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Never Made the Tournament Club, 3/3/22: First Big, then South

Don’t trust the Hose; never trust the Hose.

Yeah, it’s not blue, but its tears are.

Thursday was the first day to really take a swing at the average American’s workday productivity. After a couple of evening-only conference tourney slates, the Big South took center stage on Thursday and gave us our first taste of a full-day conference tourney schedule, with each of its four games involving or directly affecting matchups for NMTC teams - and with all four coming down to the wire.

It started out nice enough. NC A&T pulled a mini nine-over-eight upset in overtime against Radford and advance to face the NMTC’s hopes and dreams in Longwood. (Interestingly enough, they were the only Big South team to beat the Lancers all season — more on that later). Then, in a shocker, last-place Charleston Southern — winners of but a single league game all year — shocked fifth seed UNC Asheville, setting up a favorable matchup for surprising fourth seed and Club member USC Upstate.

NMTC member High Point made us sweat, but got the job done over Hampton in overtime.

A perfect Big South day was in sight, but the final piece — Presbyterian beating Campbell — would be a bit of an upset, and Campbell jumped out to a double-digit halftime lead. But Presbyterian stormed back to tie with a few minutes to play regulation and from there it seemed like every possession Presbyterian would take the lead, with the opportunity to seize momentum with a stop, only to allow Campbell to tie it up every time.

The game went to overtime and the Presbies took a five-point lead with under two to play. They let it get to a two point lead, but forced Campbell into an air ball out of bounds. Inbounding with just five seconds left, the Hose threw a ridiculous inbounds pass that was just asking to be stolen, just to get it in the hands of a 60% shooter who could ice the game with a couple makes. He missed both.

Then the universe imposed the following on us as a consequence:

At this point, NMTC fans knew that it would end badly, but probably kept watching out of morbid curiosity. We were fooled when Presbyterian battled through a couple of players fouling out in the second overtime to take the lead with 13 seconds to play. We let our guards down, only to have this impale our psyche:

Moral of the story: Don’t trust the Hose, never trust the Hose.

ASUN: Bears (pause) beat (pause) Hatters, are advancing-gah

Our beloved Hatters pulled off one of the more atrocious gags you’ll see in conference tournament play this year. Despite peaking at a 95.1% win probability with a double-digit second half lead, the Hatters did some very bad basketball things and imploded.

sad hatters :(

At least it was to another NMTC squad.

Congrats, UCA.

Elsewhere, Kennesaw State won its first postseason game ever in its new basketball arena over Eastern Kentucky.

Horizon League: Penguins go cold

Youngstown State, what happened? The Penguins entered their conference tournament game against Robert Morris as major favorites. Playing at home, Youngstown State got blitzed in the first half and trailed for the entire game. Although they tried to come back very late, the Penguins never challenged the Colonials. After entering the night as the lock of the group, it turned out to be the game we shut off first.

NEC: Bryant cruises

Two out of three NMTCers got beat, but the important takeaway is that Bryant, arguably the most likely team to escape the Club this year, waltzed to a comfortable win over Central Connecticut in their opener. This sets up an intriguing matchup against No. 4 seed Mount St. Mary’s in the semifinal, which will be must-watch television on Saturday. Last year Mount St. Mary’s took the NEC title on Bryant’s home floor, so it would be nice if the Bulldogs exacted some revenge on one of the NMTC’s most hated adversaries.

Also, we’re going to sum up the St. Francis Brooklyn Game in a haiku:

St. Francis Brooklyn

Did not have a chance, sadly

And lost by 30

Other Losers (sad)

Sacred Heart was the other NEC team in action Wednesday, and was kept at arm’s reach from LIU for most of the second half, while ineligible North Alabama fell to FGCU and could not replicate its run to the tourney final last year.

SIUE never really threatened…SIUE next year?

Thursday Action:

Typically this first Thursday of conference tournament season is a great day for the NMTC, but the last two days have been somewhat painful.

The best game on paper is Florida Gulf Coast at Bellarmine, but with Bellarmine not eligible for the NCAA Tournament due to crap rules, it’s essentially a no-contest for NMTC purposes.

That leaves Central Arkansas and Kennesaw State in the ASUN. Unfortunately, both teams will be heavy road underdogs against Jacksonville and Jacksonville State. Central Arkansas has a better chance to beat its assigned school for Jacksonville.

The other highlight of the night will be Fort Wayne’s first test of the Horizon League Tournament against the UIC Flames. Fort Wayne has won nine straight and is brimming with confidence. While the Flames could prove to be a tough out, the Mastodons have won their last eight home games and will be comfortable favorites. BartTorvik gives Fort Wayne a 21.2% chance of winning the auto-bid from this point, so we’re pinning a lot on this one. They also have Damian Chong Qui, who has plenty of experience dishing heartbreak to NMTC teams, so maybe he can use his sorcery for good this time.

Lastly, we have Army vs. Lehigh. Army, the second Founding Father to go in this cycle, has lost its way after jumping out to a 7-3 conference start — winning their last two games of the year only got them to 9-9. Still, though neither team has much of a chance in this tournament, this game will at least be evenly matched.

Friday Action:

The Big South returns, and every game should have been an NMTC game but Campbell ruined it so there’s only three. Longwood puts its top seed on the line first, taking on the NC A&T Aggies. The Aggies finished the season 3-10, but one of those was an eight-point win over Longwood to earn a series split. If there’s cause for concern for Longwood outside of that, it’s that even though they went 15-1 in league play during the regular season, they weren’t really dominating their opponents, with only two of those wins coming by double digits. With the tournament being held at a neutral site this year, they also don’t get home-court advantage that the past few top tourney seeds have gotten; instead, if they face Winthrop in the championship game, Charlotte’s proximity to Winthrop’s campus may end up screwing the Lancers.

Before our eternal NMTC pessimism talks us out of what should be a win for the Wood, let’s also mention that USC Upstate (75% BartTorvik) takes on last-place Charleston Southern at 2 PM, and then High Point (43%) tries to knock out Winthrop at 6.

Last but not least, our third Founding Father takes to the court. The Citadel takes on ETSU in what’s a near-certain L for the Bulldogs. The Citadel doesn’t exactly have the best track record in the SoCon tournament.

Thursday, March 3

All games at 7PM on ESPN+ (again, lol)

Horizon League Semifinals

(2) Purdue Fort Wayne vs. (8) UIC

Patriot League Quarterfinals

(5) Army at (4) Lehigh

ASUN Quarterfinals

(3W) Central Arkansas at (2E) Jacksonville

(4E) Kennesaw State at (1W) Jacksonville State

(3E) Florida Gulf Coast at (2W) Bellarmine

Friday, March 4

All games on ESPN+

Big South Quarterfinals

(9) NC A&T vs. (1) Longwood, 12 PM

(12) Charleston Southern vs. (4) USC Upstate, 2 PM

(7) High Point vs. (2) Winthrop, 6 PM

SoCon First Round

(9) The Citadel vs. (8) East Tennessee St., 5 PM