Since our last update, it’s pretty clear that the Never Made the Tournament Club has one member that is clearly above the rest. This is going to be the Grand Canyon show for much of the year. The ‘Lopes may have lost to No. 7 Nevada on Sunday, but it’s clear that Dan Majerle’s squad can play with the big boys (Grand Canyon only has close losses to Seton Hall, Utah, and South Dakota State), to an extent.
So, aside from the general queasiness surrounding GCU’s for-profit origins, what’s the deal with this team? Are they good? Well, they managed to hit a 27.4 percent win probability against Nevada and started the game on an 11-0 run. They have a good coach. They have a solid 2-3 zone that can give teams fits. They have a young squad of stellar recruits like Alessandro Lever, the NMTC’s spiciest Italian big man and Damari Milstead. They have two seasoned transfers from central Illinois in Michael Finke (glad you’re out of the B1G) and Carlos Johnson.
This team is about as talented as you can reasonably hope for. Tactically and analytically though, everything is pretty much average. They don’t stick out in any category except rebounding, which is easier to do when you have a 6-foot-10 Italian Spaghetti Monster and play Delaware State. And for the NMTC, that’s fine. Remember, Lipscomb’s 2018 team was No. 177 on KenPom heading into the Atlantic Sun Tournament. It only takes a few games to escape...
But, just like the last three years of this column, are they good enough to beat New Mexico State? The paradox of Grand Canyon is that they are the best-equipped team in the NMTC, but they have easily the toughest mid-major foe of all in New Mexico State. Much of this column may eventually boil down to whether the Antelopes can surmount the Aggies in the WAC Conference Tournament. If you thought somewhat limiting Nevada was impressive, it’s not really on the same level as New Mexico State nearly beating Kansas on the road last week. And yet, Grand Canyon remains the highest-ranked KenPom team in this group at No. 133 as of writing, and is probably our best bet. The key here is for Grand Canyon to avoid potential landmines in conference play and secure a good seeding so they make that final game. But we shall see.
Alright, is it time to talk about NJIT? Hell yeah, it’s Highlander time.
Uh, what else is there to say? NJIT is 10-2 despite a 23-point loss to UMass-Lowell earlier this month. NJIT has actually rolled through a couple NMTC teams, defeating Army and St. Francis (NY) in back-to-back games. They even got a vote in the AP Poll! The Atlantic Sun Tournament is Liberty (ah, even more queasiness) and Lipscomb’s to lose at this point, but it’s worth mentioning NJIT as a possible sleeper pick.
If you want another WAC team to root for, Utah Valley only lost by 11 at Arizona and looks competent once again. I’ve been let down by Utah Valley on numerous occasions, so we’ll have to see what happens, but No. 143 on KenPom is nothing to sneeze at. Cal Baptist (ineligible) is doing fun stuff like nearly beating UC Irvine on the road in its first year. The WAC is actually killing it with its NMTC members this year, as even UT-Rio Grande Valley has gotten its act together. A five point loss at Houston? Thorough stompings of North Dakota and UT Arlington? What the hell is going on here? We’re all in on the Vaqueros.
The Southern Conference may be reaping the benefits from Furman, but our old friends at The Citadel are 7-2 despite continuing to play at an insane pace. A 79-69 win over Mercer on December 1 was huge and the TROOPS could have a say if things break their way. But they’d have to upend Wofford and Furman, so things are bleak. This team is so much better than it was two years ago, though.
Elsewhere, there is nothing but ignominy. South Dakota just lost to UMKC, which is a bad, bad look for the Coyotes. William and Mary is 3-7. Savannah State, noted for being on their final shot to make the NCAA Tournament before reverting back to Division II, lost to noted NMTC Destroyer of Worlds Mike Daum 139-72. The score is flattering; it was 90-33 at half. It was followed up by an equally horrendous 101-60 loss to Wisconsin.
And then Elon went and did this last weekend:
Not good, folks. Still, we’ve had much more depressing NMTC recaps in the past, so keep dreaming (the song below is bad...just replace “me” with “the NCAA Tournament”).