Welcome back to the Never Made the Tournament Club, where we track the teams that have never made the NCAA Tournament.
There only one song fitting for what happened in the Never Made the Tournament Club last night.
For the sane people of the world who have never watched Hideaki Anno’s famous anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, this song comes at the end of the finale feature film entitled The End of Evangelion. The entire planet has been destroyed in Third Impact due to the success of Gendo’s Human Instrumentality—you know what, I’m not going to even try to explain the most depressing and complicated piece of animated television ever produced. What am I going to do is explain just how bad the NMTC was last night. Remember, this was supposed to be our banner night. There were six teams playing in primetime. This was Der Tag, The Day, Nuestro Día, what the whole article series had been waiting for.
Things were looking good around 7:45 p.m. Sacred Heart had battled back from an early deficit against LIU-Brooklyn. St. Francis (NY) was dominating Robert Morris and was about to take a 15-point lead into halftime. Big underdogs like Bryant and SIU-Edwardsville were keeping things competitive. Youngstown State was making a game of it against Oakland, and Detroit was even in position to take out Northern Kentucky, which would’ve been a nice bonus. Then it all returned to nothing and came tumbling down, tumbling down, tumbling down.
The song linked earlier is called “Komm Süsser Tod”, which translates to “Come Sweet Death” in German. Evangelion, like the Never Made the Tournament Club, is not a show of hope, but a show of defiance and agony in the face of Kafka-esque systems of power. Unlike the NMTC, Evangelion is also about Christianity, our relationship to technology, bad parenting, love and loss, postmodernist art, the nature of television—alright, alright I’ll stick with the first one. Although Sacred Heart basketball embodies many of these themes (including the Christian overtones), the Evangelion subplot it embodied most last night was total existential dread. The Pioneers hadn’t won a NEC Tournament game since March 5, 2009. They were the No. 3 seed and given a 69% chance of advancing. They were winning at halftime, winning with eight minutes left and within a possession at the under four timeout. They lost 71-62 after shooting 2-of-19 from three. Cool beans.
But that’s alright, because the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers were comfortably dispatching Robert Morris in Pittsburgh. The Terriers are the oldest collegiate basketball team in New York City and one of the Founding Fathers. They have been playing basketball since the McKinley administration, and were another solid bet to make it out of the NEC. They had a 96.2% chance of winning the game with under five minutes left. Then, everything started tumbling down. Robert Morris tied it, and St. Francis’ potential game-winning layup was blocked by Malik Petteway. The Terriers proceeded to eject in overtime.
Alright, next we have Youngstown State. No one really expected the Penguins to defeat Oakland. Having the No. 317 defense in the country just wasn’t going to work against Oakland’s No. 100 offense. But the Penguins tried...
As always, they tried very hard. In a bizarre 88-84 loss, the Penguins shot 46% from the floor and kept it close for the entire game. Unfortunately, Oakland shot FORTY-FIVE free throws to just 10 for Youngstown State. The Penguins lost, predictably. Of course, there’s somehow a relevant Evangelion angle:
You know what’s cooler than three single-digit NMTC losses? How about five single-digit NMTC losses. Bryant was the least likely team to win last night, but somehow kept St. Francis PA within reach for the entire game. It all came to nought. They lost 67-63. The other unlikely squad, SIU-Edwardsville, somehow had a 56-55 lead over Morehead State with 7:39 remaining. They lost 72-68.
Aside from being an entirely serious parody (trust me) of the mecha genre of Japanese anime, Evangelion is noted for repeatedly roasting typical “otaku” fans of television programs who never leave their homes. There is a scene in The End of Evangelion where director Hideaki Anno turned the camera back on the audience watching the film, replete with awkward shots of body pillows and cosplay. I can’t help but feel that last night was college basketball’s version of this, a jokingly earnest call for me to stop writing this column and enjoy my life.
But, like the “somewhat” hopeful ending of the series, hopeful in that Shinji stopped Gendo’s apocalyptic plan to reunite with Shinji’s dead mother, in some respect, which left at least two humans to rebuild the destroyed planet (which you could argue sets up the world of Gurren Lagann, another acclaimed Gainax project with vast themes of authoritarianism and individual freedom)...the NMTC provided me with some fleeting reason to keep watching. There isn’t a kickass theme song, but the UT-Martin Skyhawks saved everyone by defeating a very bad Eastern Illinois team 78-71. It was not pretty. Eastern Illinois plays the most annoying 2-3 Zone I’ve ever seen, but they succeeded with it as the Skyhawks’ Craig Randall shot 1-of-10 from three. Eventually, the 2-3 turned into a matchup zone, and then just pure chaos as players got tired. UT-Martin took advantage and sealed the game. Hooray! A win! If only that win came in a conference without three great teams that are better than all the rest! If only they had better than a 16% chance of beating Jacksonville State.
(7) Presbyterian vs. (2) Radford (ESPN3) - 12:00 p.m. [34%]
This game is going on as I write this! Go watch! Presbyterian could legitimately win this!
(5) High Point vs. (4) Gardner-Webb (ESPN3) - 8:00 p.m. [High Point 56%]
It seems like the Big South has a NMTC vs. NMTC game every year. High Point, coached by post-Memphis disaster Tubby Smith, is a slight favorite.
(5) NJIT at (1) Lipscomb (ESPN+) - 8:00 p.m. [11%]
The Highlanders have a very tough matchup against Lipscomb. No matter what happens, the winner must make sure Liberty loses, for Bill Walton’s sake.
(6) Army at (3) Lehigh - (Patriot League’s streaming service) - 7:00 p.m. [22%]
TROOPS BACK! Interestingly, Army is the worst school in the country in block percentage.
(7) UT-Martin vs. (3) Jackonsville State (ESPN+) - 9:30 p.m. [16%]
Sigh, I hope this works.
Housekeeping note: there are no NMTC games on Friday, which means I have conference tournament recap duty on Thursday before the column returns for a huge day on Saturday.
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)
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)