Back in the days of Sippin’ On Purple, the forerunner to the current Northwestern SB Nation blog, Inside NU, Rodger Sherman, now of The Ringer, wrote about all the schools that had never made the tournament come conference tournament time. This elite group of teams would be dubbed the “Never Made The Tournament Club.” As Northwestern has made the tournament, The Never Made The Tournament Club, or NMTC, needed a new home. We found it one, here, at Mid-Major Madness. While we have been covering the NMTC all year, it is now conference tournament time, which means daily updates of the club.
Here is your preview.
How do you tell a story?
That’s the ultimate question of history, or at least the study of it. It is impossible to amply cover every angle of an important event. There isn’t enough paper and ink in the world to write a history that gives a deep dive on every important factor, from technology, to culture, to military, to what have you.
The best way to tell a story ebbs and flows over time. There is no constant. So how should we tell the story of the Never Made the Tourney Club? After all, aren’t we basically noting all this for the historical record?
Once upon a time, the only way to tell the story was through the great people (read: men) who led the movement. The story of the Civil War was the story of Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. The story of World War Two was the story of Roosevelt, Churchill Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. What mattered was the will of these great men and how they could single handedly change the course of history through their actions. The role of the masses was completely ignored. Obviously, this historical theory has issues. Over time, people and historian rejected the “Great Man” idea and replaced it with more rational analysis. Leaders were products of their society. The mass movement of people and the shifts of the Industrial Revolution did far more to affect history than a few scattered individuals. The story is more complicated. Thus, the “great person” theory is a relic of the 19th-century.
Sports stories consist of all types of historical narrative, and they follow the long-established tropes that stuffy historians have developed. There are the “great player” folks, the Bill Simmons types who focus exclusively on great players. Then there are sports stories on structure, analytics, labor agreements, the mechanics of how things happen. There are blogs like Mid-Major Madness that focus on history from below and those who don’t get enough attention. In recent years, the Great Player or Great Coach sports narratives have taken a back seat. In baseball, they are all but dead. For the sports literati, systems and mass movements are in vogue.
College basketball will soon have the same fate. The beginning of the one-and-done has taken away any chance at a Patrick Ewing at Georgetown arc. Then there’s the flawed NCAA, which seems to dominate the offseason and most of the regular season. This latest cavalcade of FBI stories, for example, is another sign of a system failure narrative. When we try to crown a player and ascribe to the narrative of “the great one,” there is an enormous backlash (see Young, Trae). College basketball is rapidly told by the bean counters or by the sweeping investigation.
And so the college basketball season will be overshadowed by this FBI investigation, a story which affects everything and spares nothing. It’s a classic big picture argument that reduces the individual players to names on a spreadsheet. It’s not like we ignore this narrative. We eat this stuff up. And yet, while every media outlet rushes to comment on “the state” of college basketball, the public’s love of great people persists into eternity. We have Hamilton and Evita, endless biographies of Napoleon, endless streams of content about Kennedy and Nixon and all the rest.
We also have Mike Daum.
The Never Made the Tourney Club, as a historical document, is terrified of Mike Daum. No player has done more to knock out NMTC teams than him. It all started in the 2016 Summit League Tournament. Daum had 15 points off the bench in the semifinal game against the Denver Pioneers and South Dakota State won 54-53. In 2017, it got even worse. South Dakota State wasn’t even good in 2017. The Jackrabbits finished fifth in the conference with an 8-8 record.
It didn’t matter. Mike Daum knocked out three consecutive NMTC teams, scoring 33, 18 and 37 points in three games against Denver, South Dakota and Nebraska Omaha. He’s back again with a much better South Dakota State team, and there’s a decent chance he will face three NMTC teams once again.
What should the NMTC do about Mike Daum? He’s clearly one of the best scorers in the country, yet he has somehow slipped through the system of bribery, loans and dinners to thrive at South Dakota State. Daum is a great player, and he’s drastically affected the history of the Summit League and this column.
Therefore, maybe the world cannot be bifurcated into narratives on the dominance of individuals or the dominance of structures. Every college basketball game, every event that’s ever happened, is an interplay between two historical forces--the individual and the superstructure. There are teams that will be buried at the bottom of their conferences and will likely never leave (hello, Chicago State) due to state-wide malaise, poor circumstances, or system failure. There are teams that will try to rise from this morass anyway thanks to strong institutions and athletic departments that will likely fall due to bad luck (hello, Savannah State or Grambling State). And then there are good teams that get steamrolled by Mike Effing Daum.
We’ll try to keep that in mind. Get ready for some wild storytelling.
The Founding Fathers
Only four teams remain in this exclusive club within the club, teams who have been playing basketball since the initial NCAA Tournament and missed every single one. They deserve some extra coverage.
Army Black Knights
I can’t be the only one who thinks, if they wanted to, the troops could put together a basketball team that would make the NCAA Tournament at least one time in a just world. But here we are. Once upon a time, we were excited about the potential of Army. Then they closed their season on a 1-9 skid. Less than ideal. KenPom gives them a .9% chance of winning their tournament.
The Citadel Bulldogs
It is the official position of the NMTC that The Citadel rocks. They play the second fastest tempo in the country, don’t defend anyone, and shoot more than half of their shots from three. They need multiple miracles to make their way out of the Southern.
St. Francis (NY) Terriers
The good news about the NEC is that there isn’t a team that is leagues better than anyone else. The bad news is that there’s still some fair bit of distance between St. Francis and the top of the conference. KenPom gives the Terriers just a 1.5% chance to win the conference tournament. The Terriers splitting the season series against favorite Wagner should give them some confidence.
William And Mary Tribe
Man, can Bill and Mary shoot the basketball. Their 59.5% effective field goal percentage is second best in the nation. No one shoots better than they do from the free throw line (80.9%). Oh, and they shoot better than 42% from three. Sure they can’t stop a nosebleed, but they’re one of the favorites in the fairly open Colonial.
Last year was a banner year for the Club. This year, the number of candidates is depressingly slim. Let’s run through everyone with a chance to escape in Week 1 of the conference tournament madhouse.
The Lipscomb Bisons are the second best team in the Atlantic Sun. This alone should be enough to put them in the “favorites” portion, but I have to say it’s going to be a tough road for the Bisons. For one, Florida Gulf Coast is on the other side of the bracket, and Dunk City is once again looking like the clear favorite to win the conference. But FGCU showed some vulnerabilities at the tail end of conference play. First the Eagles lost to Kennesaw State at home. Then, they lost to Lipscomb on February 17. Do I sense weakness?
None of the other teams in the A-Sun are any good, so Lipscomb should get another crack at FGCU in the final. If FGCU loses before then, all the better. KenPom gives Lipscomb a 26.8% chance of making it. That’s not bad!
Three of the top four teams in the Summit League are NMTC members. South Dakota is one of the best NMTC member in the country by KenPom (No. 66) and boasts a strong, veteran roster that already tasted heartbreak last year. Denver has been steadily rising after a truly abysmal start to the season and has won four straight to close out the regular season. Fort Wayne also has great potential (remember when they beat Indiana?) but will have to get through a coin toss matchup with North Dakota State, the other boogeyman of the Summit League.
Of course, the fourth team is Mike Daum and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. SDSU has beaten all of these teams and just defeated South Dakota in the final game of the regular season. That will be the test.
St. Francis Brooklyn is the most tortured team remaining in the entire NMTC after the departure of Northwestern (good riddance). After a truly horrific 2016-17 in which the Terriers did not even qualify for the NEC Tournament, St. Francis put together a solid 10-8 year in conference and is the No. 5 seed. Unfortunately, that means they have to play No. 1 seed and clear favorite Wagner even if they escape the LIU Brooklyn game. Ugh. This is what we have to work with.
The travails of Savannah State, the team that plays at the fastest possible pace and bombs threes even though they can’t shoot, have been well-chronicled on this column. Of course, the Tigers received a pardon from the NCAA and are eligible to make the NCAA Tournament after previously being banned due to academic violations. The Tigers are also departing Division I basketball after 2018-19, so there’s not much time.
After starting the conference season 10-1, it looked like Savannah State would be the lead representative in the MEAC, but three straight losses have put a damper on this plan. Instead, Bethune-Cookman, which just crushed Savannah State 121-92, has advanced to the No. 2 seed in the conference.
Unfortunately, it looks like Hampton finally got serious about this season. The Pirates haven’t lost since February 5 and will be the prohibitive favorites.
We do this every year with William and Mary and Elon. William and Mary is pretty good! It is not as good as Northeastern or Charleston, even if the Tribe did smack down Charleston over the weekend. Elon has dropped five straight. They will both find a way to lose early.
Grand Canyon edged out Utah Valley in Phoenix on Saturday, meaning that for now, the ‘Lopes look slightly more likely to upset New Mexico State. Let’s not kid ourselves though, New Mexico State is going to be desperate to win this tournament, and I’d be stunned if the Aggies blow this.
That’s all we have. Grambling State should be on this list, given that they are 11-4 in the SWAC, but they are ineligible for the NCAA Tournament. It’s slim pickings out there.
(1) FGCU vs. (8) USC Upstate (ESPN3) - 7 p.m. EST [3% chance to win]
(2) Lipscomb vs. (7) Stetson (ESPN3) - 7 p.m. EST [Lipscomb 88%]
(3) Jacksonville vs. (6) Kennesaw State (ESPN3) 7 p.m EST [46% chance to win]
(4) NJIT vs. (5) North Florida - 7 p.m. EST [70% chance to win)
HELL YEAH, WE’RE GETTING THE NMTC STARTED IN A BIG WAY.
The first night of conference tournament play begins with the Atlantic Sun. All four matchups feature NMTC squads, including one NMTC-on-NMTC matchup with Lipscomb and the Stetson Hatters (G.O.A.T. NAME!). There’s not much to say about these matchups. FGCU is going to stomp USC Upstate, Lipscomb should ease by Stetson, and NJIT should beat a really bad North Florida team.
The only toss-up is Kennesaw State and Jacksonville. The A-Sun plays all conference tournament games as home games for the higher seed, so Kennesaw State will have to win on the road. KenPom gives them a decent shot and the Vegas line is also a pick ‘em (if you are betting on the Atlantic Sun tournament, please get help). Let’s build.
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
Bryant (missed NEC Tournament)
Grambling Tigers (Academically ineligible)
Sacred Heart (missed NEC Tournament)