Like any year, we’ve had our ups and downs. One day, we’re banking in ridiculous threes and we can’t lose, and a few hours later we can’t win. We graduate a team one moment — the next we are completely self-destructing in the Summit League.
Yet, here we are with one in the bag and, dare I say, feeling okay about the rest of this week?
Of 37 eligible members, Kennesaw State is the only one to punch a ticket so far. Thirty-one others have graciously bowed out. That leaves our hopes and dreams of a “successful year” — which I’m loosely defining as a “multi-bid” year, as we’ve had for the last couple years — in the locker rooms of five teams, looking to make some noise as conference tourney week comes to a climax.
Let’s meet those teams:
The Fab Five, ranked in order of graduation probabilities
5. Maryland-Eastern Shore, No. 4 seed in MEAC semifinals: The Hawks are still looking for their first NCAA appearance in basketball (either side), baseball, and softball. They’ve done an amazing job this year on the men’s hardwood though. Still, after a dominant quarterfinal win over Morgan State, all remaining seeds in the tournament are higher. First up, a very good Howard team in the semis. Hoping for the best!
4. UC Riverside, No. 3 seed in the Big West semifinals: I might have taken a three-team parlay last night due to a new betting strategy based on line movement, and one of those might have been betting on UC Davis to cover at +3.5. They did not cover. UC Riverside smacked them by 16 and I apologize to them, Mike Magpayo, and the karma gods for my sin of betting against our boys. UC Santa Barbara is up next.
3. UMass Lowell, No. 2 seed in America East finals: A team in the finals as only the third-best chance of advancing compared to teams in the semifinals may seem disrespectful, but this is a road game at Vermont we’re talking about here. Rooting for you with all our might, but for a team that struggles on the road, it’s going to be tough. Amazing season though.
2. Utah Valley, No. 2 seed in WAC semifinals: The Wolverines handled Tarleton last night, and would’ve been looking at a matchup against NMTC ineligible No. 11 seed Utah Tech if not for a bit of questionable refereeing. Instead it’s No. 3 seed Southern Utah, with whom they split two hard-fought battles during the regular season. The road is never easy for our squads.
1. Grambling, No. 2 seed in SWAC semifinals: This is shaping up to be an awesome feel-good story on all fronts. Ten years ago, the Tigers had a winless season. Five years ago, they won their regular season crown but were ineligible for the postseason due to APR violations. This year, they set a D-I era record for overall wins (23) and conference wins (15) in taking a share of the SWAC regular season crown. The team they tied with is Alcorn State, who lost their first game. They’re 5-0 against the remaining field (Jackson State, Alabama A&M and Texas Southern) and the biggest challenge might be Texas Southern, who happens to be the lowest seed, but always pulls something out of its hat in the conference tournament. Still, we’re feeling somewhat optimistic.
did the thing exposes the NCAA, again
If you thought Cal Baptist’s women’s team’s undefeated conference slate and tournament victory would be enough for the NCAA to rethink its excessively unnecessary reclassification rule, you were wrong. If you thought that Bellarmine’s men team’s hard-earned conference tourney win would be enough you were wrong.
Now we have Merrimack, who won their regular season crown once already during its four-year transition period, winning the regular season crown and tournament crown this year. This is pretty disgraceful from the NCAA already, but to rob the kids of two turns at the big dance because you wanted to stroke your own nuts is asinine when your whole motto is supposed to be doing it for the kids or whatever. Hopefully, now that Marky Mark Emmert is gone, we can make some (far too late) change. Lick me, NCAA.
New Hampshire, NMTC members since at least 1961-62, is by far the oldest club member to have never appeared in a winner-take-all game for the NCAA Tournament. It had at least its 11th shot at a winner take-all game against UMass Lowell but faded heavily down the stretch and will be back for another year.
After such an up-and-down year, the Quinnipiac Nips bowed out rather meekly to No. 11t seed Marist. Grunt.
Other departures with much less fanfare: Bethune-Cookman, UTRGV, Sacramento State, Cal Baptist.
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE
Admittedly we’ve been a bit lacking on women’s basketball coverage this year, but congratulations to three fresh graduates from the Women’s NMTC club!
Saint Louis graduates from the A-10. On the men’s side, the A-10 is a pretty respected league, often producing multiple bids a year, and with almost all members having some notable tournament runs. On the women’s side though, the A-10 doesn’t have the same stature and it has multiple NMTC members. The Billikens broke through after a couple of heartbreaks in recent years.
Sacramento State and Southeastern Louisiana won the Big Sky and Southland tournaments, respectively. The Hornets secure the school’s first tournament appearance on either the men’s or women’s side after finishing tied for first in the regular season and dominating top-seed Northern Arizona (sorry, editor Lance, cue the sad Lumberjack noises) Southeastern punches its first ticket after making its first conference tourney final and coming up short in overtime to then-NMTCer Incarnate Word. This year they won the regular season crown, survived Texas A&M-Commerce in the semifinal before taking down Lamar in the final. Congrats to our three new graduates!