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The best teams to miss the NCAA Tournament

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February 19th, 2021

Every major program starts the college basketball season with dreams of cutting down the nets come tournament time. However, only 68 teams are invited to the "Big Dance," which leaves many heartbroken on Selection Sunday.

Here are five of the most notable omissions in NCAA Tournament history.

5. 2013-14 SMU (23-9)

The Mustangs finished the regular season ranked 25th in the AP poll and 23rd in the coaches poll. Unfortunately, it was not enough for a tournament bid, in large part because of their 114th-ranked strength of schedule.

Led by future NBA players Sterling Brown and Ben Moore, head coach Larry Brown put together a solid roster, and SMU finished third in the AAC standings, behind fellow ranked teams Cincinnati and Connecticut, the eventual national champion.

SMU was doomed when it lost its last two regular-season games, both to ranked opponents, then lost its first AAC Tournament game against Houston.

The Mustangs played in the NIT and lost in the final to Minnesota, 65-63.

4. 2015-16 Saint Mary’s (27-5)

Many were shocked when the 2016 Selection Show ended, and Saint Mary’s name had not been called. The Gaels had an outstanding season in the West Coast Conference and defeated perennial conference power Gonzaga twice. The Gaels went 15-3 in the WCC, had a strong RPI rating, and only a few bad losses.

However, when the NCAA Tournament Committee put together its selections, only Gonzaga — which defeated Saint Mary’s in the WCC Championship Game — received a bid from the conference. It was a stunning decision to leave out the regular-season champion.

3. 2003-04 Utah State (25-3)

The Aggies were ranked as high as 19th in the coaches poll late in the season and made the NCAA Tournament in three of the previous four years.

Despite a 25-2 regular-season record, an upset loss in their first game of the Big West Tournament cost the Aggies a bid. Their one-point loss came to Cal State Northridge, which went 7-11 in Big West play, two days before Selection Sunday.

It was Utah State's only defeat to a team that did not make the NCAA Tournament.

2. 2015-16 Louisville (23-8)

This team features the best player of the teams that missed out, NBA star Donovan Mitchell, and a strong supporting cast, including current Warriors guard Damion Lee.

The Cardinals started the season 17-3 and were ranked 13th in the country when they announced they were self-imposing a postseason ban in response to an NCAA investigation into improper benefits provided to players.

Louisville was ranked as high as 11th and finished 16th in the final AP poll. The team would have been a No. 5 seed, at worst.

1. 1991-92 UNLV (26-2)

Our top team missed the tournament because it was punished by the NCAA.

A season after they had their unbeaten run ended by Duke in the Final Four, the Runnin' Rebels were banned from postseason play and not allowed to play on television. A recruiting scandal surrounding head coach Jerry Tarkanian was the reason for the sanctions.

The Rebels went 2-2 to begin the season, including a season-opening win over No. 9 LSU, then ran off 24 consecutive victories.

The team featured four players who went on to play in the NBA, including J.R. Rider, who averaged 20.7 points per game. UNLV was ranked seventh in the final AP poll, after an 18-0 conference run.