With Minnesota’s victory over Middle Tennessee State on Wednesday night, the Washington Huskies now know who their opponent will be in the semi-finals of the NIT at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, March 27th. When looking over at the otherside of the bracket, you see that Stanford will be facing UMass. Given this group of four teams, seeing the Washington Huskies win the entire National Invitational Tournament is entirely plausible. It isn’t that these three teams couldn’t beat the Huskies. But, the way the Huskies are playing and the talent differential between the Huskies and those three teams, the Huskies really ought to win this tournament.
Which leads me to ask…If they do win this NIT, where does that rank compared to having had the chance to make the NCAA tournament. One of the old sayings is that the NIT is really 32 teams playing for the right to be number 69. But, in reality, most of the teams in the NIT are better than at least 12-16 of the teams in the NCAA tournament. Many of the minor conference tournament champions get in by autobid alone and really would not realistically beat most of the bubble teams who went to the NIT on a consistent basis. Heck, many of the NIT teams from the low-majors are better than the team representing their conference in the NCAA tournament since they won their conference regular season title but suffered an upset in their conference tournament.
In addition, something has to be said for winning 5 games in a row to take the NIT title. Who is better? California losing to South Florida in the 12-seed play-in game or a team like Washington winning 3, 4, or 5 games in a row against similar quality bubble teams in the NIT? How about #11 seed Texas losing to Cincinnati or #14 seed BYU (the highest at-large bid in NCAA history) losing badly to Marquette (while the Huskies only lost by 2?).
There’s certainly an aura to the NCAA that can not be denied. Many people would say that they would rather lose in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament than win the NIT tournament. That’s a fair opinion since everyone strives to make the NCAA tournament and only goes to the NIT as a consolation. But, winning five games in a row is an achievement no matter who you are playing. It’s even more so than when they are also playing in a knock-out game.
Then, there is the massive disappointment associated with what could have been when you are a #2 or #4 seed getting knocked off by a no-name mid-major in the first game. How successful do you think #2 Duke fans or #2 Missouri fans or #4 Michigan feel their season was going out in the first game? So, when looking at the relative scale of achievement, where does winning the NIT tournament really compare?
Is it the same as making the 1st round of the NCAA tournament? Is it the same as making the 2nd round? Sweet 16? We’d love to hear your opinion on this…