Allow me to sum up some notable sports events of yesterday.
One college basketball team beat the same top fifteen opponent for the third time in one season, pushing themselves to the brink of the NCAA Tournament in a season that looked over months ago.
Two of the best tennis players in the world withdrew from two of the biggest events in their sport due to chronic injuries that could put an untimely and unfair end to their time atop the game.
The youngest player in one of the most elite fields you’ll see on the PGA Tour claimed the lead heading into the weekend, announcing himself as a new young star and displaying his potential to become the greatest Indian golfer ever.
A number of teams who have not once made the NCAA Tournament played exciting and thrilling games with their backs against the wall, the ultimate do or die situation.
And JR Smith threw some soup at a guy.
You know what story you heard the most about.
It is an ultimately fruitless endeavor to expect the media to care about what is really important or interesting, because that has never once been their prerogative. Their goal is to cover what is “Newsworthy.”
And what is Newsworthy is easily digestible, easily shareable, memeable, bits of bullshit, an art that has been perfected by the NBA.
The MAAC is not the NBA and definitively not “Newsworthy.” No one has ever looked at the MAAC and said, “Yes, I think this will play to a huge audience.” Yet last night, that’s assuredly where one of the best sports stories actually was. Canisius was supposed to make the MAAC Final. That did not happen. Things fall apart. The Golden Griffins did not hold.
Instead, our boys from Quinnipiac stunned No. 2 seed Canisius 72-69 in the MAAC Quarterfinals on Friday night, giving the NMTC its first shocking upset of March. Quinnipiac was playing like hot garbage at the end of the MAAC regular season, winning just one of its last eight games heading into the MAAC Tournament. They’d been swept by Canisius in the regular season and came into the game with an 18 percent chance of winning on KenPom, but as the old cliche goes, it’s hard to beat a team three times. Quinnipiac will now face the winner of Saturday’s Fairfield/Niagara game in the semis. What seemed like an impossible feat is now just two games away from occurring.
But no one really cares about the MAAC. Sports media has had its brain melted by Chartbeat. If you hit the perfect combination of SEO taglines in your column “9 Fan Fiction Stories About JR Smith And His Soup,” or you see 79,038 Facebook shares of James Harden stepping back posted with the caption “FAM, YOU CANNOT BELIEVE WHAT THE BEARD DID, DID YOU SEE THIS? WES J, FOHHHHH,” you’re going to start to believe that this is the content that’s worth prioritizing. Shoot, maybe some of your readers will start to believe it.
The stories track, they get shared, they rack up engagement, and we all continue to lose out on what actually makes sports interesting because we’re all chasing the next publishing fad. The NBA is perfectly crafted for this new age of new media. The NBA proliferates video freely, unlike the draconian NFL that keeps its content under lock and key. There are only a handful of players who make a real difference for their team, providing a small list of characters that the public can easily identify and remember. The players are encouraged to be open and accessible in a way that other leagues shy away from. All that mixed in a pot delivers consistently bite sized, consistently shareable “Newsworthy” content. And so it will remain stapled to the top of your news feeds over more interesting stories.
Speaking of interesting, VMI got beat like Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville—by some troops ostensibly from the same side. WE’RE TALKING CITADEL BABY! Somehow, this game hit the under and Citadel only scored 78. But VMI only scored 70, so we have nothing to worry about. The Citadel with defense could be an amazing thing, so we’ll have to see if this sticks around for the game against No. 1 seed UNC Greensboro.
AND PENGUINSZN IS BACK!
Uh, was back.
This game was eternally depressing. Youngstown State and Cleveland State went back and forth and were tied with less than two minutes remaining. I’m pretty sure NMTC teams are 0-547 in this scenario, so of course the Penguins missed a potential game-winning shot at the end of regulation. Better luck next year.
We missed this yesterday, but Longwood got dropped by Radford and is out of the Big South Tournament. This is surprising to no one, so we shall move on. Then its coach got fired. Yikes!
(7) UMass Lowell vs. (2) UMBC - 1 p.m. ESPN3 (20% chance of winning)
Look, UMass Lowell has turned into a real basketball team. The River Hawks started the season 6-12 overall and 0-5 in the America East, but they have turned it around to finish the year 6-10. So what if they’ve faced Binghamton and Maine twice each in that stretch? Who is counting? UMBC is playing its first America East Tournament game in its new arena, and there could be some nerves.
Those will probably be exorcised by the end of the first half. UMBC is gonna roll this one, unfortunately.
(3) Hartford vs. (6) New Hampshire - 4 p.m. ESPN3 (Hartford has a 74% chance of winning)
The two most miserable non-Maine/Binghamton teams in the America East are playing in the 3/6 game. Hartford is actually good this year. The Hawks became the first team to defeat Vermont in the regular season possibly ever. I would put them as second-favorite to win the America East (not saying much, but hey). New Hampshire has lost seven of its last eight and got drilled twice by Hartford this season. Technically, we win either way, but we really want Hartford to win this game so they can take on UMBC and Vermont for the title.
(8) Maine vs. (1) Vermont - 7 p.m. ESPN3 (7% chance of winning)
Maine has qualified for the America East Championship for the second time in five years, so that’s a big positive. Unfortunately, the Black Bears are playing Vermont. Maine’s real bad.
(8) Western Illinois vs. (1) DAUM - 7 p.m. (8% chance of winning)
(2) South Dakota vs. (7) Nebraska Omaha 9:30 p.m. (93% chance of winning for South Dakota)
I’m at a Sioux Falls, South Dakota gas station and Mike Daum is drinking diesel gasoline directly from the nozzle. He’s gonna score 47 tomorrow.
Pleeeeease do not screw this up Nebraska Omaha. We beg you. We need to see Daum vs. South Dakota in the Summit League Tournament Final. Has to happen. Needs to happen. WE NEED VENGEANCE!
(10) Elon vs. (7) Delaware - 6:30 p.m. CAA.tv (50% chance of winning)
Elon has been a complete tire fire of late, but at least the Phoenix didn’t blow a 34-point lead. The Phoenix started conference play 4-2 and proceeded to go 2-10 after that. However, one of those wins was at home against Delaware, so there’s hope. Elon has fallen from a start point of No. 106 in KenPom to a dismal No. 247, but that’s still two spots higher than Delaware. On a neutral site, this one is a toss-up. The game is free on CAA.tv, so you should tune in for the rising of Phoenix.
Teams returning for 2019
Grambling Tigers (Academically ineligible)
St. Francis (NY)