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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

March 27, 2012 at 12:19 PM

What it means (or doesn’t) to reach an NIT final

So . . . we having fun yet in the NIT? Tuesday night is the semifinals, with Washington meeting Minnesota after Stanford takes on Massachusetts.

There’s no real gauging of the Washington fan base over what it thinks of this thing. I’d guess it’s generally ho-hum, except among the most diehard fans. It’s always better to win than lose, but personally, I’m of the persuasion that getting into the NCAA and losing in your first game is better than winning the NIT. Sorry if that offends you. For me, it’s like asking the question, would you rather say your pro baseball career ended with you hitting .352 in Triple A, or getting five at-bats in the majors?

Maybe I’d find the NIT more enticing if there weren’t the prospect that Tony Wroten and/or Terrence Ross may be leaving Washington soon. If they do, it means that the UW lineup next year, and its way of achieving success, will be far different from what we’re looking at now.

Meanwhile, there’s an urban legend with the NIT. It goes like this: If you make a big run in the NIT, it’s a springboard to bigger things the next year.

Well, not so much. At least, not always. I went back and researched what happened to NIT champs and runners-up since the turn of the millennium. That’s 12 years of evidence, 24 separate cases.


I found the results pretty intriguing. Of those 24 teams, only five went on to win one or more games in the NCAA tournament the next year. Two (Baylor in 2010, North Carolina in 2011, coming off NIT-finals appearances the years before) went to the Elite Eight and one (West Virginia in 2008) made the Sweet 16.
Only half the 24 teams made the NCAA field the following year. In several cases, a team performed so poorly that its coach was fired that next season. And there was one weird stretch of four years from 2003-2006 when none of the eight finalists went to the NCAA the next year and a losing record was the rule, not the exception.
Here’s the breakdown:
2000 NIT finals: Wake Forest over Notre Dame . . . Wake made the 2001 NCAA as a No. 7 seed, lost by 16 to Butler in first round. Notre Dame was a 2001 No. 6 seed, beat Xavier by 12, lost in second round.
2001: Tulsa over Alabama . . . Tulsa made the ’02 tournament as a 12 seed, beat Marquette by two, lost to Kentucky in the second round. ‘Bama was a 2 seed in 2002, but fell victim to Kent State’s Elite Eight run in the second round.
2002: Memphis over South Carolina . . . Memphis was a 7 seed in the ’03 tournament, lost to Arizona State by 13 in the first round. South Carolina went 12-16 in 03.
2003: St. John’s over Georgetown . . . St. John’s went 6-21 in ’04 and fired Mike Jarvis. Georgetown went 13-15, lost its last nine and dismissed Craig Esherick as coach.
2004: Michigan over Rutgers . . . In ’05, Michigan was 13-18. Rutgers went 10-19.
2005: South Carolina over St. Joseph’s . . . South Carolina went back to the NIT in 2006 and won it again. St. Joe’s went 19-14 and bowed out in the second round of the NIT.
2006: South Carolina over Michigan . . . In ’07, South Carolina went 14-16. Michigan went 22-13 and lost in the 2nd round of the NIT, firing coach Tommy Amaker.
2007: West Virginia over Clemson . . . In ’08, WVU was a No. 7 seed and made an NCAA Sweet 16 run. Clemson was an NCAA 5 seed and lost a first-round game to Villanova.
2008: Ohio State over Massachusetts . . . OSU in 2009 went 22-11 and lost to Siena in OT in the NCAA first round. UMass went 12-18 a year after Travis Ford ducked out for the Oklahoma State job.
2009: Penn State over Baylor . . . PSU went 11-20 and had a mid-season, 12-game losing streak. Baylor made an Elite Eight run, the best showing in a post-NIT season in this millennium (matched a year later by North Carolina).
2010: Dayton over North Carolina . . In ’11, Dayton went 22-14 and lost in the NIT first round. Carolina lost to Kentucky in the Elite Eight.
2011: Wichita State over Alabama . . . In 2012, Wichita State was a mid-major darling much of the season, believed capable of a big NCAA run, but it lost to VCU as a 5 seed in the NCAA. ‘Bama was a first-round NCAA loser to Creighton.

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