by Mike Hayes - 03/13/2006
In case you missed it amidst all of the NCAA selection hoopla on Sunday, there is another tournament that begins play Tuesday. In some future season the top-seeded teams in this year's National Invitation Tournament could just as likely find themselves at the top of the NCAA tournament brackets as Louisville, Maryland, Cincinnati and Michigan highlight a deep NIT field.
No, there were no cameras waiting for player reaction, no television show announcing their selection and in the case of some of the schools who had their sights set on the Big Dance, there might actually have been some groans of disgust when they learned of their selection to the tournament which is known jokingly as the "Not Invited Tournament."
While the selection process for the 40-team field generates little in the way of fanfare or interest outside of fans of the participants, there are bound to be some good match-ups and some solid betting opportunities when the games kickoff on Tuesday.
This year's version of the postseason NIT, which was first held in 1938 -- a year prior to the NCAA Tournament - is the first to be run by the NCAA, which purchased the rights to the event in August. In making that announcement NCAA President Myles Brand promised the stature of the event would be enhanced with better competition and it appears this year's tournament does have a bit more appeal than it has had in recent years.
As required under the new selection process implemented by the NCAA, the field includes the regular season conference champions that failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. They are Manhattan (18-10), from the MAAC, Fairleigh Dickinson (20-11) out of the NEC, Lipscomb (21-10) from the Atlantic Sun, Western Kentucky (23-7) from the Sun Belt, Delaware State (20-13) out of the MEAC, Big Sky champ Northern Arizona (21-10) and Georgia Southern (20-9) out of the Southern Conference.
Joining them are Missouri State (20-8), Creighton (19-9), Florida State (19-9) and Hofstra (24-6), each of which held out hopes of an NCAA berth only to have their bubble burst on Sunday.
Also in the field are Rutgers and Notre Dame from the Big East; Penn State and Minnesota from the Big Ten; Wake Forest, Virginia, Clemson and Miami from the ACC; St. Joseph's, Temple and Charlotte from the A-10; Colorado, Oklahoma State and Nebraska from the Big 12; Vanderbilt and South Carolina from the SEC; UTEP and Houston from Conference USA; Old Dominion out of the CAA; Butler from the Horizon; Akron the MAC; BYU from the Mountain West; Stanford from the PAC-10 and Louisiana Tech out of the WAC.
Although the NCAA did away with a long-standing NIT requirement that participants have at least a .500 record, every team in the tournament is at least a game better than even on the season.
The tournament kicks off with eight games Tuesday, seven Wednesday and one Thursday, with the higher seeds playing host. The top eight seeds; Louisville, Cincinnati, Michigan, Maryland, St. Joseph's, Creighton, Missouri State, and Florida State; get a first-round bye and do not begin play until Saturday.
When the field is whittled to four, all remaining games will be played at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Handicapping the NIT field has been a bit difficult because, for many schools, an invitation is a letdown. No big pay day and no national television. For smaller conference, however, it has long represented a chance to play some of the bigger programs coming off a year not quite good enough for the NCAA field and to gain a bit of exposure in the process.
This year might be a little different, however, due to a couple of head-scratching decisions among the NCAA tournament field of 65 that has left a few schools with something to prove.
Cincinnati is likely motivated due to its NCAA snub as is Missouri State, which has the dubious distinction of being the best-rated team in history in terms of RPI not to be invited to the tournament. In fact, the 20th rated Bears and 21st rated Hofstra Pride are the only teams with RPIs better than 33 not to get themselves an invitation to the Big Dance.
Some of the better first round match-ups look to be Stanford -5.5 hosting Virginia, Penn State -3 hosting Rutgers, Notre Dame -6 hosting Vanderbilt, Minnesota -4 hosting Wake Forest and Colorado -5 hosting Old Dominion.
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