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The Outsiders; A deep dive into college basketball’s most excluded programs

March 15, 2020. Selection Sunday. Around 70 to 75 schools across the nation will nervously wait to see if they will receive an invitation to the big dance. For some, these invitations will arrive on a golden platter. The Dukes and Kentucky’s of the world expect these invitations on a yearly basis as if it is almost a given to them. To others, however, this invitation to play in the NCAA Tournament means everything, as it is a chance to put your school on the map and prove you belong. Unfortunately, not everyone can receive an invitation to the big dance, as there is only room for 68 to the party. And even worse, some may never receive an invitation at all. Welcome, to the Outsiders of college basketball.  

Currently, there are 42, out of the 347 Division I, college basketball programs, to have never made the NCAA tournament. These schools go as followed:

N.J.I.T. Sacred Heart
Kennesaw State Bryant
Stetson Merrimack*
North Alabama** UT-Martin
Hartford SIUE
UMass-Lowell Army
New Hampshire The Citadel
Maine Central Ark.
Sacramento St. Incarnate Word
High Point South Dakota
Presbyterian Denver
Longwood Purdue Fort Wayne
USC Upstate Omaha
*UC Riverside Western Illinois
William & Mary Grambling
Elon Utah Valley
Youngstown St. Grand Canyon
Quinnipiac UTRGV
Bethune-Cookman Kansas City
Maryland-ES Chicago State
St. Francis (BKN) California Baptist**

Now, of course, I am not going to sit here and try to come up with a rhyme or reason as to why these 42 colleges have never been able to punch their ticket to the big dance. That would take forever and nobody in their right mind would sit here and read that. What I am going to do, however, is highlight 5 teams on this list that I feel have a real shot of making history this March. These 5 programs have a chance to not only take their Universities March Madness virginity but cement their legacy as the team that finally broke the camels back. 

1. Army

Out of the 42 schools listed above, Army is by far the most surprising of the bunch. The first thing that comes to mind when you think of The United States Military Academy is pure toughness. The idea that Army has never gone dancing seems hard to believe as if anybody can sustain the Madness of March, it is the men of West Point.

However, this year’s Army team may just have the talent to break the mold. Army is currently sitting on a 14-13 record and is 9-7 in Patriot League play.

If Army is going to make a run at history, they are going to need to depend on their best player, Tommy Funk. Funk, a senior guard from Pennsylvania, is the most athletic player you’ve never heard of. He is currently averaging 16.8 points a contest to go along with 4.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. Although I feel that Colgate is the best team in the Patriot Leauge this season, if any team is going to upset them in March, it is the military men from the West Point Academy. 

2. Stetson 

The Stetson Hatters out of the A-Sun conference are a team that is more inconsistent than a weekend at your in-laws. During one point this season, Stetson experienced a 4 game losing streak, in which they couldn’t buy a basket down the stretch for the life of them. However, to snap that losing streak, the Hatters of Stetson went into Colombia and defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks on their home floor.

As thing stand today, Stetson finds themselves in 3rd place of the A-Sun standings. They are 9-5 in conference play and have won four of their last 5 games. If Stetson can find a way to get hot at the right time, we may be seeing a party launched down south. 

PS. Liberty (26-3) is by far the best team in the A-Sun, but crazier upsets have happened in conference tournaments before.

3.William & Mary

Out of all the outsiders, I feel that W&M has the best chance to dance come selection Sunday. This is a team that can shoot, defend extremely well and run the break like you’ve never seen before. The Tribe, out of the CAA, currently find themselves 2nd in the conference standings with a record of 20-10.

The one player you are going to want to keep your eyes on as conference play begins to intensify, is Tribe forward, Nathan Knight. Knight, a Senior from Syracuse, NY, is having himself a career year. The 6’10 forward is currently averaging 20.9 points a game to go along with 10.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists per contest. Knight is the type of player who can take over a game by the blow of a whistle. If W&M is going to win the CAA tournament for the first time ever, Knight will have to contribute to the program in more ways than one. 

4. South Dakota

Contrary to popular belief, South Dakota is not just a place to observe Mount Rushmore, It is a state, that is host to some pretty good intercollegiate hoops. The South Dakota Cayotes, out of the Summit League conference, are in the process of putting together quite the magical season. 

As things stand today, South Dakota finds themselves just two places away from first place in their conference. With a record of 19-10, The Coyotes of South Dakota are having one of the better seasons they’ve ever had.

When you watch a team like SD play, you can’t help but praise the way they distribute the ball. They are a team of extreme selflessness and always seem to make the extra pass. If you are going to be a mid-major who makes a run at the NCAA tournament, you are going to have to know how to pass the rock and just so happens that assist is South Dakotas middle name. 

5. Merrimack 

Before we talk about the Merrimack Warriors out of the NEC conference, I would first like to preface something. The fact that this story hasn’t been picked up and talked about more by the media this year is absolutely ridiculous. This program deserves to be praised and celebrated, as what they are doing is one of the most impressive feats we have ever seen in the history of NCAA collegiate sports. 

This is Merrimack’s first year in Division One. Due to NCAA rules, Merrimack is ineligible to play in the NCAA tournament until the 2023-2024 academic year. Knowing this, you may now be asking yourself, why in the hell is this kid talking about a team that is ineligible to dance come March?  Well for starters, out of the 42 schools listed above, Merrimack is the ONLY program to be currently leading in their conference standings. Do you understand how hard that is? To not only be atop your conference the first year you join it, but to be atop a DI conference the first year you join an entire division. It is borderline ludicrous. And you wanna talk about starting fast out of the gate? Merrimack picked up its first-ever D1 win on November the 8th @ Northwestern, a Big Ten school.

Listen, I understand rules are rules. But if anybody deserves to go dancing this year, it is the Warriors out of Merrimack College.

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Peter Snyder is an Intern sportswriter who covers collegiate athletics as well as professional sports.
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