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Never Made the Tournament Club, 3/10: Disaster.

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It was a tough few days for the NMTC.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 08 CAA Championship - Elon v William and Mary Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This is one of those blog posts where Tristan rants about a philosophical concept he picked up from a TV show and then quotes a Russian novel...again.

After fouling out of William & Mary’s loss to Elon, Nathan Knight gingerly walked to the corner of the court. He refused to sit down on the bench, walking by his teammates with pride and bitterness. Instead of sitting, he crouched to the ground and stared into space, hands bent over his head, as Elon closed out the game.

I know we try to keep things light here at NMTC headquarters, but watching this scene play out in front of me in the creatively titled “Entertainment and Sports Arena” in Washington D.C. (can we get Vox to sponsor this place so we can call it the Mid-Major Madness Arena?) was truly abysmal. I mean, what jokes can you make about this.

Many of us have felt like Nathan Knight did on Sunday. The hollow, sinking feeling of catastrophic defeat is an inescapable force of the human psyche. Whether you are a six-year-old playing tee ball or a 78-year-old in your nightly bridge game, it can strike. After the season the Tribe had, watching such a scenario was sobering. It put things in perspective.

The Tribe will be back for yet another year of the NMTC. As the 2 seed, they were heavily favored going into their game against Elon, who had struggled for much of the season. This was William & Mary’s best team in years. Nathan Knight, CAA Player of the Year, was a senior and playing utterly dominant ball. They’d won five straight games coming into the tournament, most recently an 86-79 home win over Elon. The arena was packed with Tribe fans, eager to finally watch this team end the curse and escape this column forever.

While they were playing another team that hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament, it was clear that the weight of expectations was heavier for William & Mary. While Elon has spent the last 21 years trying to make the NCAA Tournament, William & Mary has been at it since 1939. Eighty-one years of expectation were hanging in the air. As the game wore on and Elon kept making shot after shot, it truly felt like the Tribe were cursed. I mean, this team really wasn’t going to make it out of the quarterfinal in a virtual home game against a team that was 70+ KenPom spots below them?

It was miserable, and everyone in the arena knew precisely how miserable it truly was. While these types of shocking losses happen all the time in every single sport, I can assure that it’s zero consolation to know that, at some other point in time, someone else has felt the pain you feel. That’s what happens during these moments of extreme emotions, whether that be pleasure or pain. These moments are the needles of The Hedgehog Dilemma (the philosophical concept that, like a group of hedgehogs huddling for warmth, humans seek close bonds and intimacy, but are forced to remain at a distance out of fear of poking each other), they are the thorny, difficult and hard-to-contain moments of bliss, fear, trauma, anguish, and disappointment that come into conflict with other hedgehogs’ moments of emotional intensity and collapse into an enormous mess. However, everyone agrees that these enormous messes make for great content, which is why people love March Madness, The Bachelor, and Charlotte Bronte.

Though people will always say that sports is just a game or that it doesn’t matter, everyone who’s ever tried to play a sport seriously knows that that’s BS. It’s the same dismissive, callous attitude toward the suffering of others that you can use for anything. Oh, it’s just a high school breakup, it doesn’t matter. Oh, it’s just one bad test, you’ll get over it. Don’t buy into it; minimizing what you feel is a slippery slope into total cynicism. Do you want to end up as a brain-dead, hopelessly Online 23-year-old who trades bitcoin and sends reply tweets to Chapo Traphouse all day? Doesn’t sound great! Watching Nathan Knight fail was heartbreaking, and you shouldn’t feel the need to excuse yourself for it. Watching all of these teams fail is painful. There’s no need to sugarcoat it.

As Dostoevsky writes in The Brothers Karamazov:

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”

Watching the other teams fail was also quite miserable. In what Garrett has coined “The Summit Plummet”, South Dakota, Fort Wayne, and Nebraska-Omaha all lost in a span of 24 hours on Sunday and Monday. It’s hard to really fathom what happened. The South Dakota Coyotes led by double-digits with 12 minutes to go. They were still in the lead late, then missed five shots in a row and lost by one. It was...the worst. Fort Wayne and Nebraska-Omaha just ran out of gas. Once again, the Summit League Curse will continue into 2021.

But wait, there’s more! Of course, the 13-20 Elon team that took down William & Mary promptly lost to Northeastern on Monday. They did not lead for the entire game. Yikes.

With that, the Never Made the Tournament Club increasingly looks headed for total failure. Unless Bethune-Cookman can make a real run in the MEAC Tournament, there is not much we can expect. The five teams in the WAC must go through New Mexico State. Quinnipiac and Grambling will both need to play the 1 seeds in their respective conferences.

However, the NMTC has not been shutout in the four years I’ve written this column, and I’m not ready to give up just yet. So, onto Week 2!

The games we’re looking at tomorrow are a mixed bag. 5-26 Maryland Eastern Shore is taking on 5-25 Delaware State in the first round of the MEAC Tournament. In the much more important game, Hartford must take down Stony Brook if they want any shot at Vermont in the final (assuming UMBC doesn’t do UMBC things). The Hawks match up well against Stony Brook, having beaten them twice in the regular season. The line is Stony Brook –7.5, but it’s easy to see how Hartford can win this game. A good night from Malik Ellison, who scored 29 points in their last meeting, would go a long way.

We also have Grambling on the road against Texas Southern in the opening round of the SWAC Tournament. The Tigers are four-point underdogs, but they are neck-and-neck according to the rating systems. They could easily snag a win and earn the right to potentially take on 1 seed Prairie View A&M.

On Wednesday, we have Sacramento State playing in the Big Sky Tournament. I must confess to knowing absolutely nothing about the Big Sky Conference—there was once a Slack conversation in the MMM channel (‘tis a silly place) where we determined that the Big Sky was the most overlooked/anonymous of all the mid-major conferences, even by us experts.

Tuesday (all times ET)

(9) Maryland Eastern Shore vs. (8) Delaware State 6 p.m.
(3) Hartford vs. (2) Stony Brook 7 p.m.
(5) Grambling State vs. (4) Texas Southern

Wednesday (all times ET)

(9) Sacramento State vs. (8) Weber State 11:30 a.m.

NMTC record, conf. tourney games: 8-22

NMTC record, conf. tourney games against non-NMTC opponents: 4-18

Still Alive: 12 teams

America East: (3) Hartford Hawks

Big Sky: (9) Sacramento State Hornets

Big West: (6) UC Riverside Highlanders

MAAC: (5) Quinnipiac Bobcats

MEAC: (4) Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, (9) Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks

SWAC: (5) Grambling State Tigers

WAC: (8) Chicago State Cougars, (4) Grand Canyon Antelopes, (2) Texas Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros, (6) Utah Valley Wolverines, (5) UMKC Kangaroos

NMTC Class of ‘20-21

Army (out in Patriot League QF)
Bryant (out in NEC QF)
Cal Baptist (ineligible)
Central Arkansas (missed Southland tourney)
The Citadel (out in SoCon 1st Rd)
Denver (out in Summit QF)
Elon (out in CAA SF)
Fort Wayne (out in Summit SF)
High Point (out in Big South 1st Rd)
Incarnate Word (missed Southland tourney)
Kennesaw State (missed ASUN tourney)
Longwood (out in Big South QF)
Maine (out in Am. East QF)
Merrimack (ineligible)
Nebraska-Omaha (out in Summit QF)
New Hampshire (out in Am. East QF)
NJIT (out in ASUN QF)
North Alabama (ineligible; out in ASUN QF)
Presbyterian (out in Big South 1st Rd)
Sacred Heart (out in NEC SF)
SIU-Edwardsville (missed OVC tourney)
South Dakota (out in Summit QF)
Stetson (out in ASUN SF)
St. Francis Brooklyn (out in NEC QF)
UMass-Lowell (out in Am. East QF)
USC Upstate (out in Big South QF)
UT-Martin (missed OVC Tournament)
William & Mary (out in CAA QF)