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NMTC Update 3/11: A Mouthful of Bad

Disappointment comes in a variety of flavors every year, and sometimes you have to embrace it

Truly Teague

Scooper: Welcome to Basket-Sobbin’s, 31 flavors of pure sadness that will make you question why you even became an NMTC fan in the first place. What can I interest you in?

GL: Wow, some of these look brutal. “Late game turnover”, “miss four putback attempts”...

TJ: “Go down to the same teams eight years in a row”, also known as the “Summit Special”. That’s been a really popular one for a while now.

GL: “Lose on a bad call” — actually I think I had that one not long ago, in Kansas City actually. It was a doozy.

TJ: I bet.

GL: Tristan, you’ve been here many many times.

TJ: Don’t even get me started.

GL: You’ve gotta have a few recommendations.

TJ: Well, I am a big fan of “favored NMTC team loses at home”, which Bryant supplied on Wednesday. I have little doubt that the Bulldogs were more talented, but Mount St. Mary’s took an early lead and held off a late attempt at a Bulldogs comeback. It ended with Bryant having a chance to tie and committing a turnover.

There’s also “somehow upset your way to the conference final and get trucked”, which Elon managed to do. Despite being presented with its best chance to make the NCAA Tournament ever, Elon was overpowered by a Drexel team that had played just three games in the month of February due to a variety of COVID issues. There’s a good chance that this lack of play disguised the fact that Drexel probably is the best team in the conference, but Elon had already proven it could take down anyone in the CAA. But then its fortune ran out.

You seem keyed in on something.

GL: Yeah, but I don’t know. The depression calories have really stacked up the last couple of days.

TJ: Indeed.

GL: Screw it, give me the “Unnecessary comeback comes up just short.” And give me the Founding Father sprinkles.

TJ: Bold, think you can handle it?

GL: We’ll see I guess...how much is a pint?

Scooper: $19.39. Here ya go.

GL: *takes large bite, then deep breath, then another large bite*

TJ: So, how is it?

GL: *one more deep breath, soaking up the entire experience*

Imagine. You wrap up another unspectacular day of work and in a special treat, your game is actually on TV so you can avoid the dumb mid-round ACC game. The first thing you hear of course is the commentator breaking the shocking news that Army is one of only four Division 1 teams that has been eligible for every NCAA tournament and appeared in none. They talk about why this game might be different: the Black Knights entered Wednesday’s matchup in the rare circumstance of having a reasonable tournament path ahead. They were home to face ninth-seeded Loyola (MD) and its hilarious 5-10 record. Sure, the Greyhounds upset top seed Navy, but that can be chalked up to a hot shooting night, and their record indicates it’s likely to regress to the mean.

Of course, only after Loyola reveals its impeccable shooting stroke in swishing its first four long-distance threes do you hear the announcers discuss that this Loyola team had high expectations, but COVID, injuries and a small sample size have left them where they are. You go back and realize your cursory research is inadequate: of course Army would run into an absolute juggernaut and you should have been rooting for Navy instead. A few possessions later, you accept your fate as Loyola leaps in front by 17 points. It’s jumping every passing lane, shooting from three well, and have an absolute bucket in Santi Aldama to stem every run.

Down 15 at the half, you let yourself go. You check on other games, maybe even the rare check on life outside of basketball. Loyola is clearly the better team, Army hasn’t been in the game up to this point, and they probably won’t be and that’s fine. But they do the worst thing, claw their way back into the game. Not with a crazy run, with one of those “score three of five possessions while the opponent scores two of five” type runs. It doesn’t even feel right considering how hard it’s been for them to score at various points in the game.

It’s six, then four, and later, two points. Loyola turns it over. Army back-irons a mid-range floater to tie, Down at the other end with the clock running out, Aldama perfectly redirects into the hoop what seems at first like a high entry pass, and the lead is four. It was a nice try.

Wrong. Back comes Army. Lonnie Grayson, 1-7 from deep on the night, decides to airball a 30-footer by about five feet. Josh Caldwell is right there to catch it, lay it up and in with a foul. Perfect scenario. Loyola is an awful free throw shooting team. 15 seconds left. Hope.

Free throw clangs off the iron, and the ball is rebounded just off the low block. Army doesn’t foul Cameron Spencer immediately, and you think maybe they know their free throw percentages.

Spencer decides to throw a dangerous long pass, and you can’t exactly tell what’s happening. As the camera zooms out, you see Aldama chasing down the pass. And nobody near him.

He dunks it down. Game over, Loyola 67, Army 63.

Sigh. The drawing out of the “hope” feeling is the killer. You take a few bites and realize you could have just settled for “never was in the game” for fewer depression calories. But I needed to get the full experience this time around. I think we all do sometimes.

By the way, I never asked what you settled on?

TJ: Oh, I kept it light with “blown out in first tourney game.” Incarnate Word and Quinnipiac got blown out. Not even worth discussing.

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Nothing’s gone right since we last spoke. Bryant and Elon lost frustrating tournament finals to Mount St. Mary’s and Drexel. Bryant’s was particularly disappointing (as good as Damian Chong Qui was) in that they had expectations, but lost at home to an underdog tourney regular. Woof.

Incarnate Word, Sacramento State, and Quinnipiac lost before their runs got started. Disappointing, but not noteworthy.

And Army. 0 for 6.

Just like that, we are left with...*drum roll* SEVEN eligible teams still with a shot. Two, Hartford and UMass-Lowell square off in the America East final on Saturday, meaning there are five other teams with a chance to salvage what has turned out to be a year with much potential and little to show.

One of those teams is UC Riverside, who we’ve been hyping up all year. UC Irvine and UCSB (which I’ve been misspelled as USCB a thousand times this year and irks me to no end) lay on the horizon, but first they’ve gotta get through Hawaii. Hoping for good vibes.

Three of those teams play in the silliest tournament ever, a six-team ordeal in the WAC. Grand Canyon (who has looked a bit more mortal as of late) and Utah Valley get byes until Friday. After looking poor for most of the year, they won a bunch of games late and took the three-seed. A hot Aggie team is the kind of thing that gives us nightmares all summer. On Thursday they will probably take down UTRGV, who sat at the top of conference standings for a long while (at 2-0) but have faded in part due to the unfortunate passing of Lew Hill. Also Thursday, ineligible Cal Baptist takes on Seattle — who hasn’t been to the tournament since before they went down to D-2 and returned — in the 4-5 matchup. Hoping to scoop a second escapee from here, but at this point NMSU rebounding to take it home seems just right for this year.

Finally there’s Grambling in the SWAC. In our view they’ve been lurking under the radar a good bit for the last several years, but escape looks unlikely with Prairie View and Jackson State having dominated all year long, and tourney staple Texas Southern also in the mix.

We’ll see you when the damage is done.

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Upcoming Games:

Thursday, 3/11

7:30 PM — WAC Quarterfinal: (5) Seattle vs. (4) Cal Baptist*, ESPN+

9:30 PM — SWAC Quarterfinal: (5) Southern vs. (4) Grambling, ESPN3

11 PM — WAC Quarterfinal: (6) UTRGV vs. (3) New Mexico State, ESPN+

11 PM — Big West Quarterfinal: (6) Hawaii vs. (3) UC Riverside, ESPN3

Friday, 3/12

8 PM — WAC Semifinal: Seattle/CBU vs. (1) Grand Canyon, ESPN+

12 AM — WAC Semifinal: UTRGV/NMSU vs. (2) Utah Valley, ESPN+