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Never Made The Tourney Club 3/8: MARCH BELONGS TO THE NORSE

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And Nebraska-Omaha gets Daum-ed.

Northern Kentucky, Nebraska, Basketball, NCAA, Huskers, Norse

Most of the stories about the Club are about long-tortured fanbases who have stuck with their team through years of futility (or parachuted in at the very end) to finally reach the Promised Land.

Some of the stories, though, show what a tremendous confluence of bad luck and general apathy has to occur for a team to go decades without making the NCAA Tournament.

The Northern Kentucky Norse have only just finished their transition into Division 1. After the five year transition period that precluded them from postseason eligibility previously, the Norse decided that not playing in the postseason is dumb and bad, and thus, they won their conference tournament. Yes, in the same year that Northwestern will make its first NCAA appearance since joining Division 1 after the Battle of Antietam, there will be a club member escaping who is batting 1.000, making the tournament in their only year thus far in which they could.

All the Norse had to do was beat a team that came in 12 games under .500 on the year. The Milwaukee Panthers are not a good team, but they did their best 2016 Holy Cross impersonation to this point. As is tradition with underdogs making March runs, the Panthers have been led by a guard with range. Brock Stull went for a 17 and 10 double-double against UIC and finished with 19 points against Northern Kentucky tonight. Still, the 2-man pantheon of LaVone Holland and Drew McDonald lifted the Norse. They combined to go for 34 of the team’s 59. It wasn’t as easy as we expected, but Northern Kentucky gutted their way to a 59-53 victory.

HIT THE DAMN MUSIC, NORSE, YOU’VE EARNED IT.

Oh, Omaha. You really had me going for a minute.

The Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks were the lower seed, but they didn’t have the best player on the floor, and that would prove costly. Mike Daum from South Dakota State was one of two freshmen to lead their conference’s Ken-Pom all-conference team in 2015-16. The other one was Ben Simmons.

Daum was literally unguardable. He was hitting from the outside, hitting the offensive glass, and knocking down midrange shots. He finished with 37 points and 12 rebounds. That was enough for the Jackrabbits to take this one. They won 79-77 in the Summit League championship, relegating Nebraska-Omaha to another year in the club. The Mavericks were given every bit of help the officials would give them and they were +10 in turnover margin. To lose with those things going your way stings.

There were games that were not actually for the championship, including the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, who took on the Delaware State Hornets in some MEAC-tion. What I know about Bethune-Cookman is that there was one kid in my high school golf conference who earned a scholarship there (his name was, I’m pretty sure, JaMichael Jones and he hit the ball 400 yards), and that I scheduled them in NCAA Football 2004 to pad Heisman stats. One game I returned four kicks for touchdowns and hung 140 on them. It was good.

But they also have a basketball team, and evidently, it is a very weird basketball team. Only three Wildcats hit more than one field goal. Those three players scored 19, 20, and 21 points respectively. Diamante Lewis, Reggie Baker, and Brandon Tabb provided virtually all of the scoring for the Wildcats, and boy, did they need it. They emerged with a 69-62 win. Nice as hell.

SWACtion happened last night too. The Grambling Tigers bested Prairie View A&M 81-77 in a game that appeared to be entirely unwatchable. There were 51 free throws in this game. As a point of pride, I will not waste my time talking about a game/piece of performance art that ugly. Who cares.

Retroactive NEC Update:

Turns out in the chaos after Nate Taphorn to Dererk Pardon, we totally forgot to give you a vital NEC update. There was nothing particularly interesting, however. Bryant and Sacred Heart will both be back for this column next year. Bryant got crushed 100-78 by St. Francis (PA) and Sacred Heart lost a 76-73 heartbreaker to No. 1-seeded Mount St. Mary’s. That was the closest game Mount St. Mary’s would play, as the Mountaineers went on to take that conference tournament last night. That’s why it’s slightly relevant for this update.

Last Night’s MVP: LaVone Holland (Northern Kentucky)

20 points (7/15 FGs, 2/6 3FGs), 6 rebounds, 4 assists

This was a tough one. The MVP could have just as easily gone to Holland’s teammate, Drew McDonald, who went for a double-double, but in a game where offense was at a premium, Holland’s ability to go and find a bucket when his team needed it most proved to be decisive.

Today’s games:

MEAC:

5:00 p.m. (ESPN3): (9) Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (13% chance to win) vs. (1) North Carolina Central Eagles

It’s a very empty night for the NMTC as we gear up for the final push this weekend. It’s a good time to go pick yourself off the floor after both South Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha blew it in the Summit.

NC Central is the best team in the conference and dropkicked the Wildcats 78-63 the last time they played. But, in case you weren’t aware, this is March. I won’t promise anything, but the Wildcats have won five of their past six and are playing their best basketball of the season. As I noted yesterday, the Eagles were headed to a 15-1 regular season before dropping its final two games. Maybe the Eagles will be out of gas. You never know.

8:00 p.m. (ESPN3): (5) Sam Houston State Bearkats vs. (8) Central Arkansas Bears (31 percent chance to win)

Central Arkansas has a very good point guard in Jordan Howard and barely anything else. The Bears are playing the Bearkats, (not Bearcats, Bearkats) and both teams are in the top-60 in KenPom tempo, so expect some fireworks. It’s not a great NMTC day, which means that somehow Central Arkansas and Bethune-Cookman will come up with upset wins.

Other games to watch:

The winner of Rutgers/Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament will face Northwestern, which, although you may have forgotten, has never made the NCAA Tournament. Go figure!

Teams that have escaped:

JACKSONVILLE STATE, BABY, THE DIRTY BIRDS ARE RIDING

AND THE NORSE, REWIND THAT DANCING VIKING GUY

Teams that will be back next year:

Nebraska-Omaha
South Dakota
Youngstown State (PENGUINSZN)
New Hampshire
IPFW
Denver
William and Mary
UT-Martin
Western Illinois
Elon
Gardner-Webb
Kennesaw State
Lipscomb

High Point
Army
Quinnipiac
Maine
Hartford
Bryant
Sacred Heart
Presbyterian
Longwood
Stetson
NJIT
SC Upstate
Abilene Christian
Grand Canyon
SIU Edwardsville
St. Francis (NY)
UMass Lowell