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Never Made the Tournament Club, 3/8/22: Longwood comes through

For many years an opportunity to insert phallic jokes into articles, Longwood leaves us all satisfied. Bryant tries to do the same tonight.

Hercules Tire Big South Conference Tournament - Semifinals

NMTC BYKE!

Folks, it’s time for a victory screech.

After a wild weekend of conference tournaments, the Never Made the Tournament Club has graduated one member to the Promised Land. Let’s get into it.

LONG WOOD

Longwood made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in men’s and women’s basketball, making 2022 a most auspicious year for the Lancers. It’s a fitting tribute to the school, which began as an all-female school called Farmville Female Seminary way back in 1839. After five name changes, they settled on Longwood as its official name in 1949. The school didn’t start admitting male students until 1971 (the College Factual website states that women still outnumber men 2 to 1).

This was the Longwood men’s first opportunity to make the NCAA Tournament Division I since graduating to D-I in 2004, and they took full advantage. Despite coming in as underdogs to Winthrop, Longwood stormed out of the gates and dominated the entire game. To make things even better, the women’s team trounced Campbell 86-47 and made their first NCAA Tournament a few hours later, cementing March 6 as the greatest day in Longwood basketball history!

WOOOOOO!

And Now: A series of Bad News

The Founding Fathers

“Ev’ry action has an equal, opposite reaction,” Thomas Jefferson, played by Daveed Diggs in Hamilton.

For any joy we may receive, there must be a counterbalance of equal or greater weight. We don’t make the rules. For the uninitiated, the Founding Fathers are the four teams — Army, The Citadel, St. Francis Brooklyn and William and Mary — that were classified as D-I teams when division classifications began in 1948. This was a particularly pathetic year for them, who went 1-4 in their games, not advancing further than the quarterfinal round.

Mastodons: still extinct

Between 10,000 and 60,000 years ago, humans incorrectly decided that furry walking mammoth-like beings would be too much of an inconvenience blocking city streets, interrupting pickup basketball games and such so they decided to hunt them down and put them into extinction.

I think everyone today would agree this was a big mistake.

And yet today, nothing has changed. Over the last two years, the (Purdue Fort Wayne) Mastodons have been hunted down (in the Horizon League tournament) by the (Northern Kentucky) Norse and the (Cleveland State) Vikings. This year, it was Northern Kentucky’s turn, holding the Mastodons under a point per minute for most of the game in an eventual 57-43 win. Of course, perspective: for the prior 13 years, Purdue Fort Wayne was consistently being killed for hide by the Summit League, and the Horizon League hasn’t been nearly as cruel to its NMTC brethren over the years, but it was a disappointing end to a pretty nice season.

The Summit Plummet, back again

To be fair, actually, this year wasn’t particularly agonizing. All five NMTC teams occupied the bottom places of the tournament bracket. Omaha stayed surprisingly close before falling to South Dakota State. Western Illinois couldn’t quite ever get the lead in the second half against Oral Roberts, Denver wasn’t close, and after dispatching of fellow NMTC member Kansas City in the first round, South Dakota was absolutely jackhammered by the Jackrabbits.

AEC Self-Immolation

There wasn’t nearly as much hype this year as last, with Hartford leaving the NMTC ranks and last year’s finalist UMass Lowell clocking in at a lowly seven seed. Lowell had second-seed UMBC on the ropes but couldn’t get off a last shot in regulation, then got run in overtime.

Most disappointing, however, were the New Hampshire Wildcats. Admittedly, there was a pretty small gap between seeds two and eight, but we were still hoping one of our Founding Uncles could take care of business at home. Alas, they could not, falling short against Binghamton of all teams, and despite being one of the oldest members of the club, they remain one of a handful of teams that still has not ever played in a game to advance to the NCAA tournament.

Other Goodbyes

NJIT (first round), Elon (quarterfinals), Bethune-Cookman (missed conference tournament) all went quietly into the night. Central Arkansas and Kennesaw State lost to the Jacksonville twins. Big kudos to USC Upstate, who had a fantastic season and jumped out to a big lead against Longwood in the tournament semifinals, but let the game get away in the second half.

Who’s left?

We’re down to 10 eligible teams.

BRYANT

Yes, the Bryant Bulldogs managed to scoot past The Mount and into the NEC Finals, just like we were hoping they would. Sure, it was a struggle for them much of the game - just like it was for Garrett’s stream in the train hall in Penn Station and on the train into New Jersey - but right at the key moments, the Bulldogs pulled through, also like Garrett’s stream, sorta.

Bryant fell behind by seven points approaching the four minute mark, but turned to one of its two walking buckets in Charles Pride (the other being Peter Kiss, only the nation’s leading scorer) to bring them back. Pride scored nine of the Bulldogs’ final 15 points, including a pair of free throws under a minute left to give them a two-point lead, followed immediately by a steal and layup to push the lead to four.

Then, just after Mt. St. Mary’s pulled even from a multi-possession deficit with just 11 seconds to play, something exceedingly rare happened: fate smiled on an NMTC team. After Kiss missed a runner, the ball fell to Pride who was grabbed as he went up for a put back with just a second left. He missed the first free throw to give us all a collective heart attack but sank the second for the win.

Tonight the Bulldogs take on Wagner, who looked unbeatable for much of the year but a late season mini-collapse means this game happens on Bryant’s home court. We’ve noted several times that we were in the same exact spot last year, and were let down, but Wagner has a bit of a troubled history in making the final step to the NCAA tournament (1-4 in NEC title games). All signs point to a very tight final. The Chace Athletic Center in Smithfield, RI is going to be rocking. Good luck, Bulldogs.

BELLARMINE

Due to “reclassification rules”, they’re not eligible yet, which is super, super dumb, and won’t be leaving the club this year. But the Bellarmine Knights, in just its second D-I season after a strong D-II tenure, are poised to win their first conference tournament crown. More importantly, it’s how they got here: a 53-50 win over the LUsers themselves. That’s right, the Bellarmine Knights went on the road and got the job done at Liberty on Saturday night, holding the Flames to their lowest home scoring output of the year.

Bellarmine plays Jacksonville tonight in the historic Freedom Hall with the tournament championship on the line. If Jacksonville wins, they go to the tournament. If Bellarmine wins, regular season champion Jacksonville State, whom Jacksonville just beat to get here, advances to the dance, and puts pressure on the NCAA maybe to change one of the stupidest restrictions they have, besides of course the entirety of FBS football.

WAC-ky WAC

Utah Valley burst out of the gates, and in WACs past may have been a top contender. But this year, the WAC’s full-fledged expansion greediness brought in really tough teams from the Southland in Sam Houston, Abilene Christian and Stephen F. Austin. Along with a resurgent New Mexico State and a surprising Seattle, they pushed Utah Valley all the way out to a seven-seed in the WAC tournament.

As a matter of fact, all four NMTC teams in the tournament (UVU, ineligible Cal Baptist, UTRGV and Chicago State) occupy the bottom rung of the 10-team WAC Death Ladder. They will have to win five games to go dancing, whereas the top two seeds will just need two wins. Utah Valley starts up with improving fan favorite Chicago State, while UTRGV meets Cal Baptist. This is not likely to result in anything.

Everyone Else

Preseason darlings UC Riverside jumped up to the three-seed of their own conference on the eve of the regular season finale, but a heart-breaking loss to leaders Long Beach State on a last-second foul in overtime dropped the Highlanders to 10-6 - and all the way down to the 6(!) spot. They draw Hawaii on Wednesday, and we’re keeping an eye on this one.

Grambling State was also in a good spot a couple of weeks ago, but four straight losses to close the year finds them at the 6-seed as well. They get Southern (a team they beat) on Thursday. Some intrigue can ensue if they pick up a win there.

Quinnipiac takes the 11-seed in the Rick Pitino Iona Invitational MAAC tournament, and Maryland Eastern Shore had some inspired performances in the non-conference but finished second-to-last only to winless Delaware State in the MEAC. Incarnate Word, moving to the WAC next season, finished last in a depleted Southland. Ouch.

Sacramento State, a school of about 30,000 students, has done almost nothing since elevating to Division I in 1991, never even advancing to a conference tournament final. They had their coach step down right before the season started. But if they keep winning from this point on, we might get a Longwood-Sac (State) matchup. Hopeful. (Not really.)

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Home stretch everyone!! See you back here for a recap in a few days!! Check our NMTC spreadsheet for a full tracker and schedule.