“To Odin many a soul was driven, to Odin many a rich gift given.”
- Snori Sturluson, the Prose Edda
For 40 minutes, the Northern Kentucky Norse and the Youngstown State Penguins battled in Joe Louis Arena. The Norse won because they are a superior basketball team and descendants of Vikings rather than penguins. They also won because they are a vastly superior basketball team. Northern Kentucky took a 15-point lead into halftime and got 26 points and nine boards from Drew McDonald. The fun run of PENGUIN SZN is now over, squashed beneath a giant Norse longboat. That’s what it feels like to be a townsperson in England during the 10th century, Youngstown State.
Northern Kentucky now has a real shot at making the Tournament when it plays No. 10 seed UW-Milwaukee tomorrow. KenPom has the Norse as six-point favorites. Roll damn Norse.
But elsewhere on the great chessboard that is the NMTC, there was heartbreak. This column is supposed to be lighthearted and funny. But sometimes, you see one of the most gut-wrenching sporting losses in the history of the conference.
Life and sports, as usual, are cruel and meaningless. Just as Northwestern always runs into Big Ten teams with better pedigrees, the South Dakota Coyotes lost to South Dakota State. Yes, South Dakota State is that random South Dakota school that has made the NCAA Tournament three times since 2012. South Dakota is in the Club.
With great regret, I inform you that South Dakota went full Northwestern last night.
Even though the SDSU Jackrabbits went 1-5 on conference to start the regular season, fell to 12-16 with a 91-89 loss to South Dakota on February 11th, and entered the Summit League Tournament as a No. 4 seed, they are on the brink of yet another appearance after a 74-71 win. They peaked at the right time, even though you’d think a team with the nickname “Jackrabbits” could never, ever peak at anything.
If you were rooting for South Dakota as I was, this game was absolutely miserable. South Dakota led 22-6 after 10 minutes, 44-33 at the half, and 56-48 with 12:16 remaining. Of course, the Coyotes collapsed. I will spare you the details, but it ended with South Dakota up 71-70 and getting a 1-and-1 to potentially go up by three with 13 seconds left. Tyler Peterson missed the free throw. SDSU’s Michael Orris hit a crazy jumper. The Coyotes, inexplicably, stunningly, and seemingly without any reason at all, lost. They just lost the game. Matt Mooney scored 30 and they lost the game. It is, without doubt, the worst loss any NMTC team has had this year.
I walked outside to the library after the game ended and wondered why I even bother with this basketball nonsense.
There was some good news from the Summit, however, as the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks wrecked IUPUI 90-62. I won’t describe what happened, as Nebraska-Omaha gave up just 18 points in the first half and scored 42. Everyone outside of South Dakota should be rooting for the Mavericks to defeat South Dakota State tomorrow.
Vermont body slammed New Hampshire and won 71-41. Not surprising at all. Vermont’s Anthony Lamb, who is really good, scored 24 on 9-of-14 shooting with six boards and two blocks. Cool. Will New Hampshire, having missed the Tournament for the 56th time, ever make it? I don’t understand the question and I won’t respond to it. At this point, I want Vermont to win the America East so I can pick them to upset whatever 3 or 4-seed they face in the NCAA Tournament.
And lastly, Maryland-Eastern Shore blasted its way out of the MEAC first round by overcoming a four-point halftime deficit to win 74-67. Even better, the consensus No. 1 seed, North Carolina Central, just lost to North Carolina A&T in the final game of the regular season. The bad news is that Maryland-Eastern Shore was somehow down at halftime to North Carolina A&T, which ranks 349th of 351 in the KenPom rankings. I don’t like the Hawks’ chances.
Last Night’s MVP: Matt Mooney (South Dakota)
30 points (12/24 FGs, 3/8 3FGs), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 4 steals
WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME SOUTH DAKOTA, WHY DID YOU MAKE ME CARE?????
3:00 PM CST (ESPN3): (8) Delaware State Hornets vs (9) Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (49% chance to win via KenPom)
Of course there’s a third basketball team named “the Wildcats” in the Never Made The Tourney Club. This game is a total toss-up, and Bethune-Cookman (9-22) is not good enough to win three straight games in this conference. These are two of the teams in the bottom percentile of Division I. Enjoy.
Horizon League CHAMPIONSHIP:
6:00 PM CST (ESPN): (3) Northern Kentucky Norse (71% chance to win) vs (10) UW-Milwaukee Panthers
YEAH THAT’S RIGHT, NMTC ON ESPN PROPER, LET’S GO! Milwaukee has gone on a Cinderella run in the Horizon League Tournament, but the Panthers have made the Tournament before, so America should back the Norse. As long as Northern Kentucky does not “Northwestern” this, we should get our second NMTC team in the NCAA Tournament.
BY THE POWER OF ODIN, GODSPEED!
Summit League CHAMPIONSHIP:
8:00 PM CST (ESPN2): (4) South Dakota State Jackrabbits vs (3) Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (53% chance to win)
Can Nebraska-Omaha make the NCAA Tournament in its sixth season in Division I? I sure hope they do. After correctly arguing yesterday through advanced narrative gymnastics (take the class, it’s fun) that South Dakota State would beat South Dakota because the Jackrabbits had “been there before” and “had the clutch gene”, I no longer want to jinx anyone.
8:00 PM CST: (4) Prairie View A&M Panthers vs (5) Grambling State Tigers (28% chance to win)
Did you think we’d forget about the all-important first round of the SWAC? Of course not, the SWAC is whack. Grambling State needs a miracle to escape the NMTC.
Teams that have escaped:
JACKSONVILLE STATE, JUST PLAY IT EVERY TIME ON LOOP.
Teams that will be back next year:
Youngstown State (PENGUINSZN)
William and Mary
St. Francis (NY)