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363 to 1 - NCAA Men’s Basketball Counts Down to a National Champion - It Begins

The eliminations are about to start happening. The count is 350

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 27 Maine at Brown Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the things that fascinates me about NCAA Division 1 college basketball is how long into the season greater than 95% of the teams still technically have a path to being champions. Win your conference tournament to get into NCAA tournament field, then win six (or seven) games in the tournament and you are crowned the champions. No other high profile sport in the United States has this high of a percentage of teams still eligible this late into the season.

Back on November 7, 2022 the season kicked off for the 363 programs that would battle it out to crown a champion in April. This is the story of how we whittle down that number from 363 to 1.

North Carolina v Kansas
From 363 to 1. Hopefully not Kansas again
Photo by Handout/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Total Number of Division 1 Teams - 363

Now unfortunately, right off the bat the NCAA eliminated 11 teams from being champions this season. That’s because the NCAA has an archaic rule that prevents teams that have recently transitioned to Division 1 from competing for Division 1 championships and there are 11 teams currently in the five year process of making that transition.

  1. Bellarmine Knights
  2. Lindenwood Lions
  3. Merrimack Warriors
  4. Queens Royals
  5. Southern Jaguars
  6. St. Thomas Tommies
  7. Stonehill Skyhawks
  8. Tarleton St. Texans
  9. Texas A&M - Commerce Lions
  10. UC San Diego Tritons
  11. Utah Tech Trailblazers
NCAA Basketball: Queens University of Charlotte at Nebraska
Hey look, Nebraska beat one of our eliminated teams back in December
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

It’s clearly a bad year for Lions as two of them are already out (hey Penn State fans, maybe the Nittany will help). But with these 11 teams ineligible we were left with 352.

Number of Teams Eligible - 352

Number of Teams Eliminated - 11

Of our 352 eligible teams, 350 of them are in a conference. Until those teams are eliminated from winning their conference tournament, they are still in the running. For our two that are not in conferences (Hartford and Chicago’s college basketball team - Chicago State), they must rely on an at large bid. Unfortunately for fans of both programs, we have reached a point where neither team can finish .500 or better overall. Putting aside schedule strength for the minute, as far as I know the NCAA has never taken an at large team that was below .500 overall. So, I feel safe in saying we’ve reached a point in the season where we can confidently state that 8-18 Chicago State and 5-20 Hartford will not be receiving an at large bid and have been eliminated from contention. I’ll have to develop some more definitive criteria for which teams go into the at-large pool later in the season, but that’s a problem for future me.

  1. Chicago State Cougars
  2. Hartford Hawks
NCAA Basketball: Chicago State at Minnesota
Minnesota can’t imagine losing to one of the first 13 teams eliminated.
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Number of Teams Eligible for Auto Bids - 350 (96.42%)

Number of Teams Eliminated - 13 (3.58%)

Teams Under Consideration for At Large Bids Only - 0

Over the next four and a half weeks, we will watch our 350 teams slowly dwindle down to 32 conference champions and on Selection Sunday those 32 auto bids will be joined by another 36 teams given a second chance by the Selection Committee.

Now, you may be wondering why am I bringing this up today? We’ve effectively been at 352 all season and 350 for at least several weeks now. Conference tournaments don’t begin for another 17 days. Isn’t this a little early?

There are two reasons I’ve chosen today to introduce the countdown.

The first reason is that not every conference allows all of their members to participate in their conference tournament. America East, ASun, Ivy, MAC, Ohio Valley, SWAC, Southland, and the WAC are the eight conferences that limit the number of teams invited to their conference tournament based on regular season standings. This is further complicated by the fact that four of those (the ASun, Ohio Valley, and WAC) allow their non-NCAA tournament eligible teams to participate if they finish high enough in their conference regular season standings. All of this adds up to the fact that somewhere between 16 and 22 NCAA tournament eligible teams will be eliminated from the possibility of gaining an auto bid (and also secure a poor enough record to make an at-large bid impossible) prior to the start of their conference tournaments.

The second reason I’ve chosen today as the day to bring this topic to your attention is that our first elimination from auto bid contention could occur as early as tomorrow. The Columbia Lions currently sit at 1-8 in Ivy League play, 4 games behind a three way tie for 3rd place in a 14 game conference schedule when only the top 4 teams make the Ivy League tournament. On Saturday, Columbia plays Yale. Should Columbia lose and Penn also beat Harvard, then Columbia would kickstart our countdown. If that scenario does not come to pass, we will have wait until at least next weekend to kickoff the countdown.

NCAA Basketball: Columbia at Rutgers
Rutgers defeated Columbia 75-35 on the first day of the season
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

For now the count stands at 350. On April 3, we will reach 1 in Houston. It won’t be a Big Ten team, because that’s not what the Big Ten does, but the countdown over the next two months is going to be fun. You know, for those of us that can count down from 353 to 1.


What is your favorite part of this article?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    That my team is in the last 350 basketball teams that can win it all this season!
    (48 votes)
  • 22%
    That we are doing a countdown that ends in Houston!
    (18 votes)
  • 17%
    I hate fun
    (14 votes)
80 votes total Vote Now


What is your least favorite part of this article?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    That Iowa won’t be in the final 16
    (17 votes)
  • 6%
    My non-AAU university didn’t teach me how to count
    (6 votes)
  • 30%
    That the NCAA won’t allow St. Thomas to compete for a NCAA championship
    (26 votes)
  • 43%
    Not enough references to the fact that this is THE YEAR
    (37 votes)
86 votes total Vote Now