I’m tired of this debate. I’ve been listening to it for the last 3 weeks. But it’s what everyone’s talking about so I guess I’ll throw out my 2 cents.
What’s better? Winning the NIT or a first round loss in the NCAAs?
Personally, I think this is the most absurd question of all-time. It’s inevitably argued between fans of the team who’s in the NIT tournament. Are you guaranteed to lose in the first round if you make the NCAAs? Or are we just setting that up as the rules to make this debate ‘interesting’? Whatever, it’s still dumb.
No one on March 14th wanted to be in the NIT. One common goal that each of the 343 D-1 basketball schools share is to make the NCAA tournament each year. So yes, being in the NCAA tournament, even if you’re just there, will ALWAYS be better than anything NIT-related. Especially for a program like Penn State who’s been to the NCAA tournament a grand total of 3 times in the last 44 years. An NCAA tournament appearance for our program is something that should be treasured because it doesn’t happen everyday. I’ve become a little annoyed at how many people think this NIT run is better than being in the NCAAs.
However, I’m even more annoyed by people who try to peg the NIT as meaningless. That opinion couldn’t be any more arrogant or wrong. The only people who claim that are fans of basketball schools who regularly make the NCAA tournament. I’m sorry we’re not on your level yet where the NIT is a huge failure of a season. But even for schools like Florida this year, the NIT still provides at the very least more game experience against quality competition in a playoff atmosphere. How can your team and returning players not benefit from that?
The NIT really is what you make of it. How often do you hear motivation questions that arise after any upset in the NIT? Well, this team was still bummed out from missing the NCAA tournament, blah, blah, blah. I’m so proud of our guys for not taking that approach. While they struggled with George Mason and Cornley got hurt, they still stuck together and pulled out the W. Can you believe that we were this shot away from a crushing end to our promising season? Credit to Coach DeChellis for getting these guys focused on winning a championship.
We will benefit greatly from this run in the future. We got some game experience without Jamelle Cornley (a little preview for next year), we won in a hostile atmosphere against an established program, and we won two games in Madison Square Garden against Big East and Big 12 competition. Andrew Jones averaged 30.8 minutes, 10 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.4 fouls, and shot 55% during the NIT tournament. David Jackson averaged 23.4 minutes, 7 points, 3.6 rebounds, and shot 58% from the field (91% from the charity stripe), despite bruising his tailbone in the first half against Notre Dame. There are many reasons to believe we can build off of this experience and be a better team next season than we would’ve if we just went one-and-done in the NCAAs.
However, even though this was the most memorable week for me ever, I’d still trade it all in for an NCAA tournament berth. I’d bet Jamelle Cornley would say the same thing. The postseason shouldn’t be about how it will help the program in the future. It should be a reward for the work done this season. The 2009 NIT championship, though, was the next best thing, and it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed about. Just don’t be surprised when no one outside of State College cares. It used to be no one outside or inside State College cared, so I guess we’re making progress.