Tourney likely will still elude most first-time hopefuls
The NCAA tournament enters its eighth decade this season. Incredibly, there remain a handful of prominent Division I members that have never cracked the championship field, not to mention a few others that have been away an awfully long time!
Using Bracketology data from past seasons, I've compared the profiles of these teams to similar squads to evaluate their odds of making the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid. Given the different paths each team has for earning an automatic bid, I'll discuss those on a team-by-team basis within each entry.
Let's take a closer look at these potential first-timers and been-a-long-timers in advance of our first weekly bracket projection on Monday:
NORTHWESTERN: We'll know sooner rather than later whether the Wildcats can erase their dubious status as the only BCS member school without an NCAA tournament appearance. A 10-1 start has gotten Northwestern ranked in the Associated Press poll, but conference openers at Illinois (Wednesday night) and Michigan State (Saturday at home) will surely tell a tale.
If the Wildcats gain a split, they'll move up from a No. 69 mid-December S-Curve slot and into the Jan. 4 bracket. Otherwise, it'll be back to the bubble and a week-to-week waiting game all the way to March. My hunch is that the injuries and personnel losses will catch up to Northwestern in Big Ten play, but heck, that's why they play the games.
NCAA ODDS: 35 percent
To see which other first-timers or long-timers could be dancing in March (hint: Lunardi likes one of the first-timers to crack the field), you must be an ESPN Insider.