First, a poem:
What a happening!
As the month becomes gilded
The more Purple fades.
Now let's get into it.
As I wrap myself in the colors of these brave schools daring to step onto the dance floor for the first time in their history, I find myself in a quandary. The better these underdogs do in their conference tournament, the smaller the NIT bubble becomes for Northwestern. For a brief time, Big Apple Buckets, my favorite NIT bracketology site, had Northwestern "in" as an 8-seed. Then Belmont went down to Austin Peay, opening the door for the SkyHawks of Tennessee-Martin to snag their first ever bid.
Northwestern was bumped off.
But I will not let my homerism get in the way of what was perhaps the most emotional day of our Never Made The Tourney Club season yet.
Some inched to the very edge of the dance floor.
Some slipped on spilled cocktails and broke their nose.
Some, like Moses on the mountain, saw the Promised Land in front of them, close enough to touch, but alas, it was not to be.
Let's break it down.
The Big South is quickly becoming Ground Zero for the NMTC. Of the four quarterfinal games played yesterday, three involved at least one member institution of the NMTC. One game involved two of our kin.
High Point, the top seed in the conference, took on fellow danceless squad Longwood. High Point was too much for the Lancers to corral. Five High Point Panthers got into double figures and the top seed used a 51 percent shooting percentage to put up 51 second half points, score 89 on the day, and earn an 11-point victory and a date in the semis. Longwood, despite having the best school name of the NMTC, was sent packing.
Presbyterian didn't have much of a chance against Winthrop. Given just a 14 percent chance to knock off the Eagles, the Blue Hose — yes that is Presbyterian's nickname — managed just 19 points in the first half and fell adrift of Winthrop, going down 67-53.
Gardner-Webb trailed by 13 at halftime. Across from them stood the 3rd-seeded Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina. All Gardner-Webb did was hang 44 second half points to score a very nice 69-65 victory to advance to the semifinals of the conference tournament. They'll have to get through Winthrop, but we're looking at a very possible NMTC vs. NMTC Big South Final.
Oh, Citadel, how our hearts break for thee.
The Citadel is an abysmal basketball team. This is a team that gave up 144 points to Butler in its opener. This is a team that had lost nine straight going into its conference tournament. But.
This is March.
When The Citadel went down 6 to Mercer with less than 7 minutes left, the whole basketball world expected the Bulldogs to fold like an accordion. Instead, they gutted it out.
They knotted it at 67.
Then they knotted it at 69.
But with 5 seconds left, Mercer's Stephon Jelks tossed in a layup. It seemed over.
But this. Is. March.
The Citadel's Warren Sledge was fouled. He went to the line for the one-and-one.
He clanged the first and the game ended.
Indeed, March can be a cruel mistress.
The Colonial Athletic Association opened its conference tournament today, which means a team that darn near shocked Northwestern last year had a chance to make a run.
Elon took on Drexel. The Phoenix took a 55-51 lead over the Dragons of Drexel with 5:55 remaining.
Elon would score just one more point the rest of the game.
Terrell Allen hit a jumper to give Drexel a 57-56 lead with 25 seconds left. Elon's bid at a game-winner wouldn't go, and thus, the Phoenix have returned to ash, waiting for the Earth to complete its course around the Sun once more before attempting to rise from their remains and head to the Promised Land.
Saturday's Never Made The Tourney Club action
Sure, you could watch good teams play regular season basketball, but where's the fun in that?
No. 1 High Point (46% chance to win KenPom) vs No. 4 UNC Ashville — Noon CT (ESPN3)
Despite being the top seed in the tournament, High Point is an underdog according to KenPom. UNC Ashville brings a diverse offensive attack with five players averaging double figures. High Point will be tested today.
No. 6 Gardner-Webb (35% KenPom) vs No. 2 Winthrop — 2:00 p.m. CT
Another tough test faces the Bulldogs. Winthrop is a very solid squad, led by Keon Johnson and Jimmy Gavin, who average 19 and 18 points per game respectively.
The Big South could guarantee a team's exit from the NMTC, or crush all hopes within four hours.
No. 5 William and Mary (45%) vs No. 4 James Madison — 1:30 p.m. CT
A Founding Father of the NMTC, William & Mary have been through this before. They have the best offense in the conference. They split the series against James Madison, the home team winning each matchup. A true toss up here. The Tribe will be tested and more by actual founding father James Madison.
No. 8 Northern Kentucky (23% KenPom) vs No. 5 Milwaukee--1:30 CT (ESPN3)
Milwaukee is actually good. Shoot, they beat Wisconsin this year. The Norse will have their hands full.
No. 7 Youngstown State (22% KenPom) vs No. 6 Detroit--6:30 PM CT (ESPN3)
The Penguins and their 11-20 record will look to do the nigh impossible and take out Paris Bass (18.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Detroit. Never count out the Bo Pelini effect though.
Ohio Valley Conference
No. 8 Austin Peay vs No. 2 Tennesse-Martin (54% KenPom)-- 5:00 PM CT (ESPN2)
Nothing is free in March, but UT-Martin were given a gift by Austin Peay, who knocked off top-seeded and heavy favorite Belmont in the semis. But Austin Peay are playing with house money. This will be must see TV.
Back Next Year
South Carolina Upstate
Grand Canyon (ineligible)
Northern Kentucky (ineligible)
UMass Lowell (ineligible)
St. Francis (NY)