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Handful of college basketball teams looking to end long droughts and make NCAA Tournament

By Doug G. Ware   |   Updated Feb. 19, 2016 at 3:13 PM
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INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- March Madness is just around the corner, which means office pools, lost productivity for employers and a slew of probable upsets during the first week.

But for a few hoops programs, this could also be the year they finally end their long droughts and make it to the Big Dance.

The 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship will begin March 15. Here is a look at a few teams with long droughts that could finally make it back to college basketball's premier tournament this time around:

Oregon State Beavers
Last tournament appearance: 1990

The last time the team from Corvallis, Ore., saw the NCAA Tournament, the squad was anchored by eventual NBA star and Hall of Famer Gary Payton -- whose son, Gary Payton II is the anchor of the program's 2015-16 edition.

With a record of 15-9 (6-7 Pac 12), Oregon State finishes the season against rival Oregon and the Washington and Los Angeles schools.

In the middle of a formidable Pacific 12 Conference, the Beavers are on the bubble to make the tournament, most experts agree. That means winning most of the remaining games and/ or going far in the Pac 12 Tournament would likely punch the Beavs' ticket to the Dance.

Columbia Lions
Last tournament appearance: 1968

Known far more for their academics than their athletics, the Columbia Lions have found success in the Ivy League this season -- the only conference that doesn't stage its own tournament to determine who goes to the dance.

That means whoever has the most wins in conference at the end of the regular season is sent to the tourney.

With a record of 17-8 (6-2 Ivy), good for third in the conference, Columbia has more than a slim shot at winning that bid. However, the Lions must face league leader Yale and second-place Princeton before the schedule is finished.

Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles
Last tournament appearance: 1963

If the season ended today, Tennessee Tech would be in the NCAA's 68-team bracket. Tied, record-wise, with Belmont for first place, the Golden Eagles would get the nod by virtue of the fact they beat the Bruins last month.

But the season doesn't end today.

That means TTU must still win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament to gain the league's automatic pass to the promised land.

It's almost a certainty, too, that the Golden Eagles will again have to beat Belmont, in the league playoff, before they get to hear their name called on selection Sunday.

Yale Bulldogs
Last tournament appearance: 1962

Like those at Columbia, students at Yale are far more renowned for earning degrees than basketball championships. But this year, the Bulldogs are in great shape to end their 54-year drought.

Presently in first place in the Ivy League, Yale has a record of 17-5 and is undefeated (8-0) in conference play. And remember there is no conference tournament, so there's no league playoff for the dogs to win.

Win their last six games and they're in.

But it won't be easy to break the tape first. Yale still must play at Princeton and at Columbia -- road games against the two teams immediately behind them in the standings -- before they can pack their bags.

Northwestern Wildcats
Last tournament appearance: Never

The Big Ten's Northwestern University bears the undesirable distinction of being college basketball's only "Power Five" team never to appear in the NCAA Tournament.

Ever.

To grasp the scope of the Cats' troubles, try this on for size: In Northwestern's 63 years of hoops play in the Big Ten, it's achieved a winning conference record just four times -- and there are exactly zero Big Ten championship banners hanging in the rafters at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

This time of year is tough in Chicago.

And due to the league's strength, there's little chance that will change this year, either. But there is a chance.

The good: While the Wildcats sit near the bottom of the standings, they still have a winning record of 17-10 (5-9 Big Ten) -- and they are likely to reach the 20-win plateau this season, which is often a good barometer to determine tournament-quality teams.

The bad: To get to the dance, Northwestern must win at least four (but possibly five) games to take the Big Ten tournament.

The ugly: That means Northwestern will undoubtedly have to beat at least a couple of the following teams to capture the league title: Iowa (ranked #4 AP/#6 Coaches), Maryland (#6/5), Michigan State (#8/9), Purdue (#17/16) and Indiana (#22/21).

Longshot would be an understatement.

The Cats' best (and probably only) chance is to enter the league playoff hot -- on a three or four game win streak and ride that momentum to the title.

William and Mary Tribe
Last tournament appearance: Never

Like Northwestern, the Tribe is itching to finally experience an NCAA Tournament game. With a record of 15-6 (7-3 Colonial) and in a three-way tie for third place in the conference, William and Mary is within three games of the league lead.

Further, they will play first place UNC-Wilmington and second place Hofstra before the regular season ends. They also must face Towson once and James Madison twice -- both of whom are tied with the Tribe for third.

W&M must win a good share of those games to receive favorable position in the Colonial Athletic Conference playoff. And from there, it's not too complicated -- win and you get to to fill out a dance card.

At this point, it appears the Tribe has as good a chance as any of the teams they're battling with.

Reason for optimism

Of the teams listed above, it's possible that some or none will break their droughts this year. But there is reason for hope -- as other programs with similarly severe droughts have ended them in recent years.

Yale and Columbia need look no further than conference mate Harvard for inspiration. The Crimson finally ended their 66-year drought in 2012 en route to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Wisconsin, last year's Final Four runner-up, went 47 years (1947-1994) between appearances -- and Iowa State went 41 years (1944-1985).

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