Overall, I think the NIT selection committee did a great job this season. Sure, they had a penchant for over seeding teams from a fake BCS conference (the Pac-12) and they put La Salle into the bracket, but charged with picking 21 at-larges after 11 bids got ripped away they did a pretty good job. Here are the four biggest issues I have with the bracket and then just two be nice two things I appreciated.
1. How did La Salle get a three seed? — The Explorers’ at-large profile isn’t horrible. They finished the season with six Top 100 RPI wins, including a victory over Xavier. Then again, La Salle also lost to Fordham. Sure every team at this stage is going to have a warts, but I could’ve easily seen a team like Denver or Princeton selected over the Explorers. What really befuddles me is the seeding. La Salle got a three, which means the Explorers were safely in the field. What justified that seed? I can’t see any logical reason for Drexel and La Salle receiving the same position in the bracket. That’s essentially what happened.
2. Why was the Pac-12 overrated? — All season we complained about how the Pac-12 was overrated. When the conference only got two teams into the Big Dance it seemed like the committee understood it too. Then the NIT bracket came out and two Pac-12 teams were sitting on the top seed lines. Neither Washington nor Arizona was in the NCAA committee’s first four out, but there were #1 seeds in the NIT. Both are talented, but don’t have the resumes to back it up. The trend continued as Stanford and Oregon received three seeds in those same regions. Now I guess the Pac-12 gets a chance to show they’ve improved by beating someone on the court again, but if November and December were signs of the future there could be some upsets coming.
3. Drexel got screwed. — The Dragons were one of the first four teams out of the NCAA tournament and they’ll host UCF, an incredibly underrated six seed, and then would have to play at Saint Joseph’s if seeds holds. While it sets up a second round matchup with a lot of local interest, it also does the Dragons a big disservice. Bruiser Flint’s team was minutes away from clinching an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Instead they’ve got an difficult path to the regional finals of the NIT. Not sure how that works out.
4. Marshall might’ve gotten screwed worse. — The Thundering Herd have a 47 RPI, four Top 50 wins and… A five seed in the NIT. Marshall beat Southern Miss, Iona, Cincinnati and Belmont. They’re all dancing. Marshall, on the other hand, has to go play at Middle Tennessee and then potentially play at Tennessee. Thanks for absolutely nothing. Tom Herrion’s team wasn’t rewarded one lick for making the NIT finals. How a team with that many good wins ends up seeded behind a team like La Salle is beyond comprehension.
Now for the positive stuff.
1. Iowa in the NIT — It’s not going to be popular, but I think the committee did the right thing by taking 17-16 Iowa. The Hawkeyes are a young team that have grown a lot during the season. They have some of the best wins in the nation and are certainly one of the 100 best teams in the country. More than that though it was obvious Fran McCaffery and the administration wanted to play in the tournament, unlike say Illinois. It’s unfortunate for Dayton that they’ll have to play at Carver-Hawkeye in the first round, but it should make for one of the best matchups of the tournament.
2. Giving the little guys a chance. — 10 of the 11 auto-bids in the tournament came from mid-major conferences. The NIT committee could’ve used this as an excuse to leave out some smaller schools in favor of bigger names, which has happened in the past. Instead of middling majors like Illinois, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Arkansas and UCLA, the committee took talented mid-majors that can benefits from the NIT experience. Like Wichita State, which has jumped into the Top 25 after making the NIT Final Four a season ago, these teams can use the experience as a springboard towards the future. Hopefully that trend continues. The tournament is better off because of it.