This update is starting with a snippet from late poet Mary Oliver:
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
She’s talking about the Sun, by the way. There’s plenty to be said about Mary Oliver, who likely never thought about teams that have never made the NCAA Tournament in her life. This is not the place for it. However, whatever your thoughts on poetry, I felt compelled to lead with some optimism, to inspire you, dear reader, to think about the things that keep you from ever-darkness. Although there has been plenty of decent news for the Never Made the Tournament Club in the last month, it has been in the wake of disaster. To keep you reading, I will hide the identity of the Next Great Hope until the end of the column. But for now, time for some baaaaaaaaaad college basketball.
After a strong 9-2 start, The Citadel, a member of the Founding Fathers, now sits at 9-9. The latest loss, a brutal 73-71 loss at Chattanooga where The Citadel shot 8-for-37 from three, puts them at 1-6 in conference. So much for #CITADELHYPE. Elon started the year ranked No. 216 on KenPom, but now comes in at 328th. That has gone up in recent days after the Phoenix went on the road and handed William and Mary a humiliating loss that drops the Tribe to 7-12. After the Tribe knocked off Drexel earlier this month to start 3-2, things were looking up, but they have not been the same since a triple overtime home loss to Hofstra.
Triple Overtime to Hofstra is the name of the fifth track on my indie rock record Mastodons Back, forthcoming from Mid-Major Madness Records. Yes, the Mastodons of Fort Wayne did the world a favor and blew out Mike Daum, NMTC Antichrist, with a comprehensive 104-88 win on Jan. 3. Sadly, things have gone south since then, with South Dakota State demolishing South Dakota and Denver. Fort Wayne lost 85-79 in overtime to Nebraska Omaha on Thursday night, which sets the second-placed Mavericks up well to lose to Mike Daum in the Summit League Tournament.
There’s more hopeful news coming from the WAC, where Grand Canyon shares the top of the conference with New Mexico State. However, GCU’s only conference loss was on a devastating buzzer beater from New Mexico State’s Johnny McCants.
If that hadn’t gone in, maybe the Lopes would be in the lead outright. Thankfully, the Lopes were bailed out by their NMTC brethren at Cal Baptist, which scored another milestone win in its debut year by knocking off New Mexico State in its first conference game. The Lancers are ineligible for the tournament, but helping out the other NMTC members in the conference is a good start. Stealing the No. 1 seed in the WAC Tournament would be huge for the Lopes, but they have their work cut out for them. Utah Valley has struggled of late. UT Rio Grande Valley and UMKC are far from contention. Incidentally, UMKC’s women’s team, which has also never made the NCAA Tournament, is 4-1 in conference and looks quite good.
Elsewhere, Savannah State’s bid to make the NCAA Tournament in its final year of eligibility is not going well. The Tigers are 4-14 and gave previously winless Coppin State its first victory of the season since our last update. Not good. Things look slightly better in the America East, where UMass Lowell has won four straight and has survived an 0-2 start. Hartford is also okay! At the bottom though, Maine and New Hampshire are among the worst teams in the nation. Not good, folks.
New Hampshire put together this beautiful win probability graph against Hartford:
Sources are telling me that’s not good.
In the entire history of my time with this column, the Presbyterian Blue Hose have been awful. This year has been different. Now the Blue Hose are only regular bad. The Blue Hose even challenged Radford, the obvious class of the Big South, losing 79-77 at Radford on Jan. 12. In fact, High Point and Gardner-Webb are also over .500, which has never happened this late in the season since this column was born. If only Longwood could join them and Radford could lose some games...
Welcome to the party Abilene Christian, which has backed up its strong non-conference season (12-3, wins at Pacific and Denver) with a 5-2 start in the Southland Conference. Abilene Christian is the highest-ranked Southland team in KenPom. However, in the poor Wildcats’ last showing, they allowed NMTC bugaboo Stephen F. Austin to reel off an 8-0 run in 26 seconds and blew a critical road game. Bad, bad, bad. That drops Abilene two games behind a strong Sam Houston State team that is undefeated in conference.
St. Francis Brooklyn lives! The Terriers have won three straight and are tied for second in the NEC. And finally, we come to our New Great Hope, the star in the world of darkness we’ve prescribed for ourselves. Welcome to the party, Sacred Heart! Sacred Heart has the highest KenPom rating of any NEC team right now at No. 227. The conference tournament should be a total lottery, but it’s good that we have two teams instead of one competing for a spot.
Sacred Heart failed to make the NEC Tournament last year, and started the season 4-9. But none of that matters now. The Pioneers are 4-2 in conference and just stomped Wagner 62-38. It’s all happening in Fairfield. Go Pioneers!