March Sadness: Conference Tournament Week

For some college basketball teams, March is a time for sadness. Matt Raymond highlights the saddest moments during conference tournament week in this postseason installment.

Lady Vols

Lady Vols

[title_box title=”March Sadness: Conference Tournament Week”]

Well, it is that time of year again: March Madness — everyone’s favorite month.

However, for some fans, March Madness can quickly turn into something a lot worse. March Sadness, if you will. So without further ado, welcome to the first installment of March Sadness! We will be taking a look at the biggest upsets and darkhorse wins of 2016 postseason play. In this first edition, we will look at some of the craziest games in the conference championships.

After that, it will be a round-by-round installment until a champion is crowned. So go ahead and curl up on the couch, turn the lights off, grab yourself a big bowl of ice cream, and try to hold in the tears. There will be much more where this comes from.

Before we start, just let me say there were A LOT of games in the conference tournaments, and therefore A LOT of opportunities for sadness.

In 2015, the Belmont Bruins won a pair of thrillers to clinch the Ohio Valley Conference Championship. They entered the big dance as a No. 15 seed, but No. 15 seeds never win (unless you are Florida Gulf Coast and the year is 2013, in which case you make it to the Sweet 16). This year, Belmont entered the tournament at the No. 1 seed with a record of 20-10 (12-4). A second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament was theirs for the taking. Actually, scratch that, because Austin Peay also plays in the OVC. Only the top eight seeds get to go to the OVC conference tournament, and Austin Peay just barely got the distinction of being the No. 7 seed.

APSU and Belmont met in the semifinals in an incredible overtime game that came down to the last shot. Belmont’s Evan Bradds had an unreal game, starting 14-of-14 from the field before missing a potential game-winning layup, which sent the game to overtime. The game stayed close in overtime, but the putback of a missed three pointer to win came a split second too late for the Bruins, ending Belmont’s tournament aspirations. Now, we get to hear the single best chant in all of college sports for a little longer: “Let’s go Peay.”

What is one of the few things that is wilder than a No. 8 seed winning their conference tournament? A No. 9 winning their conference tournament. Enter College of the Holy Cross. Yes, that is a real college, and yes, they are going to the NCAA tournament. Holy Cross plays in the Patriot League, which has some sneaky good teams such as Bucknell, Army West Point, and Lehigh (which beat Duke in the tournament a couple years ago). Holy Cross beat them all. Entering the tournament, Holy Cross won a mere 10 games. Even with the four wins, the Crusaders are still five games under .500, which typically is not something one would see in a NCAA Tournament team. But I guess that is why we have March. And who knows? Maybe Holy Cross will shock the world and win their second national championship. I mean it has only been 69 years since their last one in 1947. Anything can happen, folks.

The Atlantic Sun Tournament was, to put it lightly, insane. In the first semifinal, the reigning champion and top seeded North Florida met Florida Gulf Coast. Nicknamed “Dunk City,” FGCU dominated that game, and North Florida was knocked out of contention for a repeat trip to the big dance, because that is how conference tournaments work, right? Nope. The second semifinal, another game that was not very close, was between Lipscomb and Stetson. Stetson won handily and would face FGCU in the final. However, Stetson is ineligible for postseason play past the A-Sun tournament. If FGCU won, they would have the opportunity to go dancing. If Stetson won, North Florida would go dancing because they won the A-Sun regular season. So as you can see, just a completely normal situation, nothing weird here. The final came down to the wire, just as it should in March. Stetson’s Divine Myles (a potential first-team all-name selection) had a chance to tie the game and send it to double overtime, but the shot was emphatically blocked by Florida Gulf Coast’s Zach Johnson. Go crazy, Dunk City.

When you think of the Missouri Valley conference, two schools come to mind: Wichita State and Northern Iowa. Not many people outside of the conference know much about anyone else that plays in the MVC. However, thanks to the month of March, we now know that Evansville is in the MVC! Unfortunately for Evansville fans, the reason we know they have a basketball team is not because they won their conference and are going to the NCAA tournament. In fact, they lost in the final to Northern Iowa. With time winding down in regulation, the game was tied at 54. UNI’s Wes Washpun took the last shot of the game. Initially it bounced off the back of the rim and looked like the game was heading to overtime, but Washpun had luck on his side. The ball fell through the net as time expired. Sorry Evansville, maybe next year people will know you exist.

The Vanderbilt Commodores entered the season amidst high expectations. The preseason Top-25 squad was projected to finish second in the SEC behind Kentucky. Here is a quick overview of how their season went: not too good. The Commodores played the Tennessee Volunteers in the second round of the SEC Tournament. Vanderbilt used its three seven-footers and lethal three-point shooting to demolish the Vols twice in the regular season. On the bubble, the Commodores needed an impressive showing to cement their spot in the big dance. Tennessee, on the other hand, was simply playing for pride after not having the best of years. The Vols came out of the gate swinging, establishing a sizable lead, but Vandy would make a push late. Down 67-65, Wade Baldwin IV appeared to send the game into overtime with a game-tying layup, but he released the shot after the sound of the final buzzer, and the basket was waived off. Tennessee advanced to the quarterfinals, while the Commodores took the 10-minute drive home heartbroken.

If you watch college basketball, you are aware of Monmouth and their bench antics. As it turns out, the guys are actually pretty good! The No. 1 seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the Hawks faced the No. 2 seed Iona in the MAAC Championship after splitting the two regular season meetings. Now, I could write about how sad Monmouth is because they lost that game, but I will take a different approach. Monmouth lived on the bubble the past few weeks, and despite losing in their conference tournament championship, many believed they would still make it into March Madness. I mean, with 13 true road games and wins against USC, at Georgetown, and No. 17 Notre Dame would surely be enough, right? Well I don’t make the picks, so what do I know? The selection committee was apparently unimpressed by Monmouth, so goodbye to calf-roping teammates on the bench during games.

Oklahoma vs West Virginia in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament gave us one of the most incredible games of postseason play thus far. Both ranked in the top 10, it was sure to be a battle of titans. West Virginia, affectionately known as “Press Virginia,” all but shut down the leading candidate for the Wooden Award in Buddy Hield in the first half. Hield struggled all game, but fortunately the rest of his team, was able to keep Oklahoma in the game. The Sooners ended up with the ball under their own goal with less than two seconds left down by two. There was just enough time for a couple dribbles and a half-court prayer. Naturally, the ball came to Hield, although he had a dismal scoring night compared to his 25 point per game average. Since Steph Curry is not in college any longer, if there is anyone to make a last second prayer to win the game, it is Hield. He channeled his inner Curry, making the basket. Pretty sad for West Virginia fans. They were having such a good year, only to go out in the semifinals. However, after further evaluation, it was determined Hield still had the ball in his hand as time expired and the basket was waved off. So sorry Oklahoma, boomer just a little bit sooner next time and you will not have to be in this article.

Wow. That was a lot of sadness. And that was not even all of it! Some honorable mentions:

Cincinnati: The Bearcats lost to Connecticut in four overtimes. A full-court heave in the third overtime was good, and Uconn ended up winning an absolute thriller.

Tennessee’s Cinderella hopes: After playing outstanding against Auburn and Vanderbilt, it all came crashing down against LSU.

LSU’s tournament hopes: After a nice showing against Tennessee, the Tigers had one of the all-time worst performances against Texas A&M, only scoring 38 points and being left out of the tournament despite having the likely No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft in Ben Simmons.

That will just about do it for this edition of March Sadness. There was a lot to be sad about, but do not worry! There is much more where that came from. The greatest month of the year is just getting started. With such a historically wild regular season, this postseason is sure to be just as insane, if not more. So make sure you are keeping an eye out for the next edition. I can go ahead and guarantee there will be a lot to get through.

Featured image by the Tennessee Journalist

Edited by David Bradford

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Matt is a sophomore journalism and electronic media major at the University of Tennessee. He enjoys watching any and all sports, and is an active member in the Pride of the Southland Marching Band. Follow him on twitter @mattraymond271