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Jeff Eisenberg

Five schools are still seeking their first invite to March Madness

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Although NCAA tournament droughts at NC State, Indiana and other basketball-rich programs tend to get the most publicity, it's not the fans of those teams who deserve the most sympathy.

Try being a fan of one of the five teams that have waited more than six decades to make their first NCAA tournament.

Army, The Citadel, Northwestern, Saint Francis (NY) and William & Mary have each never participated in March Madness. It looks increasingly likely that all five teams will have to wait until next year once again this March, but here's a look at each of their chances heading into their respective conference tournaments.

Northwestern (16-12, 6-11, 9th in Big Ten)

For a Northwestern team that began the season with legitimate hope of hearing its name called on Selection Sunday, the past two months have been an huge letdown. Three straight losses to Purdue, Michigan State and Illinois to begin Big Ten play torpedoed the Wildcats' season, putting them in a hole deep hole from the outset.

The biggest problem for the Wildcats continues to be that they don't play enough defensive to cobble together any sort of prolonged win streak. John Shurna and Michael Thompson might be able to shoot the Wildcats into one Big Ten tournament upset, but don't count on any more than that.

St Francis (NY) (15-14, 10-8, 5th in NEC)

While St. Francis is hardly the favorite entering the Northeast Conference tournament this week, the Terriers may have the best chance of any of these five teams to secure an automatic bid. They've won four in a row, they beat quarterfinal opponent Central Connecticut State last week and they've been competitive with top-seeded Long Island in two meetings this season.

Even deep conference tournament runs have been rarities in years past, but first-year coach Glenn Braica has led the Terriers to a four-win improvement over last season. Ricky Cadell averages a team-high 16.1 points per game and Akeem Bennett tallies 14.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in addition to being named conference defensive player of the year.

Army (11-18, 3-11, 8th in Patriot League)

When Army won at preseason Patriot League favorite Lehigh on Jan. 15 to improve to 10-8 overall and 2-1 in conference play, there seemed to be genuine hope of an upper division finish. Instead Army dropped 10 of 11 down the stretch, seemingly growing less competitive against the top teams in the league as the season went along.

Army's quarterfinal matchup comes tonight against regular season champ Bucknell, a team the Black Knights split with during the regular season. Another Army upset would be stunning considering that was Bucknell's lone league loss. And three straight Army victories this week? Well, that's even more difficult to envision.

William & Mary (9-21, 4-14, 11th in CAA)

One year removed from falling seven points shy of its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth, the Tribe have endured a difficult rebuilding season. A youthful team featuring only one senior in its rotation fell to 11th in the Colonial Athletic Association, finishing ahead of only winless Towson.

While there's hope for William & Mary's future in what promises to be a young league next season, the present doesn't look promising at all for the Tribe. Even a first-round conference tournament upset over James Madison would be surprising, let alone the three victories it would take just to get William & Mary a return trip to the CAA title game.

The Citadel (10-21, 6-12, 5th SoCon South Division)

Since the Citadel returned a handful of rotation mainstays from last year's 16-win team that finished fourth in its division, there was hope that the Bulldogs could match or even exceed that win total. Instead the Citadel has struggled badly aside from a unexpected four-game win streak in January, losing eight of nine down the stretch.

Up first for the Citadel in the Southern Conference tournament is Elon, a team that beat the Bulldogs 79-72 last month. An opening-round win for the Citadel is not unthinkable, but the Bulldogs don't have the firepower to compete with the likes of regular season champion College of Charleston in the next round.

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