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Never Made the Tournament Club, 3/6/23: THE OWLS DID IT

HOOTY MF HOO, BABY! Kennesaw State defeats the hated Flames and becomes 2023’s first team to graduate the club.

You don’t want to go to WAAAAR with the OWWWLS with the OWWWLS!
Hunter D. Cone, KSU Athletics


Kennesaw State went 1-28 in 2019-20.

They lost every conference game; only one was within single digits. From this all-time low point, Amir Abdur-Rahim has completed an impossible task and made the NCAA Tournament.

To be fair, the Kennesaw State Owls have been underperforming their sports potential for a while. With over 37,000 undergraduate students (the second-largest school in Georgia), they and Utah Valley have far more students than the run-of-the-mill remaining members of the Never Made the Tournament Club (Presbyterian, likely the smallest school in Division I, only has 1,172 undergraduates). It’s not like they were immediately successful either — in their 17 prior seasons, they never had a record above .500. With a 2024 move to the far more difficult Conference USA looming, Kennesaw State had to make it happen this year.

Well, they made it happen. Over the last three months, the Owls have been one of the best mid-majors in the country, going 15-3 in conference and earning home-court advantage over Liberty. They survived a near-disaster against Queens on Tuesday, coming back in the dying moments and a last-second buzzer-beater attempt. They came back to beat Lipscomb on Thursday.

Sunday’s matchup was even tighter. It’s easy to make light of Falwell U, but Darius McGhee and the Flames were always going to be the toughest out. Liberty was not having a good night — their 3-point percentage was in the single digits for most of the afternoon — but the Owls couldn’t put them away.

It almost didn’t happen. Liberty, easily sliding into their familiar role as archvillain, stormed back to hit a game-tying 3 with 24 seconds remaining. Panic ensued amongst the NMTC mods. But Kennesaw State didn’t panic. Terrell Burden drove to the basket and drew a key foul with 0.7 seconds remaining. Burden was a freshman guard on the team that went 1-28. The only remaining player from that team was unfazed. He hit the first free throw to seal the game, then missed the second, which successfully burned the remaining clock.

While each team that makes it out of this column is historic, this one felt particularly notable. The ASUN hadn’t graduated a team since Lipscomb in 2018, and winning at the expense of the weird religious school that sportswashes its stains is even better. And, moving to the tougher C-USA, the opportunities could conceivably diminish for the Owls moving forward. Not to sound overly self-indulgent, but this was likely one of the most important games in the history of this column, and the Owls came out on top.

Cue dancing Owls!

(Bad) things that happened elsewhere

The Summit League Curse lives again. The semifinals will be contested by all teams that have made the NCAA Tournament before or by teams that are ineligible, despite the fact that six of the 10 Summit League teams are in the club. Atrocious (Editor Lance here: barf). Sunday capped off the misery with ineligible St. Thomas taking down the top eligible member, Western Illinois, in one quarterfinal.

Then in the other game, South Dakota led North Dakota State most of the way down the stretch before throwing the ball away with an unnecessary pass up one point when it looked like NDSU would have to play the fouling game.

What ensued: NDSU bucket, NDSU not called for striking SD player on the arm during dunk attempt, NDSU one for two free throws, SD halfcourt heave when it should have gotten a better shot. We’re left with Oral Roberts (ick), South Dakota State (yikes), North Dakota State (the trifecta of bad), and ineligible St. Thomas (of course). Disband the league, disband everything. (Editor Lance: Call up the GNAC.)

Texas A&M Commerce is ineligible, but they added to the misery by losing 79-78 on a McNeese State free throw with two seconds remaining.

Lastly, the Founding Fathers are all headed back for another year. Army managed to win its first game, but they were utterly dismantled by Colgate in the semifinals. However, Army’s 17-point loss looked positively rosy compared to William and Mary, which managed to lose 94-46 to Hofstra. It seems quite clear that Hofstra and Charleston are the best teams in the CAA this year, so I can’t complain too much.

What’s left for next week?

Well, for starters, all eyes will be on Utah Valley as they try to win a tough WAC. Despite *literally winning the WAC regular season championship by a game*, the WAC Seeding System said “no” and gave them the two seed. Their first game will be against the winner of an NMTC blockbuster between Tarleton State and UT-Rio Grande Valley.

Monday features the return of PenguinsSzn as Youngstown State plays Northern Kentucky. Although this is a 1 vs. 4 matchup, the Penguins will be up against a very difficult Northern Kentucky team. Like Kennesaw State, this rookery had a historic year: they had never won a regular season crown and had only won 20 games once in their 40+ years in D-I; they won the Horizon regular season crown and won a school record 24 games and counting. They haven’t had an opportunity this good in a long while, and who knows when we’ll see another one.

We also have UMass-Lowell’s legitimate shot at winning the America East for the first time, but they face “Founding Uncle” New Hampshire in the semifinal first. UC Riverside, Quinnipiac, and Maryland Eastern Shore are in with a shot. Let’s make it happen!