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NIT Journal

   by Larry Ness - 03/29/2016

NIT Journal (Mar 29)

The National Invitation Tournament is the oldest tournament in college basketball. The NIT was first contested in 1938, with the NCAA beginning the following year (1939). The 1938 original field consisted of only six teams but was expanded to eight teams in 1941, 12 teams in 1949, 14 teams in 1965, 16 teams in 1968, 24 teams in 1979, 32 teams in 1980 and finally to 40 teams in 2002 through 2006. The tournament reverted to the current 32-team format in 2007 (note: the NCAA purchased the NIT in 2005). The NIT was originally played entirely at NYC’s Madison Square Garden but the opening rounds of the tournament were later moved from New York to campus sites in 1977. “The Garden” was reserved solely for the semifinals and the finals, which is currently how the tournament is still played.

In the early years, the NIT was considered the equal of, if the not the more important, postseason tourney. However, that was THEN and this is NOW! The post-season NIT now consists of teams that failed to receive a berth in the NCAA Tournament, leaving the tourney with nicknames it hardly wants associated with this once-prestigious event. The list includes "Not Invited Tournament", "Never Important Tournament", "Nobody's Interested Tournament", "Needs Improvement Tournament", "No Important Team", "National Insignificant Tournament," or simply "Not In Tournament". Maybe the worst the NIT has been called is the tourney designated as the one to determine which is the "69th best team" in the country!

Schools enter the current NIT with the hope the experience could jump-start things for the following season, the primary goal being NOT to return to the NIT. However, the history book is somewhat inconclusive on that premise. Of the 40 teams that reached the NIT semifinals over the previous decade, only half (20) reached the NCAA Tournament the following season. Five got to the Sweet 16, two to the Elite Eight and none to the Final Four. However, of the last 10 NIT champions, only THREE had better records the following season. Six of those failed to make the NCAA Tournament the year after winning the NIT.

Valparaiso (29-6) is the only No. 1 seed to make it to New York, as St Bonny’s, Monmouth and South Carolina all came up short. The Crusaders will take on 26-10 BYU, a No. 2 seed which is the only one of this year’s Final 4 teams to have won a previous NIT title (the Cougars won in both 1951 and 1966). BYU lost to Baylor in the 2013 NIT semifinals, a team coached by Scott Drew, the brother of current Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew, who is best-known for his buzzer-beating shot in the first round of Valparaiso’s run in the 1998 NCAA tournament.

Both Valpo and BYU have played all three of their previous NIT games at home. Valparaiso has already set a school record for victories (29) and junior forward Alec Peters has been a force in NIT play so far, 24.7 PPG and 8.0 RPG. The only other double digit scorer is PG Keith carter (10.3-4.4 APG) but SEVEN others chip in averages between 4.5 and 9.1 PPG. Defense is a key for the Crusaders, who have held opponents to 62.2 PPG (9th) on 38.3 percent shooting (3rd). Guards Fisher (18.3) and Emery (16.2) lead the Cougars in scoring but the 6-6 “do-everything” Collinsworth may be the team's MVP. He averages 15.2-8.3-7.5, delivering an NCAA-record 12 triple-doubles in his career. BYU averages 84.0 PPG, 6th-best in the nation but Valpo is the two-point favorite.

The second game features 26-10 George Washington, a No. 4 seed and the only one of the four teams playing which did not have three home games on its way to New York, taking on 28-9 San Diego St, a No. 2 seed. GW wasn’t supposed to be an NIT team this year with three senior starters (each of them four-year starters) and a couple of key transfers coming in this season. The Colonials opened 10-1, including a win over Virginia (which was one of four NCAA No. 1 seeds) and found themselves ranked for the first time in 10 years and for just the 10th time in the program’s 103-year history. However, the Colonials faded down the stretch. The 6-9 Tyler Cavanaugh is GW’s Alec Peters (16.8-7.5), averaging 21.7 & 9.3 in three NCAA wins, plus guard Garino (14.2) and the 6-10 Larsen (12.3-8.4) comprise those three seniors I mentioned earlier.That trio has led GW to an average of 83.7 PPG in wins over Hofstra, Monmouth and Florida.

GW will meet SD St for the first time-ever in this one, with the Aztecs making their initial cross-country trek this season. Head coach Steve Fisher, who won an NCAA title with Michigan back in 1989, has been in San Diego since the 1999-2000 season. He has led the Aztecs to eight NCAA bids, including SIX in a row before this year’s NIT appearance. The MWC was way down this year, so judging this year’s SD St is a little difficult. However, SD St can sure play defense. It has held its opponents to just 60.5 PPG on the season (3rd) on 37.1 percent (No. 1 in the nation!), including 29.8 percent on threes (5th). The Aztecs are favored by 3 1/2 points.

My next journal will be Thursday, available by 12 noon ET.

Good luck...Larry

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