In this bizarre and dysfunctional season, conference tournaments have started a bit early. That means it’s time for some early Never Made the Tournament Club updates, even as teams are still finishing up their regular seasons.
Across the country, several teams have decided to opt out of the remainder of the season altogether, and the status of each NCAA Tournament matchup will be in doubt until the games actually happen. However, we still have games happening, and the teams that have never made the NCAA Tournament are still going on their quests.
We know, we know. Don’t get too excited.
It was an ideal opening night in the long-shot conference. The No. 6 seed Youngstown State Penguins handled business as we expected they would. Then, in a bit of a surprise, the No. 10 seed Fort Wayne Mastodons rose from the dead (and extinction) with the help of a ridiculous buzzer-beating bank triple at the end of overtime to secure a double-OT victory against, ironically, the Green Bay Phoenix. (Get it?)
Still, the likelihood of either team emerging from this league is thin, with top-seeded Cleveland State and third-seeded Oakland hosting the ‘Dons and ‘Guins, respectively. Something to keep your eye on, though. These games will occur on March 2.
The Big South has already started and given the NMTC its first teams knocked out the old-fashioned way, rather than via withdrawal (i.e. Chicago State) or bullshit NCAA rules that require new NCAA teams to sit out of all postseason for four years (i.e. Bellarmine or Cal Baptist). Why they do this is still a mystery to everyone, but it probably has something to do with making sure kids don’t have a good time.
Anyway, Presbyterian is out despite a spirited fight against Hampton that came down to a Pirates game-winner in the final seconds. The Blue Hose are notorious for failing to make it out of this first round, and they have done it again. In the matchup between two not-very-good NMTC squads, USC Upstate and High Point, No. 8 seed High Point took the 65-60 win. Tubby Smith might finally be finding his footing at his alma mater, but let’s face it, this ain’t gonna be the year because they’ll get drilled by Winthrop on Monday night.
There’s also an OK Longwood team taking the floor on Monday against UNCA, but in years past they have often fallen in the “disappointment” category come tourney time. So we won’t discuss until they win a game. Longwood.
How about it! UMass Lowell started off as UMass LOL when it went down 16 early in the second half and just didn’t look in any way like it wanted a competitive game. Suddenly, the River Hawks became UMass Whoa!-ell, pulling a 29-6 run out of nowhere to take a seven-point lead. Just when it seemed Stony Brook was gassed, UMass NO!!-ell (just pretend we’re not trying too hard) helped them back into it with some cheap fouls, and found themselves in a two-point deficit in the last minute. But just as things looked bleak, UMass (Obadiah) Noel came to the rescue with his 23 points and game-winning layup to seal their first ever conference tournament victory. *Whew, gotta catch my breath after that one.*
They play fellow NMTC team New Hampshire, the No. 3 seed, on Sunday. If you’re looking for the best NMTC member possible to continue advancing, it’s probably better for New Hampshire to win (and more likely, given the bye and home game), but you can’t count out the River Hawks.
Meanwhile in the Hartford pod, the host Hawks disposed of Binghamton easily, as expected. NJIT then had a chance in the nightcap to make the dream scenario of two all-NMTC battles in the AEC on Sunday. Alas, Albany clobbered them from the get-go and their much-too-late comeback attempt came up well short. So that sets up Albany-Hartford on Sunday. It would be cool if Hartford won, especially since it was one of few NMTCers that had a reasonable shot of making it last year, reaching the finals before it was cancelled.
Not an overload of activity over the next few days. Enjoy the matchups, enjoy the glorious tracker (link above), and we will reassess on Wednesday!
Sunday, Feb. 28:
AEC Quarterfinals, (6) UMass-Lowell at (3) New Hampshire - 1 PM
AEC Quarterfinals, (5) Albany at (4) Hartford - 3 PM
Monday, Mach 1:
Big South Quarterfinals, (8) High Point at (1) Winthrop - 6 PM
Big South Quarterfinals, (5) Longwood at (4) UNC Asheville - 7 PM
Tuesday, March 2:
Horizon Quarterfinals, (10) Purdue Fort Wayne at (1) Cleveland State - 7 PM
Horizon Quarterfinals, (6) Youngstown State at (3) Oakland - 7:30 PM