I will tell you about two basketball games that were played on Tuesday night, and you will either be fascinated and giddy, or you will respond like a normal person. If you're a normal person, enjoy your freedom. Love can't be taught, contrary to a particularly awful Lil Wayne song. But it can't be untaught, either. If you care about this sort of thing, you are most likely already pretty giddy.
I'm not even talking about the Marquette-Providence thriller, a game that almost ended with this miracle and did end with an exhausted Bryce Cotton grabbing the ball from Marquette, hitting free throws, and promptly collapsing on the court like the messenger at Marathon.
I'm talking about two terrible games, played between teams you probably haven't heard of and by players that I, for the most part, hadn't heard of. The difference these games make with regards to who will win the NCAA Championship is negligible.
But a negligible difference is still a difference.. These two games were played in tournaments that will decide a participant in the NCAA Tournament. For the players on the court, these games represented a shot to stay alive. Some did, some didn't, and the way it all happened was absurd.
Tuesday night featured only seven conference tournament games; there are many, many more to come. These were early-round games in bad conferences, which means that these were either a) two bad teams in bad conferences or b) a good team playing a bad team in a bad conference. And yet two out of those seven games featured preposterous, nutso finishes.
We discussed Youngstown State in length yesterday, because a) Never Made The Tourney and b) PENGUINS. On Tuesday, they squared off with Oakland for the chance to play Wright State. Each team had a senior amongst the 26 players in college hoops who averages over 20 points per game, and they DUELED. Youngstown State's Kendrick Perry had 35, and Oakland's Travis Bader, the all-time Division I leader in threes made, had 39. Both teams topped 50 points in the second half:
Bader's career was flashing before his eyes, and he responded the only way he knows how: by jacking up an unconscionable volume of threes. He took 18 in the game, and with Youngstown State up 10 with six minutes to go, he got fouled shooting two separate threes. They scored ten straight, but Bader's team was still down four with eight seconds left. He'd drill a three to cut the deficit to one, there was a foul, and then the weirdness happened.
A two-point game with .6 seconds left has two possible endings that come to mind. Once every few thousand times, someone hits a miracle fling. Most of the time, the trailing team loses. But after Ryan Weber missed one of a pair of foul shots to extend Youngstown State's lead to two, Bader did something I'm not sure I've ever seen.
Guarding the inbounder is a strange job: your attention has to be in two places at once. You can either watch the players on the court and be so unaware of the inbounder's whereabouts that he can pass it to himself off your butt, or you can flail wildly at the guy making the pass while paying no attention to the other eight players on the court.
Fletcher Larson, the Youngstown State player who ended up playing a career-high 20 minutes, wisely chose the latter. The 6'8 junior was there just to bug the guy passing; even a deflection would have ended the game. But while he sprinted back and forth in front of the inbounder, Bader stepped in front of him and essentially drew a charge:
There's no rule against setting screens on guys guarding the inbounds pass, although what Bader does here is less setting a screen and more running in front of somebody and then falling over. Intentional or not, Oakland's chances of tying the game with two foul shots from their best shooter were much better than their chances of winning the game with 0.6 seconds left. Oakland would survive in overtime, 96-92, and the Penguins' waddle to the tourney was over as soon as it started.
(I still hope YSU makes the tourney someday, if just for the "March of the Penguins" pun.)
Elsewhere, East Tennessee State played Youngstown's never-made-the-tourney bros Lipscomb in the 4-5 matchup in the Atlantic Sun conference, with the winner headed to play FGCU. I didn't watch this one, because it wasn't on any sort of TV or streaming that I could find. Suffice it to say: Lipscomb was up 16 with 7:53 to go, but ETSU's Jalen Riley had 12 of his 28 down the stretch to send it to OT, where Khion Sankey drilled a three for Lipscomb to send it to double-OT. There, Lipscomb had the chance to win with the game tied at 88 and the shot clock off.
After missing the shot, freshman Josh Williams' teammates ran back, to prevent a desperation heave. Williams ran forward, to foul, not realizing the score was tied with 1.5 seconds left.
Let's tell this story in three images: here's Williams committing the foul:
Here's Williams looking up at the scoreboard while his teammates run up to him like NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO
Here's Williams realizing what he just did:
Merriwether would hit one of two. Lipscomb would lose. Number 0 in the picture above is Sankey, a senior, who kept his career alive with a three at the end of OT. Here he is realizing it's basically over because a freshman lost track of the score.
This is the conference tourney season: You meet unfamiliar faces in unfamiliar places, and within a few minutes of meeting them, you see about 75 percent of the emotions humans will experience over the course of a lifetime. They fight, and they love, and they succeed, and they lose.
My goodness, do they lose. They lose in understandable ways, like blowouts. They lose in incomprehensible ways, like our pals Lipscomb. Of the 351 teams in college basketball, 347 are supposed to end their season with a loss.
But there's that minuscule dream of being one of those teams. That dream is what makes this month -- yes, starting now -- special. I can't teach you how to love this, but you can't teach me -- or any of the guys who played their last game last night -- not to find it extremely important.
Chalk. Besides what's above, Valpo and Milwaukee won their 4-9 and 5-8 games over UIC and Detroit, respectively.
Also chalk, with FGCU, Mercer, USC Upstate, and East Tennessee State advancing. RIP to Never-Made-The-Tourney bro North Florida. /Whatever screeching noise an Osprey makes
Onions! consumption guide
Three new leagues are in play today, and the Patriot League continues with its quarterfinals. The Big South and OVC are in fat-trimming mode, while the NEC is already at the quarterfinals since they only allow their top eight in the bracket.
Patriot League Tournament (Games available streaming at Mid-Major Madness)
No. 8 Lafayette Leopards vs. No. 1 Boston University Terriers, 7 p.m. BU shows up in the Patriot League and think they run the place. Gentrification, man. An actual Terrier vs. Leopard fight would be gruesome.
No. 6 Lehigh Mountain Hawks vs. No. 3 Holy Cross Crusaders, 7 p.m.: Probably our last chance to discuss Lehigh point guard Macky McKnight -- Macky Mack! -- who is No. 10 in the nation in assist rate.
No. 5 Army Black Knights vs. No. 4 Bucknell Bison, 7 p.m.: Army is perhaps the most fascinating member of the Never-Made-The-Tourney club, if only because two of the three winningest coaches of all time, Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski, coached the Black Knights, and neither was able to get them to a tournament. Last year, Zach Spiker's squad put together their first winning record in 28 years, and they managed to repeat the feat this year. To finally dance, they'll have to get past a Bucknell squad that Kenpom ranks second in the nation in defensive rebounding.
No. 7 Colgate Raiders vs. No. 2 American Eagles, 7:30 p.m.: Every time I think about the American University Eagles, I hear the Top Gun theme song. First-year coach MIke Brennan has done a damn incredible job, turning a team picked to be ninth in a 10-team conference into a squad with tourney hopes. They have to hope Colgate isn't still thirsty for American failure after knocking off Navy.
Northeast Conference Tournament (All games streaming at NEC's website)
One of my preferred low-majors, because Northeast.
No. 8 Fairleigh Dickinson (10-20, 6-10) at No. 1 Robert Morris (19-12, 14-2), 7 p.m. Ro-Mo powered through the NEC, going 14-2, thanks to the backcourt of Karvel Anderson and Lucky Jones -- the backcourt of Karvel Anderson and Lucky Jones! Remember: they were only able to upset Kentucky in the NIT last year because they had seized the NEC's top seed, then lost in the conference tourney to LIU-Brooklyn, so these dudes aren't happy with their high seed.
No. 7 Central Connecticut (11-18, 7-9) at No. 2 Wagner (18-11, 12-4), 7 p.m.: CCSU is only ranked so low because they were without star Kyle Vinales for large swaths of the year, and the two teams split the season series, so this should be more competitive than your average 2-7. It's also worth noting they have players named Faronte Drakeford, Khalen Cumberlander, and De'Angelo Speech.
No. 6 St. Francis (PA) (9-20, 7-9) at No. 3 Bryant (18-13, 10-6), 7 p.m.: Bryant is led by star guard Alex Francis, but there's that old saying that you've gotta fight Francis with Francis. This is why Steve Francis' career was derailed by teams signing film legend Francis Ford Coppola to contracts ahead of playoff series against the Rockets.
No. 5 St. Francis (NY) (18-13, 9-7) at No. 4 Mount St. Mary's (13-16, 9-7), 7 p.m.: Hey! We profiled St. Francis in our first column! I've never been a big Mt. St. Mary's fan -- what are you, a Mountain? Or a Saint? Pick a side. I guess you could say I think they're pretty wack, but I'd only say that because their No. 2 scorer is senior guard Rashad Whack.
These are the bottom eight teams in the league competing to play against the top four, who had first-round byes. So it's not that great, but it's also our first DAYTIME BASKETBALL of the conference tourney season. All games are at Coastal Carolina, which, as Kenpom noted, is sorta unfair. But, hey, you pay for a new arena, you get nice things. Myrtle Beach is pretty.
No. 4 (South Division) Winthrop Eagles vs. No. 5 (North) Liberty Flames, 12 p.m. ET: The Flames burned their way into a tourney spot last year, becoming the worst team in the field. They're even worse this year.
No. 3 (North) Radford Highlanders vs. No. 6 (South) Presbyterian Blue Hose, 2 p.m. ET: Presbo's mascot is "Scottie the Scotsman." Radford's is simply "The Highlander." LET'S DO THIS, SCOTTISH PEOPLE:
With the (thankful) disappearance of pejorative Native American mascots, there will be less and less person-on-person mascot fights. But seriously, look at this:
As for the game, Presbyterian is No. 349 out of 351 on Kenpom, so...
No. 4 (North) Campbell Fighting Camels vs. No. 5 (South) Charleston Southern Buccaneers, 6 p.m. ET: Despite the seedings, Charleston Southern is ranked 80 Kenpom spots higher, but alas! The Fighting Camels take the sixth-most threes in the country, and Charleston Southern's three-point defense is No. 350 out of 351. So it's a good matchup. Campbell drilled 11 threes in a regular season win. Also, they have a dude named Leek Leek.
No. 3 (South) Gardner-Webb Bulldogs vs. No. 6 (North) Longwood Lancers, 8 p.m. ET: Will we never break this terrible cycle of Never-Made-The-Tourney-On-Never-Made-The-Tourney crime? Longwood is very very bad, but they are named "Longwood."
OVC Tournament (looks like games will be on the OVC's site)
It's all about Belmont and Murray State, and, as we said, the league goes out of its way to protect them. So we start with teams that need to play two games to get to the semifinails against Belmont and Murray State.
No. 5 Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles vs.. No. 8 SIU-Edwardsville Cougars, 7 p.m. ET: The one game between these two was a 64-63 Tennessee Tech win, so, yeah!
No. 6 SE Missouri State Redhawks vs. Eastern Illinois Panthers, 9 p.m. ET: Let's be honest: most of the stuff I write here is going to go in one ear/eye and out the other. No matter how much effort I put into watching, researching, and writing about college basketball, at the end of the day, you have to go out and live your life, and you will forget about the vast majority of these things. There are 351 damn teams, and most of this stuff is hopelessly trivial.
However, if I may ask you to remember one thing, and one thing only, one morsel of information out of the thousands of words I've written, let it be this:
The head coach of Southeast Missouri State is named "Dickey Nutt."
Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your day.