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Never Made the Tournament Club, 3/15: The Vortex is upon us

Conference tournaments can be exhausting.

NCAA Basketball: Utah Valley at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the Never Made the Tournament Club, where time lacks all meaning.

College basketball is the sport of the lotus-eaters. Conference tournament week is the perfect somatic experience, a never-ending vortex of basketball that slices through the productive aspects of life before ballooning into an all-consuming ocean of Jon Rothstein tweets and ESPN. In this week, the Never Made the Tournament Club takes a backseat due to sheer volume, which means you should read the rest of this article and increase my engagement time. That’s okay, Mid-Major Madness has you covered, even with Sacramento State takes.

Speaking of the Hornets, they lost to Montana yesterday. It was a good effort, but the Hornets could not overcome an early deficit despite a strong second half.

In the four NMTC WAC games, things got interesting. Chicago State pulled off a tremendous upset. The Cougars stunned New Mexico State and the world by being within single digits at half time. A methodical New Mexico State run in the second half ended any hopes of a truly miraculous outcome. I’m not going to tell you how much the Cougz lost by, it’s not worth knowing. Next up, UT-Rio Grande Valley put the hurt on Cal State Bakersfield, setting up a game against New Mexico State.

It’s worth discussing the Vaqueros, who are having their best season since they were renamed from Texas Pan American and I started writing this column. In fact, by Kenpom, this is the best Vaqueros/Broncos team since 2002 (vaquero means cowboy in Spanish, by the way). The Vaqueros in Year 3 under Lew Hill play a totally unique style of basketball. In short, the Vaqueros prioritize two-point shots and free throws, while playing quite fast. They are in the bottom ten of threes attempted. They get a nation-best 25 percent of their points from the free throw line despite shooting under 70 percent from the stripe. They are 57th in pace and second in the country in turnovers forced. This is a team entirely built around driving to the basket every single time and then getting steals. Alright then. The style worked against Bakersfield, as the Vaqueros shot 31 free throws and forced 21 turnovers. It has also held its own against New Mexico State in the past (losses were 63-61 and 88-79 this season, which is not bad).

Utah Valley tried very hard to lose to the UMKC Kangaroos. The Wolverines were down nine with 11 minutes to go, but stormed back to take down UMKC in painful fashion. This was NMTC on NMTC crime, but for the sake of getting teams out of the column, I can accept it. The Wolverines will play Grand Canyon in the next game after the Lopes eliminated Seattle 84-75.

Grambling State won on Wednesday, putting the Tigers in the SWAC semifinals. The same cannot be said for the Bethune-Cookman, the final MEAC team, which lost to Howard in ignominious fashion. UC-Riverside got shredded by UC Irvine, which is not surprising. Central Arkansas is also coming back next year after losing its first game.

Have fun with another day of getting sucked into an endless spiral of college basketball! I know I’ll be enjoying it!

Today’s Games

WAC

(4) UT-Rio Grande Valley vs. (1) New Mexico State - 9 p.m. on ESPN+ [21%]

(2) Utah Valley vs. (3) Grand Canyon - 11:30 p.m. on ESPN+ [50/50]

It’s all going down in the WAC tonight. First, the Vaqueros get a chance to rid us of the terrible bugaboo of New Mexico State. Then, Utah Valley and Grand Canyon square off to determine who plays in the WAC final. Utah Valley lost to Grand Canyon at this stage last year, and they have split the head-to-head in 2019. Watch out for the Wolverines’ Jake Toolson, who is shooting 47 percent from three this season.

Southland

(3) SE Louisiana vs. (2) Abilene Christian - 8:30 p.m. on ESPN+ [67%]

One of the best hopes for the NMTC tips off tonight against SE Louisiana. Abilene Christian is the best Southland team on Kenpom, and is second only to Sam Houston State in the conference standings. The Wildcats are matched up against SE Louisiana, which defeated Abilene Christian in Abilene convincingly early this year. But whatever, surely this won’t go poorly like it did for Omaha, right? Riiiiiiiiight.

SWAC

(4) Grambling vs. (1) Prairie View A&M - 3:30 p.m. on ESPN3 [39%]

Remember when Grambling won the regular season conference title in 2018 and was ineligible for the postseason? I certainly do. I’m still mad about that. Grambling does have a chance to avenge itself for good this week, but it will need to get through the best team in the conference first.

Coming back next year...

Army
Bethune-Cookman
Bryant
Cal Baptist (transitioning to D1)
Central Arkansas
Chicago State
The Citadel
Denver
Elon
High Point
Incarnate Word
Kennesaw State
Maine
New Hampshire
NJIT
North Alabama (transitioning to D1)
Presbyterian
Quinnipiac
Sacramento State
Sacred Heart
South Dakota
SIU-Edwardsville
St. Francis (NY)
Stetson
UC-Riverside
UMass Lowell
UMKC
UT-Martin
William and Mary
Youngstown State

THE NEVER MADE THE TOURNAMENT CLUB CLASS OF 2019

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