IT IS MARCH. For most college basketball fans, these are the three best words in the English language.
However, for some fans it's a reminder of something their team has never done. 298 of the 351 teams in Division I have been to the NCAA Tournament. The other 53 have not.
I am a fan of the Northwestern Wildcats. I love college basketball, I love March Madness, I love championship week. It's a great spectacle. But tournament virginity is not a fun burden. We get to watch all the other teams have fun doing the thing we never have, causing us to wonder if we ever will.
For the past six years, I've tracked the Never Made The Tourney Club. I've watched Northwestern's pals from college hoops' kiddie table get called up to sit with the adults. I've seen the Norfolk States and Florida Gulf Coasts of the world go from nobodies to somebodies, from randos to the talk of the town.
Mike Rutherford has kinda made my job superfluous by pointing out the 10 most likely teams who have never danced that could make it this year in his spectacular Champ Week preview.
But it's still my duty to list the club's members. We lost two last year -- Cal Poly and North Carolina Central, both of whom were bounced in the first round of the tourney -- and will lose more this year.
We could lose some very, very, very, very old friends. William and Mary and St. Francis (Brooklyn) are both charter members of the Never Made The Tourney club, having missed out on every NCAA Tournament since the beginning. And both enter their league's tournament as the No. 1 seed, so at the very least, they're going to the NIT. While I'd be sad to see them go and make Northwestern all lonely, I'm 100 percent cheering for some long-deprived schools to finally see their names up in lights.
The next few weeks will be magical no matter what happens. Here are the teams to root for if you're hoping for just a bit of extra magic. (Not all the teams below are actually in conference tournaments -- NJIT, as an independent, is not, Northern Kentucky, UMass-Lowell, Abilene Christian, and Incarnate Word are all ineligible as new DI members -- but, um, root for the rest.)
THE NEVER MADE THE TOURNEY CLUB
America East: Hartford Hawks, Maine Black Bears, New Hampshire Wildcats, Stony Brook Seawolves, UMass Lowell River Hawks
Atlantic Sun: Kennesaw State Owls, Lipscomb Bisons, Northern Kentucky Norse, North Florida Ospreys, South Carolina Upstate Spartans, Stetson Hatters,
Big Sky: North Dakota [REDACTED], Sacramento State Hornets
Big South: Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs, High Point Panthers, Longwood Lancers, Presbyterian Blue Hose
Big Ten: Northwestern Wildcats
Big West: UC Davis Aggies, UC Irvine Anteaters, UC Riverside Highlanders
CAA: William & Mary Tribe, Elon Phoenix
Independent: NJIT Highlanders
Horizon League: Youngstown State Penguins
MAC: Buffalo Bulls
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: Jacksonville State Gamecocks, 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
Summit: Denver Pioneers, IPFW Mastodons, Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, South Dakota Coyotes, Western Illinois Leathernecks
WAC: Cal-State Bakersfield Roadrunners, Chicago State Cougars, Grand Canyon Antelopes, Texas Pan-American Broncs, Utah Valley Wolverines, UMKC Kangaroos,