Raj Mehta - USA TODAY Sports

Who's dancing?

As the Madness builds, these teams have punched their tickets to the Dance

Mark Menard
March 12, 2019 - 5:32 pm

When all is said and done, 32 teams will earn automatic bids to the NCAA tournament as conference champions. Here's the squads who have reserved their spots so far and why they might deserve some love in your bracket.


Bradley Braves

Auto-bid: Missouri Valley Conference

Record: 20-14 (9-9 MVC – reg. season #5)

Location: Peoria, IL

Coach: Brian Wardle (4th season)

NCAA appearances: 9

Most recent appearance: 2006

Best finish: NCAA runner-up (2 times – 50, 54)

Highest scorer: Darrell Brown – Junior guard – 14.9 PPG | 39.5 FG% | 44.6 3PT%

Took down MVC top seed (and 2018 Final Four darlings) Loyola-Chicago in conference tournament semifinals, then completed biggest comeback in MVC title game history, storming back from 18 down to nip Northern Iowa 57-54. First conference tournament win since 1987-88 season. First NCAA tournament berth in 13 years.


Fairleigh Dickinson Knights

Auto-bid: Northeast Conference

Record: 20-13 (12-6 NEC – reg. season #2)

Location: Hackensack, NJ

Coach: Greg Herenda (6th season)

NCAA appearances: 6

Most recent appearance: 2016

Best finish: Has never won an NCAA tournament game

Highest scorer: Darnell Edge – Senior guard – 16.4 PPG | 47.4 FG% | 46.9 3PT%

Three Knights topped 20 points in the NEC title game as they upended top seed St. Francis 85-76. Winners of 14 of their last 16 games, but earning their first NCAA tournament win this season would likely involve a major upset. Their best win this season was over Princeton, and they lost all three games they played against Q1 and Q2 schools.


Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs

Auto-bid: Big South Conference

Record: 22-11 (10-6 BSC – reg. season #4)

Location: Boiling Springs, NC

Coach: Tim Craft (5th season)

NCAA appearances: 1

Most recent appearance: This is Gardner-Webb’s NCAA tournament debut

Best finish: N/A

Highest scorer: David Efianayi – Senior guard – 18.5 PPG | 49.4 FG% | 41.8 3PT%

Knocked off Big South top seed Campbell in conference tournament semifinal, then #2 seed Radford in conference final. Led Radford nearly wire-to-wire in title game, taking the lead with 18:30 to play in first half and never relinquishing it on the way to a 76-65 victory. Earned both wins on opponents’ home floors. While the Bulldogs do have one regular season conference title to their credit (2005 in the Atlantic Sun Conference), this will be their first ever appearance in the overall NCAA tournament.


Iona Gaels

Auto-bid: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Record: 17-15 (12-6 MAAC – reg. season #1)

Location: New Rochelle, NY

Coach: Tim Cluess (9th season)

NCAA appearances: 14

Most recent appearance: 2018 (4th straight)

Best finish: Round of 32 (1980 – later vacated by NCAA)

Highest scorer: E.J. Crawford – Junior guard – 17.9 PPG | 50.9 FG%

After sweating out a two-point MAAC quarterfinal win over Saint Peter’s, Iona breezed through the final two rounds, easily topping Monmouth in the tourney final 81-60. Senior guard Rickey McGill is the only player in both school and MAAC history to win four conference tournament titles and earn four straight trips to the NCAA tournament.


Liberty Flames

Auto-bid: Atlantic Sun Conference

Record: 28-6 (14-2 ASUN – reg. season #2)

Location: Lynchburg, VA

Coach: Ritchie McKay (6th season | 4th straight)

NCAA appearances: 4

Most recent appearance: 2013

Best finish: Has never won an NCAA tournament game

Highest scorer: Scottie James – Junior forward – 13.0 PPG | 67.5 FG%

Won conference tournament final on the road, knocking off top seed/defending champion Lipscomb in their building 74-68 in a hard-fought game. Won the Atlantic Sun’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in their first season in the conference after 27 years in the Big South.


Murray State Racers

Auto-bid: Ohio Valley Conference

Record: 27-4 (16-2 OVC – reg. season #2)

Location: Murray, KY

Coach: Matt McMahon (4th season)

NCAA appearances: 17

Most recent appearance: 2018 (2nd straight)

Best finish: Round of 32 (5 times – 64, 69, 88, 10, 12)

Highest scorer: Ja Morant – Sophomore guard – 24.6 PPG | .503 FG%

Bested OVC top seed Belmont 77-65 in conference tournament final to earn second straight NCAA berth for the first time since 1998 & 99. Finished off the Bruins with an 11-0 run over the game’s final 2 ½ minutes. Led by OVC Player of the Year Ja Morant, a likely top-five pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. The first team to punch their March Madness tourney ticket on March 9, they’ll have to weather an 11-12 day layoff before NCAA action starts. Riding an 11-game winning streak.


North Dakota State Bison

Auto-bid: Summit League

Record: 18-15 (9-7 Summit – reg. season #4)

Location: Fargo, ND

Coach: David Richman (5th season)

NCAA appearances: 4

Most recent appearance: 2015

Best finish: Round of 32 (2014)

Highest scorer: Vinnie Shahid – Junior guard – 12.8 PPG | 43.9 FG%

Made the Summit League final for fifth time in last seven seasons, winning as a 4-seed. Took down 2-seed Omaha in title game 73-63 to grab first ticket to the Big Dance in four years. Held Omaha without a field goal for nearly seven minutes to end first half, then withstood a furious Mavericks second half rally to notch their first NCAA appearance in four years.


Northeastern Huskies

Auto-bid: Colonial Athletic Association

Record: 23-10 (14-4 CAA – reg. season #2)

Location: Boston, MA

Coach: Bill Coen (13th season)

NCAA appearances: 9

Most recent appearance: 2015

Best finish: Round of 32 (2 times – 81, 82)

Highest scorer: Vasa Pusica – Senior guard – 17.8 PPG | 49.7 FG% | 40.1 3PT%

Watched a double-digit lead evaporate in CAA final against top seed Hofstra before regrouping for 82-74 win. Hot-shooting Huskies made 50% of field goals and better than 45% of threes in CAA championship. Leading scorer Vasa Pusica hit seven shots from long-range and can be a terror as a long-range assassin if he heats up in the NCAA tournament.


Northern Kentucky Norse

Auto-bid: Horizon League

Record: 26-8 (13-5 Horizon – reg. season #2)

Location: Highland Heights, KY

Coach: John Brannen (4th season)

NCAA appearances: 2

Most recent appearance: 2017

Best finish: Has never won a Division I NCAA tournament game (Division II runner-up – 96, 97)

Highest scorer: Drew McDonald – Senior forward – 19.1 PPG | 48.2 FG% | 40.9 3PT%

Barely survived Horizon League semifinals, advancing on a buzzer-beater by leading scorer Drew McDonald, then torched top seed Wright State in title game 77-66 to score their second NCAA tournament berth all-time… but also second in last three seasons. As a 15-seed in 2017, gave #2 seed Kentucky all they could handle before falling to the Wildcats 79-70.


Saint Mary’s Gaels

Auto-bid: West Coast Conference

Record: 22-11 (11-5 WCC – reg. season #2)

Location: Moraga, CA

Coach: Randy Bennett (17th season)

NCAA appearances: 10

Most recent appearance: 2017

Best finish: Elite Eight (1959)

Highest scorer: Jordan Ford – Junior guard – 21.3 PPG | 49.4 FG% | 42.3 3PT%

Picked a very opportune time for their first win ever over a team ranked #1 in the country, shocking WCC top seed Gonzaga in the conference final 60-47 to grab their second NCAA tournament berth in the last three seasons. Left out last year after falling to Gonzaga in WCC final and getting snubbed by selection committee despite a 30-win season. Expect the chip on the Gaels’ shoulders to be huge this time around.


Wofford Terriers

Auto-bid: Southern Conference

Record: 29-4 (18-0 SoCon – reg. season #1)

Location: Spartanburg, SC

Coach: Mike Young (17th season)

NCAA appearances: 5

Most recent appearance: 2015

Best finish: Has never won an NCAA tournament game

Highest scorer: Fletcher Magee – Senior guard – 20.5 PPG | 44.4 FG% | 42.8 3PT%

Won all three SoCon tournament games comfortably after running the table in the regular season, beating UNC Greensboro 70-58 in tourney final. First team to complete an undefeated Southern Conference schedule since 2007-08 Davidson Wildcats led by Steph Curry. Set a school record for wins in a season with 29. Enters Selection Sunday ranked 20th in the nation. Fifth NCAA appearance under Coach Mike Young. Still looking for first NCAA tournament win.

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