With Selection Sunday approaching this weekend and the NCAA tournament tipping off next week, we now find ourselves in what college basketball fans refer to as the most wonderful time of the year, March Madness. I however am here to talk about the other college basketball tournament that happens every March, which of course is the National Invitation Tournament. This is the tournament that features the next best 32 teams who failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Many people don’t know that the NIT is actually college basketball’s oldest post-season tournament, preceding the NCAA by one year, and was also the most prestigious when it was started back in 1938. Today, however the NIT has been labeled as nothing more than a consolation prize and is viewed with a negative stigma by the college basketball world. The NIT now is often referred to as the “Not Invited Tournament,” or “Not Important Tournament,” and is even used as a taunting chant by opposing fans when a team with hopes of the NCAA tournament loses an important late season game.
I for one, however, just can’t seem to get enough of the NIT. For some strange reason I find myself drawn to college basketball’s other tournament year in and year out and in the last few years have probably only missed watching just a handful of games. I think the thing that I like most about the NIT is that it gives teams a chance to keep playing and allows younger teams to continue to improve against good competition. It also provides cool inter-conference matchups between teams that you wouldn’t normally see play each other in the regular season, such as Iowa vs. Oregon last season.
The other aspect that I enjoy about the NIT is that games are only aired on days when the NCAA tournament is not being played which means that from mid-March to early April there is college basketball on virtually every day, which I don’t think any basketball fans would ever argue with. The other cool thing about the NIT is that the final four teams get to play at Madison Square Garden in New York City, basketball’s most famous arena. So, if that isn’t motivation for players to want to advance in the NIT, then I don’t know what is?
The most important part of the NIT however is that a good performance serves a springboard for team’s success into the next season. This is evidenced by the fact that three out of the last five NIT champions have made the NCAA tournament the following year. So, although the NIT is likely to remain nothing more than the little brother of the NCAA tournament for years to come, its important to remember that these games are not entirely meaningless like everyone thinks, and this is why I will continue to watch.