The 1968 Army basketball team rolled to a 20-4 record and qualified for the NCAA Tournament. But its then-coach, Hall of Famer Bob Knight, decided his team had a better shot in the NIT and turned down the bid.
Another Hall of Fame coach, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, was a senior guard for that Army team, then known as the Cadets.
“The decision made a lot of sense,” Krzyzewski told The Washington Post in 2017. “We were 20-4. Coach Knight believed we were good enough to win the NIT, but he knew we weren’t going to beat UCLA (led by Lew Alcindor) if we played them in the NCAA.”
Army lost its first-round NIT game to Notre Dame, 62-58.
More than five decades later, the Black Knights — as Army has been known since 1999 — still haven’t been to an NCAA Tournament. They are one of four schools — along with St Francis (N.Y.), William & Mary and The Citadel — who have been eligible for every NCAA Tournament but have never been to one.
There are 46 teams among that 357 Division I schools that have never experienced March Madness, including seven schools currently transitioning to Division I and thus ineligible. Three others canceled their season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That leaves 36 tournament-eligible teams hoping to experience March Madness for the first time. Do any of them have a chance?
Let’s take a look at two aspirants who have legitimate shots to make it (with overall record, conference record and current ranking at KenPom.com):
The 1968 Army basketball team rolled to a 20-4 record and qualified for the NCAA Tournament. But its then-coach, Hall of Famer Bob Knight, decided his team had a better shot in the NIT and turned down the bid. The streak hits the road for a must-see series at Colorado State.https://t.co/gz2G7OUq9E
— Boise State MBB (@BroncoSportsMBB) January 26, 2021
Bryant, Northeast Conference (10-3, 6-2, KP 176): Bryant is the only NEC team in the top-200 of KenPom’s efficiency rankings. Like those other Bulldogs from Spokane, Wash., Bryant plays fast and shoots well. On the defensive end, Bryant guards the 3-point shot well and doesn’t commit a lot of fouls.
To negotiate their conference tournament, the Bulldogs will have to take better care of the ball. They averaged 18 turnovers in their three losses. TeamRankings gives the Bulldogs a 48% chance to secure the NEC’s automatic bid.
Verdict: Bryant opened the season with a one-point loss at Syracuse —the Bulldogs led by 13 in the second half — announcing itself as, just maybe, a dangerous 15 seed in March.
Grand Canyon, Western Athletic Conference (10-3, 4-0, KP 148): As a player, Antelopes coach Bryce Drew became a poster boy for the Madness of March, hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lead Valparaiso to a first-round win over Mississippi. In his first year in Phoenix, Drew has guided Grand Canyon to a 10-3 record and 4-0 start in WAC play.
The Antelopes have yet to play fellow never-been-dancing teams Utah Valley and UT Rio Grande Valley. The Wolverines and Vaqueros sit atop KenPom’s conference-only efficiency rankings on offense and defense, respectively.
And this could be a down year for perennial WAC heavyweight New Mexico State, which is 3-1 with a loss to Cal State Northridge and hadn’t played in 30 days prior to beating Western New Mexico 70-41 Monday. Drew and the Antelopes will find out this week when they host the Aggies on Friday and Saturday.
Verdict: Grand Canyon has been close recently, making the WAC tournament final in 2018 and 2019. If New Mexico State falters, this could be the Antelopes’ year.
Here are this week’s picks. The numbers for the spreads are based on game predictions at KenPom.com.
Boise State -1 at Colorado State: This is a key matchup between two of the four Mountain West Conference teams ranked in the top 75 at KenPom.com.
The Rams return home to play six days after knocking Utah State from the ranks of unbeaten teams in conference play. Can they do it again against the undefeated Broncos?
The Rams shot 50% from the field and made 25 of 29 free-throw attempts in their win over the Aggies that came two days after a 19-point loss in Logan, Utah. But the Broncos could pose some matchup problems.
Boise State is a very good rebounding team, especially on the defensive end (No. 8 in the country, per KenPom), and Colorado State is awful at creating second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass. The Broncos shoot well, and they take care of the ball and don’t get blocked much, two weaknesses on the Rams’ defense. BOISE STATE
Pacific -1 at Santa Clara, Total 129: The Tigers’ defense isn’t nearly as bad as it looked against Gonzaga on Saturday — but, well, most Zags opponents can say that this season.
Pacific isn’t a good shooting team, but the Tigers play methodically on offense and take care of the ball. They beat the Broncos by 21 two weeks ago. PACIFIC and UNDER
Gonzaga -25 at San Diego: The back door was not open in the Zags’ destruction of Pacific last weekend as they came out of halftime with a 52-21 lead and blitzed the Tigers 26-8 over the first 10 minutes after the break. San Diego limits turnovers but it doesn’t shoot well.
Gonzaga is not 3-pointer dependent, but the Bulldogs will find open looks against the Toreros, who are 337th nationally in guarding beyond the arc. GONZAGA
Last week: 2-2