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Never Made the Tourney Club: Bryant Graduates

We celebrate Bryant’s first NEC championship in the final Never Made the Tournament of the season

NCAA Basketball: Bryant at Houston
Jared Grasso led the Bryant Bulldogs to their first NEC title as they take their name off the Never Made the Tournament list.
Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Those who lacked faith have been rebuked. After a year of mixed results, the Never Made the Tournament Club celebrated a fine season with two graduates: Bryant and Longwood.

In the end, there were not many surprises—Bryant and Longwood were the two favorites to escape and they got the job done.

Bryant Triumphant

Bryant curbstomped Wagner. From the moment the game started, the Bulldogs were dominant. After a decade of waiting, the home arena seemed to sense the moment, willing their players to not let up on the gas pedal. The lead was 10, then 20, then 30! After a year of high-quality play in the NEC, future March Madness star Peter Kiss and the Bulldogs delivered the goods. They avenged their disastrous loss to Mount St. Mary’s in 2021.

Bryant’s victory was marred by a strange and unsavory fight in the stands between rival fans as the game ended that led to a police intervention. Other than that, it was a historic performance for Bryant, who leaves this group after 14 years.

Located in Smithfield, R.I., Bryant University began as a branch of a national school that taught accounting. From these humble origins, Bryant was originally located in Providence before moving to the suburb of Smithfield thanks to a donation from Earl Tupper, the president of Tupperware Corporation. The school has gradually grown and expanded over the years and has always had a solid basketball program. That persistence was rewarded at last on Tuesday.

Not so fast, Bellarmine

Well, this was inevitably going to happen someday. Bellarmine won the ASUN Conference Tournament with a 77-72 win over Jacksonville on Tuesday. That is the easy part to understand. So, it’s going to appear in March Madness and take its name off this list, right? WRONG.

The Knights are not eligible for the NCAA Tournament due to the reclassification rules. As teams transition to Division I, they must wait four years to qualify for the postseason.

This rule presents a quandary. If a team is Division I, it should get the benefits of being Division I, one of which is participating in March Madness. I don’t even see the non-postseason rule as a disincentive to transition to Division I—teams have been moving to the higher level regardless of the rule, and I doubt there would be fewer teams if the rule wasn’t in place. It’s just useless gatekeeping, and it has cost Bellarmine this year.

Instead, Jacksonville State, the ASUN regular season champions, will be making the NCAA Tournament.

A Rapid-Fire Farewell

WAC

The WAC will not have any NMTC involvement. Utah Valley took down Chicago State, then promptly lost to Abilene Christian. Ineligible Cal Baptist took out University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, only to score 35 points in an torturous loss to Sam Houston State.

Even worse, our archenemies at South Dakota State cruised to an NCAA Tournament bid. The Summit Curse continues for another year. Dread it, run from it, it comes all the same.

Meanwhile, the Club’s most anonymous member, Sacramento State, managed to win one game in the Big Sky Tournament before getting shredded by No. 1 seed Montana State. So it goes.

UC Riverside heartbreak

This one was particularly rough. Anyone that braved the UCR-Hawaii game early on Friday morning can attest. UCR had the lead for much of the first half before things turned, and the Highlanders played from one to two possessions down the entire second half. They had many chances to take control but missed layups, and untimely turnovers doomed them. Still, they had a chance to win at the buzzer but didn’t get a great look. They lost a heartbreaker and will return next year, if their athletic program will allow (we desperately hope it does).

SWAC and MAAC, we’re all coming back (next year)

Friday began with two surprising candidates unexpectedly playing semifinal games. Grambling State put together an excellent upset win over Southern, defeating them for the third time this season. However, they were unable to repeat the feat against Texas Southern, which dumped the Tigers out of the SWAC Tournament.

After finishing in last place in the MAAC, Quinnipiac showed life in the postseason. After No. 1 seed Iona was upset by No. 9 Rider, the tournament appeared wide open. The Bobcats beat Marist and Siena in fairly convincing fashion. However, facing the pressure of being the final NMTC team alive, they got steamrolled by those damned Peacocks of St. Peter’s. Ouch.

Conclusion

With that, the 2021-22 NMTC campaign comes to a close. Thank you to everyone who read this column except for NCAA administrators.

Lastly, we must welcome the newest three club members. Hello to the Lindenwood Lions, Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles and the Texas A&M-Commerce Lions! We’re looking forward to having you on this ride!