For blue blood programs like Duke, North Carolina and Kansas, March Madness is an annual tradition which is almost taken for granted in many ways. For others, it’s been years marked by misery of watching other teams relish in the madness of March. We came up with five teams with realistic chances of ending their NCAA Tournament droughts this season:
DePaul Blue Demons
The last time the Blue Devils made the Big Dance, the no. 1 song on the Billboard 100 was “Yeah!” by Usher. And George W. Bush was the President of the United States. It’s safe to say it’s been a long time coming for DePaul (9-1), who is off to their best start since 1987. With Villanova as vulnerable as we’ve ever seen them, the Big East is wide open for DePaul to make noise. The Blue Demons just suffered their first loss to Buffalo, but own road wins at Iowa, Boston College, Minnesota and at home vs Texas Tech. A finish in the middle to upper-tier of the Big East standings could see DePaul dancing for the first time in over 15 years.
Last tournament appearance: 2004 – Defeated 10 seed Dayton 76-69 before falling to 2 seed Connecticut 55-72
Penn State Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions last danced nine years ago, when Talor Battle led them to a tournament bid in 2011. Since then, it’s been one losing season after another, with an NIT Championship coming in 2018. Lamar Stevens (16.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG) hopes to change Penn State’s postseason misery, and they have a great chance to do so in 2020.
They currently have wins over Georgetown, Syracuse and Wake Forest, and their two losses came to Ole Miss in New York and at Ohio State, who’s been extremely impressive. While they were blown out in Columbus, this is a team that will be in the upper-tier of the Big Ten. They can take a big step in clinching a tournament bid with a win vs fourth-ranked Maryland tonight.
Last tournament appearance: 2011 – Lost to 7 seed Temple 64-66
It’s been six years since Stanford’s unexpected Sweet 16 run that included an upset win over no. 2 seed Kansas. There hasn’t been a whole lot to be excited about for the Cardinal, with just two NIT appearances since then. Jerod Haas’ team has a chance to end that streak this season, as they currently are 8-1 with a solid neutral-site win over Oklahoma. A home matchup with no. 2 Kansas on December 29 is a golden opportunity for a signature win. The Pac-12 is the strongest it’s been in recent memory; however, which bodes well for the Cardinal’s opportunities to get signature wins on their resume.
Last tournament appearance: 2014 – Defeated 7 seed New Mexico 58-53 and 2 seed Kansas 60-57 before falling to 11 seed Dayton 72-82 in the Sweet 16
The Tigers are another team that looks to end a six-year NCAA Tournament drought. Penny Hardaway can put an end to that streak this season, as he boasts the nation’s top-ranked freshman class. Phenom James Wiseman will be back in the lineup in January after serving a 12-game suspension, and will have Memphis competing for an AAC title and a deep March Madness run. In his absence, the Tigers have held their own with wins over Ole Miss and NC State in the non-conference portion of the schedule. They face their biggest test of the season; however, with a road visit to arch-rival Tennessee this Saturday (3:00 pm, ESPN).
Last tournament appearance: 2014 – Defeated 9 seed George Washington 71-66 before falling to 1 seed Virginia 60-78
Tom Crean is looking to take the Bulldogs to the Big Dance for the first time since 2015. Crean has had NCAA Tournament success in each of his first two stops, taking Marquette to the 2003 Final Four and Indiana to multiple Sweet 16 appearances. The Bulldogs have reason for optimism for a March Madness return in 2020, as they have a potential top-3 pick in the NBA Draft in Anthony Edwards (20.6 PPG).
The two losses to Dayton and Michigan State aren’t bad losses by any means; however, they need a few solid Quadrant I or II wins in the non-conference. The new calendar year marks a brutal stretch for Georgia, with four consecutive games against ranked opponents. Good news for Tom Crean and fans in Athens is they’ll have the best player on the court almost every night. And his ability to take over a ballgame is exactly what you need come March.
Last tournament appearance: 2015 – Lost to 7 seed Michigan State 63-70