The NIT bracket is out. Iona isn’t on it. Wagner isn’t either. The difference is the emotions those two teams are feeling right now.
For the Gaels’ it’s about relief and a second chance. Their selection as an at-large bid, just the second in MAAC history, is an opportunity to make good on all the promise the season has held for them. The First Four in Dayton on Tuesday night against BYU will be a showcase for the Gaels. But more on that later.
For the Seahawks’ there is probably disappointment on Staten Island tonight. Even with 25 wins, the most of any team not selected to play in either the NCAA tournament of the NIT, it’s a tough reality to grasp.
The NIT Selection Committee, much like their cousins in the NCAA selection room, are charged with picking the best teams they can for at-large bids. The unfortunate thing is that they don’t know how many they’ll get to pick until late in Championship Week. This season 11 teams earned automatic berths by winning their conference’s regular season title and failing to win their conference tournament.
Five of those teams ended up on the bottom two seed lines, meaning they wouldn’t have gotten in any other way. One wonders if Stony Brook had beaten Vermont on Long Island on Saturday morning if things would’ve been different for the Seahawks.
Charged with picking the “best” remaining 21 teams, the committee did about the best job it could. (I’ll talk about La Salle and Cleveland State in my next post.)
Part of Wagner’s problem was that their opponents during non-conference play couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Princeton and Penn did compete for an Ivy League title, but Pittsburgh crashed, Santa Clara fell apart (not winning another game) and Air Force stumbled after the Seahawks beat them. It made the resume a little less impressive. Instead of a Top 50 victory Pittsburgh became barely a Top 100 win.
You do the best you can at the beginning of the season to make a schedule that: 1) Is achievable with the current team. 2) Is competitive. 3) Will put you in a place for a postseason bid. Wagner did almost everything they could’ve done, but for the Seahawks it just wasn’t quite enough.
It’s sad that not getting selected means the end of the road for teams like Wagner. Two other NEC teams, Robert Morris (CIT) and Quinnipiac (CBI), will be playing postseason basketball outside of the NCAA tournament. Wagner decided not to pursue postseason basketball after getting passed over by the NIT. It’s understandable, but it means a swift, unexpected end to a season that went so far and meant so much.