“How will I know if it’s working?”
It’s a question that often doesn’t have an answer. While frequently asked, the reality is that determining progress in many parts of life is extremely difficult. Take, for example, college basketball. Yes, you knew that was coming. A college basketball team can be on the brink of making the tournament with a 99% win probability, and then lose. At the end of the day, you can end up with nothing. Is there progress being made? You’d certainly hope so, but as we’ve seen on this column over the years, you never know.
Of course, the greater state of higher education in the United States of America is not great. The pandemic severely damaged enrollment by as much as 10%. Tuition costs are increasingly unaffordable, yet public universities or small colleges still suffer from budget constraints. While men’s and women’s basketball programs are shielded from cutbacks, colleges have been cutting classes, non-revenue sports programs, or their entire existence. Of course, we can’t forget about Hartford, a former club graduate which is dropping its programs to Division III to save a few bucks (more on them in a different column).
So, with all that going on, how will you know the Never Made the Tournament Club is working? You won’t. Once again, we have a set of teams that could make the NCAA Tournament. During conference tournament season, which is the best part of the year for mid-major basketball fans, we will get to experience a gargantuan and unwieldy spectacle filled with dramatic tension. Fans will just hope that every rebound, every made shot, and every timeout could lead them to some tangible moment of joy. And honestly, that’s the beauty of it. If you were sure of the outcome, you’d never even bother watching.
Let’s get right to it. Here is Garrett’s very handy spreadsheet that will keep track of every team that is playing for their first NCAA Tournament bid. It’s as good a resource as you’ll get. Thirty-six teams have a shot, and we’re hoping at least one makes it through. I must complain that a record 11 teams are in the dumb reclassifying period and are ineligible, even though Merrimack is fairly likely to win the NEC Tournament (and Stonehill if they were allowed to play).
In this column, we will keep the word count down and only list the teams that are officially out, though this will get longer as time goes on.
What are we watchin’?
This week kicks off with the ASUN Tournament, which is a common fan favorite due to the travails of the STETSON HATTERS, the best team name in America. We’ve already played through the opening rounds and seen both ineligible NMTC participants, Queens and Bellarmine, win close games (especially Bellarmine, in dramatic fashion) on a third party’s court in an unusual seed pairing. Is this a good sign for the season to come? Not necessarily; more often than not, good starts equal horrible finishes, at least from our experience.
Queens moves on to play Kennesaw State, which is really where we want to turn our attention. This is all actually just a preview for the No. 1 seed Kennesaw State Owls, who present one of the best opportunities for an NMTC graduate this season. The Owls cruised through the regular season with a 15-3 conference record and took the No. 1 seed away from a vaunted L*berty squad. The metrics all say the Owls would be underdogs should they make the final, but they thankfully have homecourt advantage for the entire tournament, and they’ve overcome doubts all season. We firmly believe anything is possible.
In the other matchups, North Alabama, in its first year of eligibility, gets a shot at third-seed Eastern Kentucky. Stetson hosts Lipscomb. Both put together solid campaigns, but we’ll save the optimism for a later column, if they get there. Lastly, the aforementioned Bellarmine gets a shot at L*berty for the second year in a row, and we all know what they did last year. Two times in a row and one of us might enroll there for a second bachelor’s degree (Editor Lance here, hi: if Bellarmine does the thing I will just point to me being fully correct about it).
Wednesday sees the Big South Tournament tip off. There’s really one team that we’re looking at in the Big South: USC Upstate. With the No. 4 seed and a fairly deep roster, the Spartans could pull off an upset. They play Gardner-Webb Friday.
PENGUINS. We’re usually begging for NMTC teams to finish in the top half of the conference. Not to worry for this year’s Youngstown State Penguins team. With a 23-8 record and a top-125 KenPom rating, the Penguins are slight favorites to win the Horizon League Tournament. The bad news is the Horizon League Tournament is extremely cruel to favorites; over the last seven tournaments, only one No. 1 seed, Cleveland State in 2021, has actually won. This trend usually benefits the NMTC, but not this year.
Fort Wayne could theoretically benefit from this trend, however, if they beat Detroit Mercy tonight, depending on other results, they very well may end up playing YSU because of course they would play the only other NMTC member, that’s how the world treats us.
As mentioned, we are totally screwed in the NEC due to reclassification this year. However, you should still root for Merrimack to win when not playing Sacred Heart or beloved Founding Father St. Francis Brooklyn (aka the Macy’s boys) as they can still take out non-club members. Alas, the second round is reseeded, so there’s a decent chance we end up seeing a disastrous Merrimack vs. NMTC matchup. It’s fine. You should still demand a Terriers win over Fairleigh Dickinson tomorrow night on NEC Front Row.
To be honest, it’s been hard to gauge what the revamped OVC is capable of accomplishing. Southern Indiana and Lindenwood are ineligible, leaving us with UT-Martin and SIU-Edwardsville. Perennial contenders Morehead State are the clear favorites here, but they could easily lose in a neutral site game. Both of the club members have had up-and-down seasons and are not exactly coming in hot (SIU-E lost five of their last six, UT-Martin lost their final two), but anything can happen. After all, the MGMT song where I got the framing quote from says: “No, it’s working, it’s working in your blood.” Morehead State will be vanquished.
See you next year :(
So far, just Central Arkansas, who didn’t even make their conference tournament. (Until Chicago State is defeated by Gonzaga, we refuse to eliminate them.)
https://t.co/dh79VHQvd5 pic.twitter.com/CF4nSG0rNL— Never Made the Tourney Club (@NMTC_Hoops) February 27, 2023
Official NMTC Schedule, with help from our friends at Blogging the Bracket
Bold = NMTC team, italics = ineligible