Welcome back to the Never Made the Tournament Club, where we cover every team that has never made the NCAA Tournament.
“Oh, so it’s not time to die yet?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, pressing Levin’s hand with emotion.
“N-n-no!” said Levin.
Anna Karenina, Part IV, Chapter 14
Joy is a mind-blowing emotion. I believe all people experience the central nodes of emotion a little differently. Everything you felt when Gardner-Webb made the NCAA Tournament for the first time is yours alone. For me, whenever a team makes the NCAA Tournament from this list, it’s like the scene from the novel Anna Karenina mentioned above (it occurs immediately after Levin and Kitty profess their love for each other with the chalkboard). It’s not time to die, or at least end this column, just yet. As long as the 43 remaining teams (plus the new entries coming down the pipeline) are still fighting, there is always the chance of obtaining the emotional high of watching Gardner-Webb celebrate.
Gardner-Webb was on the radar early. The Runnin’ Bulldogs were always going to be a factor in the Big South, especially after knocking off Georgia Tech and Wake Forest in non-conference play. A 2-4 start in conference play took them out of the running for a high seed, but this team, led by senior David Efianayi, endured and played three fantastic games in the Big South Tournament. The final against Radford wasn’t ever that close. Radford started the season well, but it’s clear the Highlanders tired down the stretch, losing three of their last six games.
Now, is this fair? Campbell and Radford were both better than Gardner-Webb in the regular season, and they will miss a huge chance to get on the national radar (sorry, Chris Clemons). That is the question that always shows up around this time, and while NMTC members often benefit from the conference tournament lottery, they have also been brutally undone by the process (St. Francis Brooklyn’s heartbreaking loss to Robert Morris in 2015 after winning the regular season title by three games, for example). It’s not fair, but it’s not changing while the NCAA continues to exist. The knockout system in college basketball is not designed to be fair anymore. It is designed to entertain.
Elsewhere, things were not very bright. On the same day of the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ greatest triumph, William and Mary lost a 14-point halftime lead to Delaware, meaning all four “Founding Fathers” who have missed the NCAA Tournament since its inception will miss out again. That’s 324 failed attempts to qualify. I have personally endured 16 of them, and it is not fun. Fort Wayne demolished South Dakota, setting up an all-important Mastodons/Mavericks matchup in the semifinals of the Summit League Tournament.
(6) Savannah State vs. (11) Delaware State - 7 p.m. [77%]
The only team more depressing than the Founding Four are the Savannah State Tigers, who are transitioning out of Division I at the end of this year. This could very well be Savannah State’s final Division I game ever. The last team to transfer out of Division I appears to be Winston-Salem State, also from the MEAC, who left after just three years in the NMTC due to financial reasons. It’s not unprecedented for teams to return to the fold, but it could be a long time before we see Savannah State again, if ever.
But Savannah State can keep it going if it takes care of business against Delaware State. For the uninformed, Savannah State plays at the fastest pace in the nation, takes the most threes of any team in college basketball, and has one of the first three-point percentages in the country. This creates extremely funny basketball. If you can watch, go watch.
(3) Fort Wayne vs. (2) Nebraska-Omaha - 9:30 p.m. (ESPN+) [63% UNO]
(8) Western Illinois vs. (4) North Dakota State - 7 p.m. (ESPN+) [28%]
I don’t have too many takes for these two games. Fort Wayne and Omaha are both good teams, and both have a solid chance of taking down North Dakota State in the final. Western Illinois could do everyone a huge favor by pulling off a second upset.
Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs
Coming back next year...
Cal Baptist (transitioning to D1)
Incarnate Word (will miss the Southland Tournament)
North Alabama (transitioning to D1)
St. Francis (NY)
Stetson (missed ASUN Tournament)
William and Mary
THE NEVER MADE THE TOURNAMENT CLUB CLASS OF 2019
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 (BACK AT IT)