There are teams in college basketball who have never made the NCAA Tournament history. Once upon a time, Rodger Sherman, now of The Ringer wrote about these teams who never danced during their conference tournaments for then SB Nation Northwestern affiliate Sippin’ On Purple. That tradition was carried forward at Inside NU until last year, when Northwestern made their first NCAA Tournament. As the only remaining teams who are yet to make an NCAA Tournament are mid-majors, Mid-Major Madness is the new hub for the aptly named Never Made The Tournament Club.
It’s good to be home.
Moses could not have known that when he struck a rock with his staff he signed away his right to witness the promised land. For surely, what could the Lord do to him? He who led the Israelites out of bondage and out of Egypt. He who split the red sea and transcribed the word of God. Moses, more than any other, deserved to see the Land of Milk and Honey.
Instead, he was only allowed to view it from afar. From atop a mountain.
He died before the Children of Abraham entered that land.
The rabbis have debated the meaning of this story since the Talmud was first put together. Surely, even the God of the Old Testament would not levy such a harsh punishment against such a righteous man for such an insignificant act. Indeed, there must be a deeper lesson. Perhaps Moses thought himself too near to God, above the realm of man. He had to be reminded of his own mortality. Israel had to be reminded of his mortality. And so he was fated to die. 40 years of wandering in the desert would serve as penance to all but one.
Yes, the death of Moses had a meaning.
A grand meaning.
I want to tell you a story.
Since Rodger Sherman and Sippin’ On Purple first turned their eyes to those teams who had never made the NCAA Tournament, their stories were relegated to 14 brilliant days in March. We scribes of their exploits had other basketball games to engorge ourselves on. Northwestern games needed to be covered. The rest of the members of the Never Made The Tournament Club moved to the backs of our minds.
But so much has changed.
Northwestern, one of the Founding Fathers of the club and the only power conference member, has moved on to bigger and dirtier things. They have escaped. And with their exit, the timber of the club has irreparably changed.
A new home is needed. And with it, a restored dedication to the real members of the club has been found. The inevitability of Northwestern, once the defining member of the club, is gone, replaced with exciting new themes. Grand Canyon, those brave desert raiders, enter their first year of postseason eligibility as the odds on favorite of NMTC members to make the NCAA Tournament. The Founding Fathers (Army, St. Francis (NY), William & Mary, and The Citadel) step out of the shadow of their cousin in Evanston. Suddenly, the successful but ultimately futile seasons of these four teams stand even more poignant. Suddenly, the possibility of escape is more real than ever.
Last season saw five programs leave this club. Jacksonville State, Northern Kentucky, North Dakota, UC-Davis, and, yes, Northwestern all danced for the first time. Emotionally, this historic season opened our eyes to unprecedented possibilities.
Statistically, we are primed for regression.
Savannah State was never especially good at basketball. They won the MEAC regular season once, in 2012, before getting dumped in their first conference tournament game by an otherwise forgettable Hampton team (even for Hampton). Of all the members of the Never Made The Tournament Club, they are far from the most unlucky. They are far from the best remaining member of this club. Their most notable achievement was an 0-28 season in 2005.
They are by far the most tragic member.
Savannah State is in their last year of Division I athletics. Citing financial issues, the school is transitioning down to Division II. This is their last chance for redemption. Their last chance to take something real and meaningful from their Division 1 experience. KenPom doesn’t think highly of their chances to win the MEAC, tagging them as the 6th best team in the conference. But this is college basketball, where the unexpected becomes the ordinary and Cinderellas crash the ball every year. The storybook is made for printing.
But Savannah State will not go to the NCAA Tournament. In a world fraught with uncertainty, Savannah State stands as a known quantity. The savannah will dry up into the desert.
They are banned from postseason basketball. Their academic success rate did not meet the standards of the NCAA. Their last season will end with a state-mandated whimper.
Which brings us back to Moses and the rock.
Savannah State is no great leader of men, no prophet. They are the most normal, the most human of all of us. They fail more than they win. They are nearly anonymous to the average fan. But surely even they, especially they, are deserving of the biggest prize. Through this wide wasteland of college basketball, Savannah State has wandered, suffering indemnity after indemnity, empty season after empty season. In their 43rd season of wandering, they are no closer to their goal than they have been before, but their road is coming to an end.
And what meaning, what pithy moral do we have to take away from their story? To what end does forcing them to play out this season with no chance of glory serve?
If nothing else, Savannah State will provide us with a story. Sustenance through the season ahead. Mana from heaven. There will be more stories ahead, on the wrong side of the Air Jordan River, in the lands you do not understand. There are schools like North Dakota and New Hampshire who deserve something special. There are, hopefully, schools who will repeat the insanity of 2017 and make ridiculous runs in their conference tournaments. Here in the Never Made the Tourney Club, the drinks are 25 cents, and the basketball is eternal.
It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.
THE NEVER MADE THE TOURNAMENT CLUB CLASS OF 2018
Big Sky: Sacramento State Hornets
Big West: UC Riverside Highlanders
Horizon League: Youngstown State Penguins
MAAC: Quinnipiac Bobcats
Ohio Valley Conference: SIU-Edwardsville Cougars, Tennessee-Martin SkyHawks
Patriot League: Army Black Knights
SoCon: The Citadel Bulldogs
SWAC: Grambling Tigers
TEAMS RETURNING FOR 2019
Grambling Tigers (Academically ineligible)