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Never Made the Tournament Club, 3/10: HOPE SPRINGS FROM LEATHERNECKS

One of the biggest upsets in NMTC history took place last night.

Binghamton v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It’s the Never Made the Tournament Club. Rodger Sherman started it. Tristan Jung is continuing it. Let’s get right to it.


I will be the first to admit I lost hope. It is so easy to lose hope in everything, at all times of the day, at any point in the year. I didn’t give anyone in the Summit League a chance of overthrowing Mike Daum and South Dakota State, least of all the Western Illinois Leathernecks, who were 206 spots lower than the Jackrabbits in Kenpom coming into the game. The previous two meetings between these teams ended 100-53 and 86-66. I stand by my assessment. From every standpoint, it would’ve been insane to even hope this game would be competitive.

South Dakota State won nine consecutive games in the Summit League Tournament. Six of those wins came against NMTC members. In 2017, despite going 8-8 in the Summit League, he knocked out three NMTC teams and slid into the NCAA Tournament. Since I started writing this column, I have never seen Mike Daum lose. It’s fair to say that he’s living rent free in my head (unlike the many online trolls who claim to live rent-free in my head and yours but are merely being barred from the premises). But he’s gone now. It’s over. The freakin’ Western Illinois Leathernecks, the team that went 4-12 in conference, finally did it. With any luck, it will pave the way for Fort Wayne, Nebraska Omaha or South Dakota to finally escape from this column.

Western Illinois broke every single rule en route to the victory. The only thing the Leathernecks did “right” in the game was to get out to a big early lead (I think this is backed up by the fact that Western Illinois only rose eight spots in Kenpom despite beating a top 100 team). That first half was absolutely phenomenal, and then they spent the rest of the game trying to eject in every imaginable way. They shot 14-of-25 from the line. They got into huge foul trouble early in the second half. They shot worse than their 26th best three-point shooting percentage. Western Illinois had five players score in double figures, but no one got particularly hot from the floor a la Steph Curry at Davidson. They missed free throws and committed a horrific turnover with less than a minute left. They nearly threw it away once more, but were saved by review. Then, they almost gave up a game-tying three anyway.

It was, in essence, a real “game from hell” for South Dakota State. For Daum, this is a devastating loss, and you can see it on his face as he walked off the floor. I thought I’d be happy to finally be rid of this bugaboo, but I am a little wistful. Mike Daum was the perfect NMTC villain, and he was necessary. No, not in the inherently flawed and idiotic way comic book writers argue society and superheroes “need” villains—if there’s anything the human history has taught me, that level of psychotic villainy needs to disappear as soon as possible. Mike Daum was necessary because he could inspire a sense of desperation. He was the greatest Summit League player of all time. It’s actually a little sad for college basketball that Daum never got the moment he deserved, the signature upset over a power conference team that would’ve have brought him widespread acclaim (and surely raised his draft stock).

Hahahahaha, just kidding, this rules! Enjoy the NIT, Mike! Haaahhaaahaaahahahaahahaha go Mavericks!

In his final appearance in this column, Daum was downright pedestrian. In 39 minutes, he took just 10 shots, two shots fewer than he had in 29 minutes against Western Illinois a week ago. Instead, it was David Jenkins who launched 23 shots and led the South Dakota State fightback.

This column will not be the same without him. But it simply had to end this way. Dynasties like this must end in total implosion. For soccer fans, Real Madrid in the Champions League and Germany in last year’s World Cup suffered similar stunning blows. From an emotional perspective, there is no real language to describe what this feels like. It’s a different feeling because there is no rational way to justify feeling this emotionally invested in the history of the Summit League or the NMTC in general. To have cared about something so pointless, so utterly detrimental to your time and emotional health, only to finally, at the bitter end, emerge victorious, is special, and not in a particularly good way. The NMTC won. It overcame what could not be overcome. It made no sense and wasn’t worth the effort. But it happened, and I can at least be grateful for that. At least I can sleep knowing the Summit League Shiva is now a peasant like the rest of us.

That was not even the only major upset of the night. In Stony Brook, Binghamton toppled the No. 2 seed in the America East. (Update: it appears they are not in the club, but it certainly feels like they are this year, so who cares?) Binghamton got blown out by Stony Brook and most other teams in the regular season. The Bearcats were even lower in Kenpom than Western Illinois, slotting in at a cool 332nd heading into the day. This was not like the Leathernecks’ win—Stony Brook got outplayed by Binghamton! Binghamton! They let freshman Sam Sessoms (tonight’s player of the night) score 26 on them. Stony Brook, a team with a proud defensive identity, got torched by a team with the No. 316 offense in the country. Oh, and Binghamton only shot 12-of-21 from the line and had fewer free throws than the Seawolves. Unreal.

Hartford and Nebraska Omaha took care of business. There is now going to be a guaranteed NMTC representative in the Summit League Championship Game, and Omaha stands a real shot of winning. The only potential roadblock is the winner of Oral Roberts vs. North Dakota St. tomorrow night.

Elsewhere, things did not go well. Quinnipiac and Cameron Young lost to Monmouth. Since picking MAAC Tournament games is like throwing darts blindfolded, this was not surprising. The 98-92 victory margin was the largest of any MAAC Tournament game this season. However, given that Quinnipiac had such a good regular season and nearly won the conference, a first-round loss to Monmouth stings. Young scored 33 and unheralded sophomore Jacob Rigoni piled on 30, but it was not enough. Quinnipiac was one of the few NMTC teams with a high seed in the conference tournament, and they couldn’t win one game.

Elon lost to UNC-Asheville and Maine lost to Vermont. Sigh. See you next year, Phoenix and Black Bears.

Today’s Games

Big South Championship Game

(4) Gardner Webb vs. (2) Radford - 1 p.m. EST (ESPN) [22%]

This will be the first shot an NMTC has to escape since South Dakota got wrecked by South Dakota State last year. Gardner Webb is a significant underdog, but there’s no question the Runnin’ Bulldogs are runnin’ hot in March. I think this game is a coin flip, but the NMTC has lost many coin flips before.


(4) William and Mary vs. (5) Delaware - 2:30 p.m. [61%]

The last Founding Father standing opens its campaign against Delaware. Can the Tribe win their sixth-straight game?


(3) Fort Wayne vs. (6) South Dakota - [South Dakota 54%

Fort Wayne’s John Konchar will be the best player on the floor, but the Coyotes are always a tough out.

Coming back next year...

Cal Baptist (transitioning to D1)
The Citadel
High Point
Incarnate Word (will miss the Southland Tournament)
Kennesaw State
New Hampshire
North Alabama (transitioning to D1)
Sacred Heart
St. Francis (NY)
Stetson (missed ASUN Tournament)
UMass Lowell
Youngstown State


America East: Hartford Hawks, Maine Black Bears, New Hampshire Wildcats, UMass Lowell River Hawks

Atlantic Sun: Kennesaw State Owls, North Alabama Lions (NEW MEMBER!!), NJIT Highlanders, Stetson Hatters (GOAT NAME)

Big Sky: Sacramento State Hornets

Big South: Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs, High Point Panthers, Longwood Lancers, Presbyterian Blue Hose, South Carolina Upstate Spartans,

Big West: UC Riverside Highlanders

CAA: William & Mary Tribe, Elon Phoenix

Horizon League: Youngstown State Penguins

MAAC: Quinnipiac Bobcats

MEAC: Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, Savannah State Tigers, Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks

Northeast Conference: Bryant Bulldogs, St. Francis (NY) Terriers, Sacred Heart Pioneers

Ohio Valley Conference: SIU-Edwardsville Cougars, Tennessee-Martin SkyHawks

Patriot League: Army Black Knights

SoCon: The Citadel Bulldogs

Southland Conference: Abilene Christian Wildcats, Central Arkansas Bears, Incarnate Word Cardinals

SWAC: Grambling Tigers (BACK AT IT)

Summit: Denver Pioneers, IPFW Mastodons, Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, South Dakota Coyotes, Western Illinois Leathernecks

WAC: California Baptist Lancers (NEW MEMBER!!) Chicago State Cougars, Grand Canyon Antelopes, Texas Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros, Utah Valley Wolverines, UMKC Kangaroos