Late last night as the clocks sprung forward I published my second to last NIT bracket of the season. In the past I’ve had a chance to write up some thoughts about the bracket, but that hasn’t been nearly as easy this season. But I did want to share some of my thinking at this point in the process.
The NIT Bubble
I went over the bubble in some detail yesterday. The main thing that has changed is that Championship Saturday pushed a number of automatic bids into the NIT. We’re now projected at somewhere between nine and 11 automatic bids to the NIT—depending on what happens to Illinois St. and Princeton, which would be slightly below the five-year average (12).
The automatic bids forced some cuts around the bubble and I ultimately had to drop Valparaiso and Davidson out of the bracket. The Davidson cut was relatively easy. The Wildcats just have too many losses to be considered a serious NIT at-large contender. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with Valparaiso’s profile, except that the Crusaders will be without Alec Peters in the NIT and their worst loss came against Milwaukee when Peters was injured. I asked the NCAA how the NIT selection committee might deal with the Peters injury and Jeff Williams from the NCAA had this to say: “Just like the NCAA Committee, the NIT Committee has a great deal of metrics, data and information that it reviews in selecting the teams it invites. Along with the data and metrics the committee uses it also can consider the availability of student-athletes for the Tournament. Each committee member can take that under consideration during the voting process.”
Among the remaining teams I have missing the NIT all have some flaw to point that explains why they won’t get in, which I discussed in more detail in my previous post. One team I didn’t cover in that post was St. Bonaventure. SBU had a nice season, but didn’t beat anyone of consequence along the way. The Bonnies don’t have a Top RPI 100 win all season. That’s what I expect will ultimately keep them out.
And even though it’s UNC Asheville on the 8 seed line it’s the two power conference teams near the bottom of the bracket that I feel least confident about. It’ll be interesting to see how the NIT committee handles Colorado and Ohio St. along with the Mountain West.
Turning Down NIT Bids
Speaking of Ohio St. There has been some chatter that maybe the Buckeyes shouldn’t accept an at-large bid to the NIT if offered. Adam Jardy of The Columbus Dispatch reported on March 9 that the Buckeyes had signed the non-binding postseason agreement. Jardy also wrote that LSU turned down an NIT bid last season, which was popular scuttlebutt after the Tigers released a statement. But I was told by the NCAA that, “LSU was not invited to participate,” and that “since the NCAA has managed the NIT even no team has been invited to the NIT that has not participated,” which both seem to directly contradict that fact.
It is of course entirely possible that LSU communicated to the committee that it did not want to participate in the NIT and thus weren’t invited. But I didn’t expect the Tigers to make the NIT bracket even prior to their statement last season.
Thus, even though Illinois fired John Groce yesterday it seems inconceivable that the Fighting Illini won’t be in the NIT bracket. Illinois has a chance to be in the First Four Out of the NCAA Tournament tomorrow, which would automatically make them a No. 1 seed in the NIT. No team, interim head coach or not, turns down that opportunity. It would be awfully conspicuous and set an odd precedent for the NCAA if Illinois were suddenly not in the tournament. This isn’t happening.
Last night’s bracket features this season’s first seed tweak based on geography. Because there are now three automatic bids from the West Coast sitting on the 8 seed line it seems unlikely they all stay there, even though I believe that’s their true seed. Instead of sending Cal St. Bakersfield across the country to play Georgia and UNC Asheville back the other way to play California I just swapped the two. The NIT selection committee has the power to move a team one bracket line from its true seed when it is placed on the bracket to accomodate such a situation. I fully expect they’ll employ that technique if there is a geographically unbalanced First Four Out tonight.
Enjoy the last few games. Expect the final NIT bracket tonight after the NCAA Selection Show.