Check out which teams are most likely to participate in March Madness for the first time in school history in 2023.
There’s nothing quite like the first dance. With Division I membership expanding as rapidly as ever, several programs compete every year for their first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
In 2023, 48 of D1’s 363 teams have never appeared in a March Madness game, 37 of which are eligible this season.
Throughout the remainder of the year, we will break down the strongest first-time Big Dance hopefuls in our First Dance rankings. The top 15 First Dance teams are ranked below, as well as the full list of teams that are still waiting to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
—Rauf Report: Iowa State’s 3-point impact, Antonio Reeves’ emergence, more
—Bracketology: Kentucky sneaks into projected field
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15. Western Illinois Leathernecks
Close call: Lost 2012 Summit championship as 4-seed to South Dakota State, 52-50 (OT)
Rob Jeter has assembled a steady turnaround in Macomb, Illinois. The Leathernecks defeated just three D1 teams the year before he arrived, and have since improved in each of his three years on campus. While it will be a challenge to unseat Max Abmas and Oral Roberts atop the Summit, WIU prides itself on taking away the 3-ball on defense and protecting the rock on offense. Point guard Trenton Massner is the name to know; the All-Summit defender is averaging 18.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game.
14. Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks
Close call: Lost 1994 MEAC semis as 2-seed to NC A&T, 76-73
UMES is the type of gritty team that no one will want to face in a win-or-go-home setting. The Hawks rank No. 11 nationally in turnover defense, constantly frustrating opponents into mistakes with the basketball. What UMES lacks in size — the 6th-shortest team, per KenPom — it makes up for in hustle plays and selflessness. Five Hawks average at least one steal per game. The MEAC is wide open, and UMES should absolutely be a factor.
13. UT Martin Skyhawks
Close call: Lost 2009 OVC semis as 2-seed to Morehead State, 62-55
Former Bethune-Cookman head coach Ryan Ridder is already turning things around at UT Martin. The Skyhawks are currently in a five-way tie atop the OVC in what is shaping up to be a hotly contested league race. The team’s leading scorer is Parker Stewart, who played for UTM back in 2019-20 before transferring to Indiana following the tragic passing of his father and head coach Anthony Stewart. A return trip to the NCAA Tournament would be special for both Stewart and the UT Martin community.
12. Sacramento State Hornets
Close call: Lost 2015 Big Sky semis as 3-seed to Eastern Washington, 91-83
First-year head coach David Patrick has already led the Hornets to more victories this year (12) than all of last season. Patrick likes to slow things down and control the boards, ranking in the nation’s top 75 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate. Guard Zach Chappell is turning in his best season of college ball, averaging nearly 15 points per game while shooting 38 percent from downtown. Sacramento State will have to catch Eastern Washington, which is currently unbeaten in Big Sky play.
11. Grambling Tigers
Close call: Lost 2011 SWAC championship as 6-seed to Alabama State, 65-48
Led by its stingy defense, Donte Jackson’s Grambling squad is a serious threat to win the SWAC. The Tigers already have a pair of Power-Five wins this season over Colorado and Vanderbilt and are off to a 5-2 start in conference play. The key for Grambling will be taking care of the basketball. Currently 349th nationally in turnover rate, the Tigers are 10-1 when they turn it over on fewer than 24 percent of their possessions. Former top-100 recruit Carte’Are Gordon is enjoying a breakout year as a rim-protector while adding 12.3 points a game.
10. California Baptist Lancers
In its first year of March Madness eligibility, CBU is looking to make some noise in the competitive WAC title race. The Lancers are 5-3 in league play but are one of seven teams separated by just two games atop the conference standings. Rick Croy’s team loves to share the basketball and launch from downtown, though this year’s group is his best ever on the defensive end, ranking 41st nationally in effective field-goal percentage.
9. Stetson Hatters
Close call: Lost 2016 ASUN championship as 7-seed to FGCU, 80-78 (OT)
Stetson sent shockwaves on opening night with a road upset over Florida State and has carried the momentum ever since. The Hatters are 53rd nationally in offensive efficiency, currently tops in the ASUN. The major question, obviously, is whether Stetson can get enough stops to slow down opposing offenses, namely Liberty. But at the end of the day, few teams can fill it up quite like Donnie Jones’ team. Three rotational players are shooting better than 40 percent from deep — a recipe for success in March.
8. SIUE Cougars
Close call: Lost 2018 OVC first round as 8-seed to Tennessee Tech, 60-51
Despite the three-game losing skid, SIUE remains in the thick of things in the wide-open OVC. The Cougars are a game back of the five-way logjam atop the league. The good news for Brian Barone’s squad is his group owns the most efficient defense in the conference and knows how to crash the boards and get to the line. It’s not the pretty stuff, but it’s a formula that’s tough to beat in win-or-go-home situations.
7. Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons
Close call: Lost 2014 Summit championship as 2-seed to North Dakota State, 60-57
Longtime Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Jon Coffman has assembled some excellent Mastodon rosters that still have yet to break through. Last year’s team went 15-6 in the Horizon but collapsed in the tournament semis with its worst offensive showing of the year. This time around, 5-8 veteran point guard Damian Chong Qui is determined to get back to the Big Dance after leading Mount St. Mary’s to the tournament in 2021. Can one of the country’s most experienced rosters get the job done this time?
6. Quinnipiac Bobcats
Close call: Lost 2010 NEC championship as 1-seed to Robert Morris, 52-50
Quinnipiac has been one of the pleasant surprises in college basketball this season. The team’s next victory in the MAAC will already match the school’s win totals from 2022 and 2021. Baker Dunleavy’s group is up 100 spots in KenPom compared to last year, thanks to a massive improvement on the defensive end. Quinnipiac has played at a high level all year, currently standing at 15-5 overall with all five losses coming by seven points or fewer. The MAAC Tournament can be a wild ride, and there’s no reason why Quinnipiac can’t be in the mix.
5. UMass Lowell River Hawks
Close call: Lost 2021 America East championship as 6-seed to Hartford, 64-50
Can the River Hawks unseat mid-major heavyweights Vermont and Bryant en route to their first-ever March Madness appearance? Pat Duquette’s group has never even finished above .500 in America East play but is 17-5 on the year and is just a game back in the loss column through eight contests. UMass Lowell crashes the glass like crazy, ranking No. 10 nationally in offensive rebounding rate. When the shots are falling, this team presents a tough matchup for any opponent.
4. Kennesaw State Owls
Close call: Lost 2010 ASUN semis as 8-seed to ETSU, 69-64
Amir Abdur-Rahim has done wonders with the Kennesaw State program. He set the program KenPom record last year and is nearly 80 spots higher this season. With a 16-6 record, Abdur-Rahim has already recorded the most victories in a season in the school’s D1 history. Thanks to one of the best perimeter attacks in college hoops, the Owls could be a fan favorite if they reach March Madness.
3. UC Riverside Highlanders
Close call: Lost 2021 Big West semis as 3-seed to UC Irvine, 78-61
Mike Magpayo’s story is a special one. As the first D1 head coach of full Asian heritage, Magpayo took over the UC Riverside program in 2020 while the university considered ending its athletics department. In his three years with the Highlanders, UCR is 44-27 overall and 24-12 in Big West play in undoubtedly the program’s best three-year run in school history. His teams play an exciting brand of basketball, led by one of the best point guards out west in Zyon Pullin. The Highlanders are right in the mix among several capable Big West contenders.
2. Youngstown State Penguins
Close call: Lost 1998 Mid-Continent championship as 3-seed to Valparaiso, 67-48
One of the most entertaining teams in college basketball, the Youngstown State Penguins are eyeing their first trip to March Madness behind an electric offensive attack. YSU is 28th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, including 6th in 3-point percentage and 9th in free-throw percentage. Dayton transfer Dwayne Cohill is the team’s go-to scorer, who has the ability to explode with an array of iso moves and impressive shot-making. If YSU can get enough stops, it will be a dangerous team come March. The Penguins are 14-1 when it holds opponents under 53 percent shooting.
1. Utah Valley Wolverines
Close call: Lost 2019 WAC semis as 2-seed to Grand Canyon, 78-74
The most likely first-time March Madness contender in 2023 is Utah Valley. Mark Madsen’s Wolverines are just a game back in the loss column to Seattle U in the WAC standings and have already flexed their muscles this season in key wins over BYU, Oregon and Sam Houston. Thanks to the return of versatile guard Trey Woodbury and the emergence of Akron transfer Aziz Bandaogo, UVU has the makings of both a WAC contender and a popular NCAA Tournament upset candidate. So long as the Wolverines can navigate the treacherous league slate without too many blemishes — Utah Valley is a KenPom favorite in eight of its final nine games — Madsen’s group will head to Las Vegas as the most likely first-time NCAA Tournament candidate.
Below is the full list of teams that haven’t yet appeared in March Madness.
Which teams have never been to March Madness?
- Bellarmine (ineligible)
- California Baptist
- Central Arkansas
- Chicago State
- The Citadel
- High Point
- Incarnate Word
- Kansas City
- Kennesaw State
- Lindenwood (ineligible)
- Maryland Eastern Shore
- UMass Lowell
- Merrimack (ineligible)
- New Hampshire
- North Alabama
- Purdue Fort Wayne
- Queens (ineligible)
- Sacramento State
- Sacred Heart
- St. Francis Brooklyn
- St. Thomas (ineligible)
- South Dakota
- Southern Indiana (ineligible)
- Stonehill (ineligible)
- Tarleton (ineligible)
- Texas A&M-Commerce (ineligible)
- UC Riverside
- UC San Diego (ineligible)
- USC Upstate
- UT Martin
- Utah Tech (ineligible)
- Utah Valley
- Western Illinois
- William & Mary
- Youngstown State
Header image courtesy of UVU Athletics.