I watched the NIT championship last night. “Why, on earth, would he do such a thing?” you’re probably asking yourself.
My goal was to determine what value, if any, the National Invitation Tournament has. It used to crown college basketball’s national champion. Now it crowns… the 69th best team in college basketball, I think? No one cares (except for maybe dress-shirt-wearing Ray Lewis), but it persists, because there’s money in it. Meanwhile, there’s a way more important tournament running concurrently, thus making the NIT the most drawn-out consolation game ever.
I watched it, so you wouldn’t have to. And don’t worry: you didn’t miss much.
I’m a UMass alum, and we haven’t had much to root for since John Calipari took the team to the Final Four led us to a number of successful seasons in the ‘90s. So, I paid the NIT a modicum of attention as the Minutemen advanced to the semifinals in Madison Square Garden. When it became apparent that we might win the tournament, I began contemplating what an NIT Championship would mean.
Unless you go to one of the schools in it, you don’t care about the NIT (even if you do go to one of the schools in it, there’s a chance you still don’t care). Still, it’s a tournament composed entirely of schools in the top third of Division 1, so winning it isn’t easy. And we’re terrible, so I wouldn’t be opposed to hanging an NIT banner at the Mullins Center. We lost to Stanford in the semi-finals, thus ending our impossible dream of mediocrity, but the I still wondered: what the hell is an NIT championship like? So I watched it to get my head straight.
It was a disaster.
You probably don’t even know who played, so let me introduce you. Minnesota was a 6-seed, which I suppose made them a Cinderella. Two of their starters were Andre and Austin Hollins, but they are not related. Meanwhile, Stanford was a 3-seed, and beat a 6-seed, a 7-seed, a 5-seed, and a 5-seed en route to this game. Nothing like a tournament that embraces parity to the point of irrelevance. Stanford (SPOILER) won the whole thing without playing a seed from the top half of the bracket.
Neither of these teams were very good. Multiple balls were dribbled off of feet, and there was a disconcerting number of airballs. Traveling became a legitimate worry, most drives were out of control, and, at one point, there was a reach-in foul 93 feet from the basket.
On plays that were less than five minutes apart, Stanford’s Aaron Bright was fouled on a 3 he took from behind the pro line, and Minnesota’s Austin Hollins was fouled shooting a 3 in the corner. On one breakaway, a Stanford player missed a lightly contested layup, and then his teammate followed with an attempted putback jam that bounced back to the three-point line.
That was pretty great when that happened.
While Stanford settled down in the second half, Minnesota never got its act together. With just over a minute to go, Andre Ingram got stuffed (by the rim) on a dunk attempt.
Meanwhile, ESPN’s production team did all they could to try and convince us that this game did matter. The broadcast began with Mike Patrick talking about how playing in Madison Square Garden is a dream for all young basketball players. While this claim is hard to dispute, he then went on to say that this invitation to play in the NIT is a dream fulfilled. Really, Mike? “A dream fulfilled?” What dream is that? “You know mom, one day, I’m going to play in a consolation sideshow tournament and be part of a team that will be crowned champion of the not-that-bad-but-not-that-good schools. Just you watch.”
Later on, Fran Fraschilla claimed that Stanford’s trip to Spain in the offseason, in which they did not win a game, had all paid off because they were about to win this tournament. Which kind of says all you need to know about the NIT.
All told, it was a couple hours of my life that I’ll never get back. The NIT is, essentially, BracketBusters for mediocre major conference schools, no matter what ESPN tries to say. How do I know? This game was the lead-in to the college 3-point and slam dunk championship.
Don’t watch the NIT. It’s the worst thing ever.
Agree? Disagree? Be sure to follow Dan Spritz on Twitter, and write shouty, all-caps tweets about inferior tournaments at him.