The 2009-10 Men’s College Basketball season has been interesting so far. There are plenty of storylines to follow if you are a college hoops fan.
Most storylines are focused on the return of Kentucky, the dominance of the Big East, and if the Big-12 really is the second best or the best conference overall. There is nothing wrong with these storylines, but there could be one overall that is bigger.
That storyline is the amount of historically rich tournament programs that could miss this year’s Big Dance. The true madness of this March could be these traditional college basketball power houses playing in the NIT or sitting at home come March.
The regular season is coming down to the home stretch with four to six games left for each team before the conference tournaments. Here are some of the NCAA Tournament regulars who are on the bubble or will need to win their conference tournament to get in.
To cut this list down here is a look at teams with 25 or more appearances who could miss this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. A follow at the bottom will feature teams with 20 or more appearances and notable programs who will miss the 2010 tournament.
UCLA Bruins: Overall record: 11-13 Conference record: 6-6
The Bruins are tied for second overall in tournament bids with 41 appearances all-time. UCLA is part of college basketball royalty with 11 titles.
In 2009 the Bruins made the tournament and won their opening round game before falling in the second round to Villanova. The last time UCLA missed the Big Dance was 2004, the final year of a two year absence from the tournament.
If UCLA wants to make this year’s tournament they will have to win the Pac-10 tournament. If UCLA even wants a chance at the NIT they will have find away to get back to a .500 record overall.
North Carolina Tar Heels: Overall record: 14-12 Conference record: 3-8
North Carolina is tied with UCLA for second place in overall tournament bids with 41 appearances all-time. The Tar Heels are also another member of college basketball royalty with five titles.
This year’s Tar Heels resembles the Florida Gators after their title win in 2007. North Carolina, like Florida after their title win, lost the bulk of the players who help deliver the title to Chapel Hill.
The last time North Carolina missed the tournament was in 2003. That year was also when the Bruins of UCLA missed the title.
If the Tar Heels want to steal a spot in this year’s tournament they will have to win the ACC tournament. With a winning record, it looks like North Carolina will play in the NIT to make the post season.
Louisville Cardinals: Overall record: 17-9 Conference record: 8-5
The Cardinals are tied for fifth in NCAA tournament appearances with 35 all-time bids and two titles. Louisville is as close to college basketball royalty as a team can get without being in the top tier.
Last season the Cardinals made it all the way to the elite eight before they were bounced from the tournament by Michigan State. Going in to the tournament last year Louisville was the No. 1 ranked team in the country.
Unlike the first three teams on this list Louisville is still on the bubble to make the tournament this year. The Cardinals are currently sitting in sixth place in a loaded Big East conference.
Louisville has a shot to lock up their tournament bid in final weeks of the season. The Cardinals have road games against Connecticut and Marquette with home games against Georgetown and Syracuse to bookend the two road games.
These final four games could make or break the Cardinals tournament chances. Unless Louisville goes 0-4 in these final four games they still would have the Big East tournament to help their chances of an at-large bid.
Indiana Hoosiers: Overall record: 9-16 Conference record: 3-10
Indiana is tied with Louisville for fifth in all-time tournament bids with 35 appearances. The Hoosiers also join Carolina and UCLA in college basketball royalty with five titles as well.
How the mighty have fallen at one of college basketball’s elite programs. After firing Bobby Knight in 2000 this program has been on a downhill descent since making the title game in 2002.
Most of the downfall has to be laid at the feet of two people. The first is Miles Brand for firing Coach Knight.
The other person to blame for the mess Indiana basketball is in has to be Kelvin Sampson who was hired from Oklahoma to replace Mike Davis. In just two years Sampson committed major NCAA violations and lied about them which led three years probation in 2008.
Under Knight the Hoosiers only missed two tournaments in a row once, which was his 1971 and 1972 seasons—the first two season Knight was in charge at Indiana. Since Knight has been fired Indiana will have missed two straight tournaments twice, the first both being in 2005, and the second being in 2009 and this year in 2010.
Indiana has no hope of making the NCAA tournament unless they find away to win the Big Ten tournament. If the Hoosiers cannot win the conference tournament they will be sitting at home come March.
Arkansas Razorbacks: Overall record: 14-12 Conference record: 7-4
The Razorbacks are in a three way tie for ninth overall in NCAA tournament bids with 29 appearances all-time. Arkansas is in that same second tier as Louisville with one championship that came in 1994.
Arkansas’s last tournament appearance was in 2008, and the drought could last longer this season. The Razorbacks did make a second round appearance in that 2008 NCAA Tournament.
If Arkansas hopes to make the tournament this year they will have to win the SEC tournament. The Razorbacks could use a couple of more wins and a good showing in the conference tournament to lock up an NIT invite.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Overall record: 17-10 Conference record: 6-10
The Irish are tied with Arkansas and Villanova for ninth place overall in tournament bids with 29 NCAA tournament appearances all-time. Notre Dame is a solid basketball program, but a tier below Arkansas and Louisville. This is mainly because they have several tournament bids but no championships.
Notre Dame’s last tournament appearance was also in 2008 and ended after a second round loss to Washington State. The Irish are on the bubble in the super competitive Big East.
With four games left in conference play the Irish will need a sweep to get to .500 in conference play, and a strong showing in the Big East tournament. Notre Dame more than likely will also need another bubble team to struggle to go to the Big Dance this year.
The Irish could be a long shot to make the NCAA Tournament. A NIT bid should be a lock if Notre Dame does not get into the field of 65.
Connecticut Huskies: Overall record: 15-11 Conference record: 5-8
The Huskies are tied for twelfth place in all-time bids with 28 overall appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Connecticut is in the same tier as Louisville and Arkansas, plus the Huskies have two titles as well.
This season has been a disappointment after the 2009 tournament, when Connecticut made the Final Four before falling to eventual runner-up Michigan State. The Huskies have struggled to win close games and deal with the absence of Coach Jim Calhoun for medical reasons.
Connecticut has five more games left and is a long shot to make the Big Dance. If the Huskies do make it into the tournament it will be on name alone.
More than likely the Huskies will be playing for a spot in the NIT. Connecticut could play itself in or out of the NIT with their performance in their final five games and the conference tournament.
Illinois Fighting Illini: Overall record: 17-9 Conference record: 9-4
Illinois is also tied for twelfth place with Connecticut in overall bids in the Big Dance with 28 all-time appearances. The Illini are in the same tier as Notre Dame with a lot of bids but no tournament championships.
After missing the 2008 tournament the Illini hope to make it two straight bids in a row. In last year’s tournament Illinois was upset in the first round by Western Kentucky.
The Illini are on the bubble to make the NCAA tournament but in very good position to make the field of 65. Illinois still has five games left to cement their place in the tournament.
Illinois would likely only miss the tournament if they fall part in their final five games and in the Big Ten tournament. If the NCAA selection committee does not take the Illini the NIT would be thrilled too but look for Illinois to make it to the dance for the second straight year.
Arizona Wildcats: Overall record: 13-12 Conference record: 7-6
Arizona is in a five way tie for 14th place all-time in NCAA tournament bids with 27 overall appearances. The Wildcats and two others of the five tied for the 14th spot that might or will miss this tournament.
The Wildcats, with a barely winning record in a Pac-10 conference that is weak this year, have a men’s basketball streak that will end at this tournament. Arizona has the longest consecutive tournament streak with 25 straight appearances.
That streak more than likely will end this year. That is unless Arizona is given another surprising at-large bid.
The Wildcats streak is the second longest behind North Carolina, who once had 27 consecutive appearances in the Big Dance. If the Arizona streak does fall this year the Kansas Jayhawks, with 20 straight, would take the lead, with the Duke Blue Devils in second with 14 straight.
Arizona still should make the post season if they can finish with a winning record. A NIT bid should be a lock if the Wildcats do not go dancing.
Marquette Golden Eagles: Overall record: 16-8 Conference record: 7-5
The Golden Eagles are also tied for fourteenth place in overall tournament bids with 27 all-time appearances. Marquette is in the same tier with Louisville and the Eagles have a title of their own as well.
Marquette has not missed the Big Dance since 2005, and last year made it into the second round. The Golden Eagles are on the bubble to make this year’s tournament in the loaded Big East.
With five games left to go in the regular season plus the conference tournament, the Golden Eagles are in a spot to play their way in or out of the NCAA Tournament. Marquette will face Notre Dame and Louisville in their final five games, and all three teams will need to win to help their post season cause.
The Golden Eagles have a very good shot to make the tournament, but could play their way out just as easily. A NIT bid would be a lock even if Marquette fails to make it into the NCAA tournament.
Utah Utes: Overall record: 12-13 Conference record: 5-6
Not only are the Utes tied with Marquette and Arizona for 14th in overall appearances but with the Texas Longhorns and Temple Owls as well. Utah has 27 all-time bids, and is in the same tier as Louisville with a title of their own.
Utah’s streak of make-a-tournament and then miss-a-tournament will continue this season. The Utes have missed every even year tournament since 2000.
If the Utes even want to make an appearance in the NIT they will have to go on a winning streak to end the season and make a nice showing in the conference tournament. Utah looks like they will be home this post season, but should be a tournament contender in the odd year of 2011.
Oklahoma Sooners: Overall record: 13-12 Conference record: 4-7
The Sooners are tied for 19th place in overall tournament appearances with 26 all-time bids. Oklahoma has been tournament runner-up twice but has never won a title, putting them in the same tier as Notre Dame.
After an Elite Eight appearance last season by the Sooners, and a tournament run ended by eventual champion North Carolina, this season has been a disappointment. Oklahoma saw its best player, Blake Griffin, taken with the first pick in the NBA draft by the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Sooners could miss the NIT tournament as well unless they can string together some wins at the end of this season. Oklahoma’s coach Jeff Capel might be in trouble next season if he cannot become more consistent at getting his team into the Big Dance.
Look for Oklahoma to be sitting home this post season, but gearing up for 2011. Another year without a tournament bid could spell doom for Capel.
St. John’s Red Storm: Overall record: 14-11 Conference record: 4-9
The Red Storm is tied with Oklahoma for 19th place in tournament appearances with 26 all-time appearances. St. John’s has never won the NCAA Tournament, but does have a runner-up finish.
As far as which tier the Red Storm belong in...that could start to become a question, since they have not accepted a bid to the tournament since 2002.
St. John’s could squeak out an NIT bid with a winning record and playing in the loaded Big East. They will have their chances to make noise with five games left to make to the post season or play spoiler by beating NCAA Tournament bubble teams.
For a team in the top 20 of tournament appearances, the new millennium has not been kind to the Red Storm. After making six appearances in the tournament in the 1990’s, St. John’s has only made two appearances in the 2000’s.
If all the teams on this list happen to miss the Big Dance this year, it will mean that 12 of the top 20 programs in all-time appearances will not be playing for a National Title this year. Some of the best programs in college basketball history might be either at home or playing in the forgotten NIT.
While this always gives new teams a chance to dance, and opens up chances for other teams to win championships, it always seems strange not to see these big names in the tournament field.
So when was the last time all the great programs missed the NCAA Tournament together? You would have to go all the way back to 1962.
That year the tournament only had 25 teams, and a total of 29 games were played. The winner of that year’s tournament was the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Other notable teams who could miss the tournament this year and all-time appearances:
Cincinnati Bearcats: 24 all-time bids
Oklahoma State Cowboys: 23 all-time bids
Maryland Terrapins: 22 all-time bids
Iowa Hawkeyes: 22 all-time bids
Missouri Tigers: 22 all-time bids
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers: 21 all-time bids
LSU Tigers: 20 all-time bids
North Carolina State Wolfpack: 20 all-time bids
Michigan Wolverines: 17 all-time bids