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This is...the Never Made the Tournament Club

2020 robbed us of

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Texas A&M vs Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Disclaimer: No, we have no idea why society has placed the lives of college athletes at the bottom and our mindless entertainment near the top. We’re trying to get by anyway.

Tristan: Solipsism is making a big comeback. The concept that the self is all that exists is very compelling these days when faced with a disintegrating planet. When I was younger, I thought solipsism was an elitist fantasy, a concept embraced by only selfish people that can afford to wrap themselves in a bubble and never leave. The last year has convinced me that there is an alternative explanation: solipsism as a coping mechanism. Perhaps the ancient philosophers, living in a violent and chaotic world where political instability and death loomed constantly, found it more comforting to indulge in the concept that one’s own mind is all that exists.

Garrett: I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t know what solipsism meant until now. But that’s a principle I have pondered before. Does that make me an elitist? What if life is just one giant simulation?

T: It could be.

G: ...but I think you’d better relate this to college basketball before our viewers get bored.

T: How does this relate to college basketball? Well, there’s no better sport to save you from the curse of solipsism than college basketball, even during a global pandemic. With the dismal lack of a coherent federal response, the United States has been the epicenter of COVID-19 spread and deaths, so now’s the perfect time to start a nationwide basketball season involving thousands of unpaid athletes (not to mention all the staff). To avoid this reality, let’s talk about the Never Made the Tournament Club.

Earlier in 2020, no teams escaped the mighty grasp of the NMTC because the tournament never happened. However, even before the cancellation, there was no way that any of the teams were going to make it. The best KenPom rating of any team in the NMTC last year was (drumroll) William and Mary at 195. They crashed out of the conference tournament (in a game I attended, sadly) so we don’t even have “they could’ve made it if things hadn’t been canceled” to fall back on. What a bummer.

G: Certainly a bummer, but it could’ve been worse. Imagine if William and Mary qualified or nearly qualified, only to have Rudy Gobert appear to tear it down single-handedly with the touch of a microphone. Every single person on Earth would feel rippling through their body the crushing pain that Nathan Knight felt walking off the court and would need to resist the urge to form a super-spreading angry mob to Gobert’s residence. And by everyone, I probably just mean myself, since I’m the only person that exists, right?

T: The real Game of Thrones...is politics. Anyway, by now, longtime readers will know the drill, but it’s all very simple. There are 46 men’s basketball teams that have never made the NCAA Tournament. Each year, we chronicle their attempts to escape the Never Made the Tournament Club. This year, I’d like to start things off by welcoming four new members of the NMTC: Bellarmine (ASUN), Dixie State - which is in…*checks notes*...Utah? What? (WAC), Tarleton State (WAC), and the University of California San Diego (Big West, also these are the UCSD Tritons, not the USD Toreros. Stay confusing, San Diego.) I’m sure this isn’t the debut season in Division I that they were expecting, but it’s always interesting to see fresh blood.

As long as college basketball keeps expanding (well, it was once a given, but events might end up bursting the college athletics bubble before long), there will always be new teams. However, because of a really stupid NCAA rule, none of these teams are eligible to make the tournament this year. Neither are Cal Baptist, North Alabama, and Merrimack. That being said, the Tritons are legitimately decent and will have some good games in the Big West.

G: And it sucks for those last three teams you just mentioned, especially Cal Baptist and Merrimack, because believe it or not they probably would have been high on the list of legitimate contenders to escape. (More on that list in a minute.) Cal Baptist, at 10-6, finished second in the WAC in just their second D-1 season and handed WAC tyrants New Mexico State their only league loss over their last two seasons. Merrimack, in its very first season and despite being picked dead last by media, freaking won (!!) the NEC regular-season title. Both have to go through a full 4-year transition before becoming eligible. It seems counterintuitive that a team going from an easier division to a tougher one is held out of postseason play, but I’m sure the uber-logical NCAA has its reasons, right? Yup, life is just a simulation. Any insights on teams that can actually make the tournament?

T: Glad you asked. Let’s talk about the Founding Fathers. There are four teams from the first selection process for the NCAA Tournament that have never made the Big Dance. They are Army, St. Francis (NY), The Citadel, and William and Mary. I have been burned by these four teams so many times. I’m convinced that William and Mary is actually trapped in one of those memory loops from Memento and will keep losing in the same fashion until the universe disintegrates. Anyway, any good teams this year, Garrett?

G: Ah, you have tasked me with bringing hope in a year largely devoid of it. I will try by saying that most mainstream media confirms there is something called 2021 that will magically appear in a few weeks’ time. With it, some say there may be a vaccine. And maybe, if we are lucky, we’ll see a few teams exit the simul—er, NMTC club. Now I’m no Nate Silver but I see hope with the following programs, which probably means we’ll be miserably wrong:

Stetson: The Hatters are finally trying to put a GOAT game to their GOAT name. Last year they finished with a winning league record despite being picked to finish last. Notably, they went into (yours truly’s alma mater) South Carolina and handled them a game after the Gamecocks beat defending champs UVA. (Transitive champs?) Despite hitting a rough patch at the end of the year, things have to be looking up their top three scorers and rebounders return, and their top two (Rob Perry and Mahamado Diawara) were freshmen last year! The bad news is Stetson has already paused all activities due to COVID concerns.

Bryant: Something tells us the NEC is going to be wide open. That something is the fact that D-1 newcomer Merrimack won the league outright. The NEC has never been the toughest mid-major conference, and Robert Morris — last year’s de-facto champion and one of few with regular success — left for the Horizon. Keep your eyes on all NEC Club members, but especially Bryant, who improved greatly between year one and two with longtime Iona assistant Jared Grasso at the helm. Like Stetson, they return a pair of productive freshmen in Michael Green and Charles Pride, and the league coaches seem to believe Bryant is a real threat. Good enough to make our watch list.

OMA-HA! and South Dakota: Unfortunately I am obligated to talk about the Summit League due to its being the only conference with a majority of its eligible members (five of nine) in the Club. In all likelihood, we are going to live through another year of the dreaded Summit Curse - tournament mainstay South Dakota State, for instance, seems poised to return, having won a share of the title last year and returning 2020 Summit POY Douglas Wilson. Even in years where an NMTC member appears like the team to beat, they...well, get beat, every time.

But for those with a craving for optimism, Omaha has been close in recent years and returns Matt Pile, reigning DPOY and the only Summit League player to average a double-double last year. South Dakota loses Tyler Hagedorn but keeps many pieces that took them to a third-place finish last year. If we’re being totally honest, regular season be damned because the conference tournament follows its own karma anyway. Hoping these teams have enough of it come March.

Grand Canyon: While the Summit may have an oligarchy of sorts at the top, the WAC has an unquestioned ruler: New Mexico State. Since the conference realigned in 2013, NMSU has lost a combined 12 league games in seven seasons, unsurprisingly grabbing five bids and finishing undefeated last year before the season was canceled. But things are sure to get WACky this season. GCU has long lurked in the tier just below the top, never quite getting over the hump. Yet one of the only other serious challengers, Cal State Bakersfield, jumped ship to the Big West. New Mexico State had to depart its own state to continue the season. Oh, and GCU hired Bryce Drew during the offseason, so we’ll see how that goes. The conference of nine has three ineligible members and Chicago State, so GCU figures to be right there. The question is, is it enough to beat their new neighbors, the New Mexico Phoenix State Aggies? We shall see.

THE NEVER MADE THE TOURNAMENT CLUB CLASS OF 2020-21

2020-21 NMTC

School Mascot Conference 2020 Reg. Season Finish
School Mascot Conference 2020 Reg. Season Finish
Stetson Hatters A-Sun 3-T
North Alabama* Lions A-Sun 5
Kennesaw State Owls A-Sun 9
Bellarmine* Knights A-Sun New!
Hartford Hawks AEC 3
New Hampshire Wildcats AEC 4-T
UMass-Lowell River Hawks AEC 6-T
Maine Black Bears AEC 8
NJIT Highlanders AEC 8 (A-Sun)
Sacramento State Hornets Big Sky 8-T
Longwood Lancers Big South 4
Presbyterian Blue Hose Big South 7-T
South Carolina Upstate Spartans Big South 7-T
High Point Panthers Big South 10-T
UC-Riverside Highlanders Big West 6
UC-San Diego* Tritons Big West New!
William & Mary Tribe CAA 2
Elon Phoenix CAA 7
Youngstown State Penguins Horizon 4-T
Fort Wayne Mastodons Horizon 7 (Summit)
Quinnipiac Bobcats MAAC 5
Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks MEAC 9-T
Merrimack* Warriors NEC 1
Sacred Heart Pioneers NEC 4
Bryant Bulldogs NEC 7-T
St. Francis (NY) Terriers NEC 7-T
SIU-Edwardsville Cougars OVC 10-T
Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks OVC 10-T
Army Black Knights Patriot 4-T
Citadel Bulldogs Southern 10
Central Arkansas Bears Southland 9
Incarnate Word Cardinals Southland 10
South Dakota Coyotes Summit 3
Kansas City Roos Summit 4 (WAC)
Omaha Mavericks Summit 4-T
Denver Pioneers Summit 8
Western Illinois Leathernecks Summit 9
Grambling Tigers SWAC 4-T
California Baptist* Lancers WAC 2
Texas-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros WAC 3
Grand Canyon Antelopes WAC 5
Utah Valley Wolverines WAC 8
Chicago State Cougars WAC 9
Dixie State* Red Storm WAC New!
Tarleton State* Texans WAC New!
*ineligible (re-classifying)