’

Photo: Courtesy of USA Today

Every year we write the story and hope we never have to write it again.

The Gardner-Webb Running Bulldogs, members of the Big South,  already did it.

Closer to home in the Summit League the Omaha Mavericks almost did it – but fell short Tuesday night 73-63 to North Dakota State.

Gardner Webb will be dancing while Omaha stays in the Never Made the Tournament Club, along with the University of Denver. But this year hurts even more for Pioneer fans because preseason expectations were so high and the title was up for grabs in the Summit League this season.

Denver started playing basketball in 1904 but exited Division I play for 20 years – escaping national scrutiny as one of the oldest programs to not receive an invitation. The NCAA Tournament began in 1939. Before that time, the NIT was the most prestigious postseason college basketball tournament.

DU played 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 has been unable to win a conference tournament since that time.

Denver was selected 3rd in the Summit League 2018-2019 preseason coaches poll and Omaha was picked to finish 8th out of 9 teams. And, as we know, Denver finished 9th – missing the conference tournament entirely.

During this year’s Summit League Tournament, Western Illinois knocked out Mike Daum and the #1 seed Jackrabbits – clearing to way for the Mavericks in the Summit League conference finals against North Dakota State University. While Omaha lost in the finals, it is their second trip in just four years of eligibility for the NCAA tournament.

The last time Denver made a conference finals was in 2005 as a Sunbelt member. The Pioneers faced Louisiana-Lafayette. Denver fell 88-69 and Louisiana-Lafayette eventually vacated the title because they played an ineligible player.

So, DU fans must wait another season.

Here is the current list of schools that are out this year. And, the list will continue to grow as conference tournaments wrap up for 2019:

Cal Baptist (transitioning to D1)
*The Citadel
Denver (Missed the Summit League Tournament)
High Point
Incarnate Word (Missed the Southland Tournament)
Kennesaw State
Maine                                                                                                                                 New Hampshire
North Alabama (transitioning to D1)                                                                        Omaha
Sacred Heart
South Dakota
*St. Francis (NY)
Stetson (missed ASUN Tournament)
UMass Lowell
*William and Mary
Youngstown State

*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.

Comprehensive Never Made the Tournament Club Class of 2018 – by Conference

America East: Hartford Hawks, Maine Black Bears, New Hampshire Wildcats, UMass Lowell River Hawks

Atlantic Sun: Kennesaw State Owls, North Alabama Lions(NEW MEMBER!), NJIT Highlanders, Stetson Hatters

Big Sky: Sacramento State Hornets

Big South: High Point Panthers, Longwood Lancers, Presbyterian Blue HoseSouth Carolina Upstate Spartans,

Big West: UC Riverside Highlanders

CAA:  William and Mary Tribe, Elon 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

Ohio Valley Conference: SIU-Edwardsville Cougars, Tennessee-Martin SkyHawks

Patriot League: Army Black Knights

SoCon: The Citadel Bulldogs

Southland Conference: Abilene Christian Wildcats, Central Arkansas Bears, Incarnate Word Cardinals

SWAC: Grambling Tigers (BACK AT IT)

Summit: Denver Pioneers, Fort Wayne Mastodons, Omaha Mavericks, South Dakota Coyotes, Western Illinois Leathernecks.

WAC: California Baptist Lancers (NEW MEMBER) Chicago State Cougars, Grand Canyon Antelopes, Texas Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros, Utah Valley Wolverines, UMKC Kangaroos.

5 thoughts on “Pioneers remain stuck in ‘Never Made the Tournament Club’”

  1. Great write up, very interesting. March Madness is one of my favorite sporting times of the year. I love rooting for underdogs like Gardner-Webb. One day DU will bust through (hopefully sooner than later) and it’ll be a fun time for the university. I wish Omaha or another team could have won the Summit this year just to break it up but NDSU will represent well.

  2. Not making the dance is the biggest, most brutal yoke around the neck of our university’s athletics. Unfortunately, we exist in a terrible primary recruiting area and are surrounded by an oversaturated sports region with little success or tradition in basketball, where people keep their older interest and allegiances from their home states or schools. Even our best 22 and 23-win teams since returning to D-I have not been able to break through to the NCAAs. I think once DU can get over that NCAA hump, the game changes and it will open up new recruiting, conference affiliation and visibility avenues that are currently closed to us. To get there will require quite a bit more investment and effort by DU…

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