Now that February is in the rearview mirror and March is here, it’s time to eat, sleep and drink college basketball for the next few weeks. The NCAA Tournament, one of the most popular sporting events in America, always provides plenty of drama and upsets that even the casual sports fan can’t turn away from. For a three-week period from when the field of 68 is announced in mid-March to the championship final the first Monday of April, college basketball fans are able to see one team make a magical run of six straight wins to be crowned NCAA Champions.
However, before “March Madness” begins with the field of 68, tournaments of 32 different conferences take place giving any team a chance to make it to the “Big Dance” no matter what that school’s regular season record may have been. Every so often teams catch lightning in a bottle and reel off three or four consecutive wins and next thing they know they’re only six (or seven) games away from a national title. While these teams usually exit early from the NCAA Tournament losing their first or second game, it still brings hope that something miraculous can happen. Over the last 20 seasons there have been 14 teams to make the NCAA Tournament despite finishing the regular season (including the conference tournament) with a losing record. Unfortunately that means four of those teams had to be left off this list, so apologies to the 1996-97 Jackson State Tigers, the 2002-03 North Carolina-Asheville Bulldogs, 2003-04 Florida A&M Rattlers and the 2011-12 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers for not making the cut.
10. 2001-02 Siena Saints – Final Record: 17-19; Strength of Schedule: 227
Siena’s 2001-02 season had the upstate New York team hovering two to four games below .500 most of the season. Besides their 1-1 start, the closest the Saints would ever get to .500 during the regular season was in early January when they won a fourth straight games to make it to 8-10. As the season winded down though, Siena went 4-8 in their final 12 games heading into the MAAC tournament posting a 12-18 record. Despite finishing the regular season seventh in the MAAC standings, Siena went on to dominate their conference tournament winning all four games, three of which were by double digit margins of 11, 15 and 20. The Saints expanded their win streak from there to five wins when they won the play-in game against Alcorn State and then had to face eventual national champions Maryland Terrapins losing 85-70.