Friday, March 22, 2013

The Other Tournaments of March

By Kevin Beane

I admit it. While I can't take my eyes off the tube during the NCAA tournament, I switch more often than I should to the (rightfully) ignored other college basketball tournaments for the also-rans. What can I say, I'm a contrarian.

The main one of these, of course, is the NIT, but two more have recently arrived on the slate to ensure that virtually every Division I team with a winning record will playing somewhere with hardware on the line. Let's take a look at each.

NIT

History — The NIT is both older and used to be more prestigious than the NCAA tournament. This is because the finals have always been held in New York City, which counted a lot more for publicity in the 1940s than it does now. Additionally, it was the NIT that gave us the concept of an "at-large bid." In the early days of the NCAA tournament, they would only allow one team per region to participate. This would mean that the second best team in a region could also be the second best team in the country, and not be able to play in the NCAA tourney.

The NIT had no such restrictions, which (besides the NYC location) lent it more prestige. Another reason some teams chose the NIT was more insidious: with the NCAA holding matches at campus sites, and not giving the schools a say to their opponent, a segregated school the South could be made to play a black team.

In addition to some schools choosing the NIT over the NCAA, some schooled played both. In 1950, City College of New York were both NCAA and NIT champions. Following that season, the NCAA ruled that schools could not play in both tournaments, and coupled with the beginnings of the civil rights movement, the NCAA became the premier tournament for good.

2013 — The interesting thing about the NIT and the other consolation tournaments is that you can tell which teams truly do take every game seriously and which teams, having fallen short of their NCAA dreams, just go through the motions. It comes down to coaching. Often, schools will decline the NIT invitation.

This year, two of the teams widely believed to be the last two out of the NCAA field, Tennessee and Kentucky, both lost in the first round, as did UMass. The heavies left include Maryland, Virginia, and Alabama. You can whet your NCAA whistle Saturday with an early start (11AM ET) NIT second round game between St. John's and Virginia on ESPN.

College Basketball Invitational

History — The CBI began in 2008 by The Gazelle Group, who continue to run it. You may not have heard of The Gazelle Group, but you are probably familiar with their work; they run a ton of the early season tournaments like the 2K Sports Classic, The Gothic Classic, and the Legends Classic.

The tournament is one rung below the NIT and includes several high majors each year. One interesting wrinkle to the tournament is that the championship is best-of-three. More cynically, there are no seeds and schools have to pay to host games.

2013 — This year's heavies were Texas and Purdue, although Texas has already lost. Two of the quarterfinals, the semifinals, and finals will be on the AXS channel, which is a DirecTV-exclusive channel that used to be known as HDNet. The teams remaining besides Purdue are Houston, George Mason, Santa Clara, Richmond, Wright State, Western Michigan, and Wyoming. Four of the eight first round matches were decided by a point.

2013 CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament

History — This one started in 2009, by, believe it or not, the website CollegeInsider.com.

The CIT is, by rule, major-free. Only mid-major teams on down are eligible, although that includes the Mountain West. They also have the distinction of being the only postseason tournament besides the NCAA to grant an automatic bid to a conference tournament winner. That would be the Great West Conference, which has too few teams, five, to be permitted into NCAA tournament inclusion. With four of those five schools moving on to other conferences, the future of the Great West Conference is in doubt.

If you are looking for a CIT bracket, don't bother. They re-seed after every round and decide who will play who only after each round has been completed.

2013 — The two best teams left in the field are probably Air Force and Weber State, so it's puzzling that tournament organizers have decided to pit them against each other in the second round. Other teams left of note are Tulane, Bradley, and Northern Iowa. Although all games are streamed on the tournament website, only the championship is on television proper, on the CBS Sports Network.

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