Garrett: Change is bad.
It’s melting our icecaps and lighting California on fire. It’s taking up space in your pockets and slithering through the crevices of your couch cushions in the form of pennies and nickels, gathering only the grossest and stickiest of food crumbs on its journey.
And it’s threatening to RUIN the climactic format of our favorite sport. (And, for some, our favorite form of social media. Thanks a lot, Felon Musk.)
Lance: Change is bad, Garrett!
Soon enough, Twitter will be dead. We will all have our own substack newsletters and Ron Jothstein’s only outlet for his nonsense will be Cameos filmed from mediocre Italian restaurants in New York.
The epitome of brutality.
Lance: But in the spirit of being a hypocrite like my dad taught me, change is also good for NMTC. Like, you know, me being here out of nowhere. So, hiya, I’m Lance Hartzler, editor at Mid-Major Madness dot com who has lurked in the background the past three years.
I used to work for some newspapers in Big Sky country (Flagstaff & Missoula for those keeping count) but I left the not-dying medium and now get to write silly things for this once-silly blog (we will rectify that, don’t you worry) again.
As all coaches like to say at introductory press conferences when everything is positive and expectations are relaxed: “I’m just happy to be here.”
Garrett: We’re happy to have you. Sorry to say, this will be the most optimistic you will ever be covering this column.
Tristan: To be clear, we’re mad at change because of a select few college sports reasons. Rumored NCAA Tournament expansion, the destruction of long-time conferences due to football money, and a gradual paywalling of so much content. We’re especially annoyed since all of these changes marginalize the teams we cover here at Mid-Major Madness and the NMTC, so I deserve to be mad at the people on my lawn.
From a historical and philosophical perspective, I believe change to be a necessary and inevitable force of human nature. But not all changes are good, nor are all changes bad. Toying with the best television product of the entire year is most definitely bad.
Garrett: SEC and B1G superconferences? Talks of an expanded NCAA tournament – but also talk of fewer or even NO MID-MAJOR AUTOBIDS?
"Don't be surprised when there's a push from Greg Sankey and some of the big boys to not include the single bid leagues."— The Field of 68 (@TheFieldOf68) July 11, 2022
Here is @GoodmanHoops on a potentially DRASTIC change to the NCAA tournament.
POWERED by @BetRivers pic.twitter.com/XxkTNfH9zM
This is beginning to take on the tone of some of the fear-mongering political ads that are infecting your media consumption. (In that spirit, write to your local NCAA official. Tell them we can’t have Emmert ignore the common fan any more.)
Anyway, with conference imbalance virtually upon us and the dark cloud of tournament destruction off in the distance (and…whatever the hell is happening on Twitter continues happening), the NMTC season begins anew. Longwood and Bryant put together impressive campaigns last year to break free of the tight grips of the Club. In their place come five (!!!) new Division I members – Southern Indiana, Lindenwood, Stonehill, Texas A&M-Commerce and Queens University of Charlotte – to bring this year’s NMTC pool to 48 teams (11 of which aren’t yet eligible due to the NCAA’s BIG DUMB four-year reclassification rule, a bit more on that in a minute).
Four of the 48 teams – St. Francis Brooklyn, Army, The Citadel, and William & Mary – have been eligible for every NCAA tournament since the tournament’s inception in 1939 but have yet to make an appearance; these misery-bringers are well known to our avid readers as the Founding Fathers.
Alright, scene is set: so what’s up with the Club this year?
Teams to watch
Lance: Did you ever hear the travesty of Bellarmine the Great?
Tales tell of a team so powerful, but so new and unknown to the grander NCAA Order, that their powers were deemed dark and unnatural. In just two years into their time within the ASUN they overcame remnants of the old guard Dunk City, L*****y and Duval U. But the NCAA deemed Bellarmine unworthy of a seat at the NCAA Tournament.
Bellarmine, picked in the middle of the pack in the preseason ASUN polls. could be (I think, don’t fact check me) one of the first teams to ever win back-to-back conference tournaments and while still ineligible to make the Big Dance.
It’s dumb-ass rule, NCAA. Don’t expand the tournament (unless it is to 69; shouts to the BlogFather Russ Steinberg), just allow fun teams to make it.
Of the 37 NTMC teams eligible to make the tourney, data daddy KenPom’s preseason top five is Utah Valley (128), Cal Baptist (148), South Dakota (164), UC Riverside (203) and Youngstown State (213). I’m not sold on Utah Valley after losing Fardaws Aimaq to Texas Tech and having to survive WACtion, but that group is going to be fun to keep an eye on even if they all play in some strong leagues.
Garrett: I want to reiterate that change is bad, unless it’s positively affecting me. Haven’t heard that one before? Go to a Republican National Convention or something.
But in the world of NMTC basketball, all of the conference movement is doing one good thing: moving some of the no-fun-bad-guys up to stronger conferences, who replaced teams that had moved up from there and so on.
Perhaps most notably this season, Murray State and Belmont moved out of the OVC. The Racers and Bruins had dominated league play to the point where those two being on the fringes of at-large discussion became a bit familiar. The rest of the league, meanwhile, never sniffed it (imagine SIUE being in an at-large conversation! Apocalypse senses activated!)
That’s why despite having an abysmal couple years in a row, UT Martin might be somewhat of a Dark Horse candidate. They sport the conference preseason player in KJ Simon, an absolute stat-sheet stuffer at only 6-foot-3, and another experienced guard in Parker Stewart. They might not immediately summit the “new OVC hierarchy” (Morehead State will likely be the class of the conference in the foreseeable future) but there’s no reason they couldn’t sneak in there and grab a bid or two moving forward. Perhaps the same could be said for SIUE, but more patience is likely needed there. Curiously, the second-highest KenPom rated OVC team behind Morehead is Southern Indiana, new to Division I this year.
Next year will bring more action across this front. L*****y, the *barf again* default favorite of the ASUN for the last few years, and Jacksonville State, which has emerged as a somewhat competent adversary, will depart for Conference USA. This naturally gives a greater opportunity to the likes of North Alabama, Central Arkansas, Bellarmine, newcomer Queens and *gasp* longtime sufferer Stetson – but seeing that the most qualified of that group is the aforementioned still-ineligible Bellarmine, we won’t hold our breath too much here. (Interestingly enough, Kennesaw State will be joining the other two in C-USA, which makes some sense overall given its increasing stature as a university on the whole, but poses an interesting challenge to men’s basketball which recently has been, in a word, bad.)
A few more teams to keep your eye on.
- College basketball casuals and Ron Jothsteins alike probably mix up the NEC, MAAC, and AEC teams from time to time, so naturally I’ll make this section a bit more confusing for everyone ;)
- Some people are high on UMass Lowell out of the NEC*, but seeing as that league is patrolled by Vermont, not so confident.
- Quinnipiac of the AEC** might have a slightly better shot at escaping. Last year, they technically finished last in a league that had its bottom eight teams separated by like half a game, but had Saint Peter’s on the ropes in the tourney semifinals, and they can really shoot it. Tough to bet against Pitino’s Top Dollar recruiting at Iona, but if they lose, maybe a hot shooting team can get there.
- Finally, if there’s a year for MAAC*** league, this is it. Bryant, a program with a lot of steam and escapees last year, promptly departed to the NEC* conference. Wagner, second place last year, lost its coach. Mount St. Mary’s, perennial middle-of-the-pack finisher that steals bids from worthy Club members, also left the league. The preseason favorite is Merrimack – who’s ineligible! ANGER! – but right behind them is an experienced Sacred Heart team, and dare I say, Saint Francis Brook–nope. I’ll stick with just SHU as a team to watch.
- Notes: NEC* = AEC, AEC** = MAAC, MAAC*** = NEC
- The Horizon tournament has often been a killer for morale in recent years, but this year there may be reason for hope. Purdue Fort Wayne was tied for the top spot with Northern Kentucky in the preseason media poll. Is this the year the ‘Dons survive? Youngstown State and PENGUINSZN might not be too far off.
- And lastly, have to mention USC Upstate: picked to finish dead last a year ago, they hovered near the top of the league all year and nearly snuck their way into the tournament. Picked 8th of 10 this year, there’s no reason Dave Dickerson can’t get it going again.
Teams that will finish with best metrics
Lance: All-in on Cal Baptist being insanely good but not making the tournament because the WAC is ruled by New Mexico State and forever-runner-up-until-the-Aggies-leave Grand Canyon. Full disclosure, I live in Arizona and will undoubtedly bring a West Coast Bias here. South Dakota will be good too but that league is ruled by their South Dakota rival SDSU (Mike Daum intensifies).
Tristan: In other WAC news, perennial darling Utah Valley has a deep and experienced roster and looks to be close to the preseason favorite to win the WAC this year. The WAC is going to be difficult for any NMTC team to advance from, but it likely has the two of the best overall teams.
Cue the CBS theme! Real contenders
UT Martin, Purdue Fort Wayne, Sacred Heart
Good teams, likely to be blocked by evil megapowers NMSU, UVM, DAUM and the like
Utah Valley, Cal Baptist, South Dakota, UMass Lowell
Have the potential to emerge in pure Sickos fashion (ha ha maybe?)
Youngstown State, UC Riverside, Quinnipiac, High Point
Founding Father Purgatory
Army, St. Francis Brooklyn
Starting to get pretty unlikely
SIUE, Grambling, Bethune-Cookman, USC Upstate, Maryland-Eastern Shore, William and Mary
The rest of the Summit League
Kansas City, Western Illinois, Omaha, Denver
At least you didn’t lose to a DII team in the preseason by double digits
Maine, New Hampshire, Incarnate Word, Central Arkansas, UTRGV, Sacramento State, The Citadel, NJIT, Presbyterian, Elon, North Alabama, Stetson
Guaranteed won’t finish last in conference standings
Ineligible, but capable of making us write an angry “Reclassification restrictions are dumb” letter to Emmert in March
Just plain ineligible
Lindenwood, St. Thomas, Southern Indiana, Stonehill, Tarleton, Texas A&M-Commerce, UC San Diego, Utah Tech, Queens (NC)
Lance: Everyone will have a good time, a team from Montana will win the Big Sky, GCU will lose the WAC to New Mexico State, and I will eat copious amounts of Taco Bell throughout the season.
Also, you heard it here first folks, Bellarmine WILL win the ASUN and I WILL send an angry telegraph to the NCAA offices in Indiana stating the MANY reasons why they should be allowed in the NCAA Tournament. If there is anything that can bring together a divided country, it is rooting against L*****y.
Garrett: First off, NMTC HQ will create the next Twitter-like social media and by this time in 2027 everyone will be on it and we will be censoring all of the UVM and South Dakota State hype.
Sorry Lance, I appreciate your “everyone will have a good time” optimism, being new here and all but as Tristan and I know, NMTC time is mostly pain and suffering.
Sure – there will be a good moment or two. This year, I predict a team from well outside our consciousness will come through to steal a bid early on in conference tourney week. But that will quickly be drowned out by the curse of the Summit League, which despite having five of eight teams in their final tournament, will see none of them even advance to the final. And, to twist the knife a little, a Founding Father will make a league final, only to see a lead slip away in the last 5 minutes of the game.
“Despair is not just in me. It is me.” – Ernesto de la Cruz in the movie Coco, if he was being truthful.
Lance: Counterpoint: “Yes, I’m alone, but I’m alone and free.” – Elsa in Frozen, presumably about her hopes for the Summit League breakthrough we yearn for.
Tristan: Many are saying, what team will be this year’s Longwood? After no preseason hype and a terrible non-conference season, last year’s Lancers escaped by going 15-1 in conference and rolling through the Big South Tournament. There has to be one team that ends up being much better than expected. Quinnipiac?
Garrett: CHICAGO STATE!
Tristan: I’m really not sure about how the late-season chaos will go, but I’m really looking forward to at least two of these teams racking up brutality wins in non-conference play. My beloved Northwestern Wildcats losing to Purdue Fort Wayne, for example, is an early target.
Garrett: Some teams will certainly earn brutality wins and tease us along the way, but in the end only two teams go. Either Sacred Heart and Purdue Fort Wayne, and someone with pretty “mid” (as the kids say) pre-season projections. To make a more specific prediction to ensure I can properly gloat when I’m right, I’ll say SHU and High Point. Book it.
Lance: Some nerds (Purdue Fort Wayne, Utah Valley) will flirt with the hot girl (NCAA Tournament) like young, dweeby Lance did in high school, but will ultimately get shoved in a locker and the hottie with a body (UC Riverside, Mike Magpayo) will bust through the Big West and take Cinderella to the Dance.
And thus begins another journey on the road to paradise for our favorite teams. We’ll be covering the NMTC teams throughout the season – keep it here and follow our Twitter and spreadsheet to stay connected.