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These 11 Teams are About to End NCAA Tournament Droughts

Author:
Larry Brown

Larry Brown

The NCAA Tournament can be something like a big family reunion, gathering names and faces we haven’t seen in years.

As always, this year’s Tournament will have its share of long lost faces we may have had fond memories of in the last few decades.

A former national champion (Maryland) expects to be back as do three other Final Four teams from recent years (Butler and West Virginia) and a one-time Cinderella (Northern Iowa).

Before you get caught unaware on Selection Sunday, these are the teams about to end NCAA Tournament droughts this season.

Utah

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Last NCAA appearance: 2009

2014-15 record: 17-4, 7-2 Pac-12

Basketball fans of a certain age probably remember Utah has a national power when the Utes reached the championship game in 1998. The run under Rick Majerus eventually ended, and Utah limped descended into irrelevance. The Utes have reached the Tournament once since 2005 and have won one NCAA game since 2003.

Even though the Utes lost Jan. 29 to a mediocre UCLA squad, Utah is a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Even with the loss to the Bruins (and earlier to Arizona), Utah is outscoring league opponents by 15.7 points per game. Utah could be in contention for a Pac-12 title for its rematch in Salt Lake City against Arizona on Feb. 28.

West Virginia

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Last NCAA appearance: 2012

2014-15 record: 18-4, 6-3 Big 12

The Mountaineers reached the NCAA Tournament seven times in an eight-season span under John Beilein and Bob Huggins, landing in the Final Four (2010), Elite Eight (2005) and Sweet 16 twice (2006 and 2008). In two seasons in the Big 12, West Virginia has missed the Tourney twice.

West Virginia has weathered a storm of transfers to become one of the toughest opponents to face thanks to its press. The Mountaineers lead the nation in turnover rate. And after starting his career at Dayton, fifth-year senior point guard Juwan Staten will finally get his chance at the NCAA Tournament.

Maryland

Last NCAA appearance: 2010

2014-15 record: 19-4, 7-3 Big Ten

Mark Turgeon entered the season needing to show signs of progress after reaching just one NIT in his first three seasons. The Terrapins endured a rash of transfers before the season, but they still had upperclassmen Dez Wells and Jake Layman. The latter has taken a major step forward this season, and the team has come together around freshman Melo Trimble, Maryland’s first McDonald’s All-American in more than a decade.

With the exception of Wisconsin, nearly every Big Ten power is down. Maryland has pounced and could end up the No. 2 team in the league.

SMU

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Last NCAA appearance: 1993

2014-15 record: 18-4, 9-1 American

Off the court, SMU is facing questions. Emmanuel Mudiay never played this season, and an NCAA investigation has claimed Keith Frazier. On the court, SMU keeps rolling. The Mustangs started 2-3, but they’ve lost only once since (at Cincinnati). SMU remains the favorite in the AAC, but this is a league with only three other RPI top-50 teams (No. 34 Cincinnati, No. 42 Tulsa and No. 44 Temple). The Mustangs were one of the top snubs from last season’s NCAA Tournament, but they may have put in the work to be an at-large team if they don't win the AAC tournament.

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Notre Dame

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Last NCAA appearance: 2013

2014-15 record: 21-3, 9-2 ACC

The Irish missed only one NCAA Tournament in the last five seasons, so this drought isn’t much of one. Still, Mike Brey’s only win in the Tourney since 2008 is over 15th-seeded Akron in 2011. This team looks built to make noise in the NCAA Tournament. The Irish have a guard who can carry them in Jerian Grant, they can score with anyone and they already defeated Duke this season. 

Butler

Last NCAA appearance: 2013

2014-15 record: 17-6, 7-3 Big East

Butler has been out of the NCAA Tournament for only a year, but few teams have had such a mountain to climb. Brad Stevens left for the Celtics two years ago, and his replacement, Brandon Miller, has been absent due to an unspecified medical issue. Butler elevated Chris Holtmann to full-time head coach earlier this season, and the Bulldogs seemed to have weathered the storm. A healthy return by junior forward Roosevelt Jones also has been a boon for a team that went 4-14 in its first season in the Big East. Butler, which has already swept Seton Hall and St. John’s this season, is going to more than double that total.

Georgia

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Last NCAA appearance: 2011

2014-15 record: 14-7, 5-4 SEC

Georgia has been to the NCAA Tournament only once in Mark Fox’s six seasons. This season might change that trend. The Bulldogs defeated Seton Hall in the non-conference and put together a five-game SEC win streak that ended a week ago, but they’re not giving themselves a ton of wiggle room with a road loss to South Carolina and early SEC losses to bubble squads from Arkansas and LSU. Georgia doesn’t have a ton of depth, but the Bulldogs do have two juniors and two seniors in the starting lineup.

Northern Iowa

Last NCAA appearance: 2010

2014-15 record: 21-2, 10-1 Missouri Valley

Northern Iowa went to the NCAA Tournament five times in seven seasons at one point, but hasn’t been since Ali Farokhmanesh helped the Panthers upset No. 1 seed Kansas to reach the Sweet 16 in 2010. Led by senior forward Seth Tuttle, the Panthers can wrestle the Valley away from Wichita State. The Panthers already defeated the Shockers with surprising ease Saturday to all but ensure they’ll be an at-large team.

Texas A&M

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Last NCAA appearance: 2011

2014-15 record: 15-6, 6-3 SEC

Back on Jan. 10, Kentucky going to double overtime with Texas A&M was supposed to be a sign of something wrong with the Wildcats. It was a sign of something right with the Aggies, who won six in a row before Wednesday's loss at Ole Miss. Texas A&M is a year ahead of schedule thanks to transfers Jalen Jones (SMU) and Danuel House (Houston) arriving ahead of a standout signing class. The Aggies still have plenty of work ahead of them to seal an at-large bid thanks to a non-conference schedule lacking in RPI top 100 wins.

Seton Hall

Last NCAA appearance: 2006

2014-15 record: 15-7, 5-5 Big East

One of the biggest surprises in a surprising Big East has been charter member Seton Hall. The Pirates started league play with wins over St. John’s and Villanova — both without star freshman Isaiah Whitehead — to move into the AP top 20 for the first time since 2001. Seton Hall has cooled since that hot start, but the Pirates are at least closer to moving closer to full strength. Whitehead returned in the last two games to score 19 and 14 points. The Pirates can’t afford many more losses like Tuesday’s to DePaul if they want to stay on the right side of the bubble.

St. John’s

Last NCAA appearance: 2011

2014-15 record: 14-8, 3-6 Big East

St. John’s needs to get on a hot streak in Big East play and fast. A sweep of Providence and a home win over Marquette — that's all St. John's has in the Big East — won’t be enough. The Red Storm’s signature non-conference wins over Minnesota, Syracuse and Saint Mary’s might not include an NCAA Tournament team among them.