The problem with having the NCAAs and NIT broadcast by two different organizations.

This is a day late, but I wanted to stretch out The Streak while keeping the Kickstarter feature on Monday:

So as I mentioned Friday, truTV had a “Hardcore Brackets” show that revealed the full 1-68 seed list of the teams in the tournament. Not only that, it also revealed the “first four out” of the NCAA field. Those teams were Oral Roberts, Miami (FL), Nevada, and Drexel.

You would expect the “first four out” to also make up the four #1 seeds in the NIT, right? Wrong. NONE of those four are #1 seeds in the NIT. Miami is a #2, Drexel is a #3, and Oral Roberts and Nevada are playing each other in a 4/5 game. ORU, which appeared to be the very first team knocked out of the NCAAs, is a 4 seed, barely getting a first-round home game, and Nevada isn’t even that lucky.

For some reason, ESPN’s “Bracketology” show never mentioned the seed list that was being revealed simultaneously, and the NIT Selection Show seemed to dance around ORU’s bubble status. NIT committee chair C.W. Newton’s interview with George Smith was heavy on vague platitudes and light on actual insight; Newton claimed that there wasn’t much difference between the NCAA and NIT committees, but was never asked why his committee diverged so much from the NCAA committee in their assessment of the first teams out of the NCAA field.

To be fair, it seems the committee never took a vote on the last team in the field before St. Bonaventure’s win in the A-10 final stole that bid, and the teams that would have been included in that vote would have also included Mississippi State and Seton Hall, so it’s entirely possible Seton Hall (which did get a 1 seed in the NIT) would have won that vote, but still, Nevada goes from being potentially the last team in the NCAA field to not even hosting an NIT game?!? What the hell is going on here???

Blogging the Lesser Tournaments V: The Championships Before the Championship

Richmond, VA, Monday: Saint Louis had a 13-12 lead with about eight minutes left in the first half, but then Virginia Commonwealth hit three straight three-pointers and didn’t look back. The Rams had the lead 36-25 at the half, but the Billikens managed to cut the deficit to three in the first five minutes of the second. Then Virginia Commonwealth basically iced the game with a 14-4 run spearheaded by Joey Rodriguez, taking the first game of the CBI Championship Series. Saint Louis 56, Virginia Commonwealth 68.

New York, NY, Tuesday: What could be the last NIT semifinals had two games worthy of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Dayton led 34-30 at the half and pushed it to 64-58 with three minutes left on technical free throws before Ole Miss started to come back, cutting the deficit to 64-62 with 64 seconds left. With 35.8 seconds left, Murphy Holloway went to the line with a chance to tie, but bricked the second free throw; London Warren hit one of two with 23.7 seconds left to put the lead back at two; Trevor Gaskins missed a layup, and Chris Johnson hit two free throws to make it a two-possession game with 11 seconds left; Warren knocked the ball out of bounds on the ensuing Rebel possession, and Johnson stole the inbounds pass, knocking down one of two free throws to send Dayton to the championship game, hoping to send a message after a disappointing season. Dayton 68, Mississippi 63.

Meanwhile, North Carolina is the NIT’s Butler, and might not have been that far off from Butler’s seed. But it certainly took them everything they had to knock off Rhode Island. The score was knotted 30-30 at halftime, and after Rhode Island took a 59-54 lead with 1:47 to play, UNC scored the next five points to knot it at 59-59. URI’s Delroy James whiffed on two free throws with 28.6 seconds left in regulation, and Larry Drew let the clock run down to six seconds before taking an ill-advised shot. Late in the extra session with UNC leading 68-67, Drew forced up a shot with five seconds left, beating the shot clock buzzer. Lamonte Ulmer picked up the rebound but lost control before getting off a shot before the buzzer sounded, leading Rhode Island coach Jim Baron to suggest a foul should have been called. North Carolina 68, Rhode Island 67 (OT).

Springfield, MO, Tuesday: Pacific led 35-29 after one and 50-44 with 11 minutes left, but Missouri State went on an 11-0 run in the next two minutes, taking a 55-50 lead. From there it was simply protecting it. Pacific went on a 5-2 run in the two minutes after that, but Missouri State locked down the game for good with a 12-4 run over the next five minutes, leading 69-59 with 2:19 to play. Pacific’s second half play was plagued by turnovers and fouls as five Bears scored in double figures, including 16 points from Caleb Patterson, who had played a total of 27 minutes the rest of the tournament. Pacific 65, Missouri State 78.

St. Louis, MO, Wednesday: Saint Louis scored the first nine points and overcame a 20-16 deficit to lead 33-24 at the break, but a high-scoring second half saw the game tied at 61 with 3:04 to play. From there, the Billikens’ youth caught up to them, as Virginia Commonwealth went on a 10-4 run to become the first team to sweep the CBI Championship Series. Virginia Commonwealth 71, Saint Louis 65.

New York, NY, Thursday: Could the NIT final – possibly the last game in NIT history – provide as much excitement as the semis? Dayton led 45-32 at the break, but North Carolina played them tight in the second half, starting on a 12-1 run in the first three and a half minutes before Dayton recovered. Marcus Ginyard missed a potential game-tying layup, leading to a Paul Williams 3 that put Dayton up 62-57 with 7:46 to play. UNC managed to cut the deficit to 67-63 with 3:37 left, but Chris Johnson hit a 3 and a dunk that put the Flyers up 72-63 with 2:50 left. North Carolina cut the deficit to 68-73 with 1:14 to play, but wouldn’t score the rest of the way. North Carolina 68, Dayton 79.

Congratulations to Missouri State, Virginia Commonwealth, and Dayton. Had North Carolina won, the season might end with UNC and Duke each holding postseason titles. Instead, mid-majors could hold all four postseason titles. That’s the norm for three of the four, but Butler’s trying to do something that hasn’t been done since UNLV two decades ago.

Blogging the Lesser Tournaments IV: The Slipper Still Fits the Tar Heels

As it turned out, the game of the NIT quarterfinals was the game that was already over by the time I posted my last look at the lesser tournaments. Texas Tech missed game-winning shots at the end of regulation and the first overtime, and Ole Miss…didn’t, driving the length of the floor in five seconds en route to a Murphy Holloway layup and-one. That’s the most trouble the Rebels have had for the tournament, against something of a Cinderella run by the 5 seed. All the other quarterfinals were in single digits but didn’t provide the same kind of last-second drama. No A-10 teams may remain in the NCAA Tournament, but two tourney snubs are going to Madison Square Garden. Rhode Island held off a late run for a 5-point victory over Virginia Tech, while Dayton knocked off another 1 seed, Illinois, by seven. No 1 seeds will make the NIT final four.

But the George Mason story of the NIT has to be North Carolina. Look at how disappointing the Tar Heels’ season has been! Forget the NCAA Tournament, they’re on the NIT bubble! The only reason they’re a 4 seed in the NIT is because people want them to host a game and get the biggest fan base to fill the seats! And yet the Tar Heels have been playing like the team everyone thought they would be, the defending national champions who have now taken out three teams with better NCAA bubble credentials than them. First it was William and Mary, then Mississippi State, and now UAB has found out that the Bulldogs were not the only team they should fear in their bracket. Now UNC gets the NCAA Tournament experience and one more team that missed out on the NCAAs in Rhode Island. For the Rams, Dayton, and Ole Miss, proving the NCAA committee wrong is the motivation in MSG. For North Carolina, it’s proving everyone in March wrong, and everyone in November right.

What may have been a dream matchup will happen in the CBI’s best-of-three Championship Series: Virginia Commonwealth vs. Saint Louis. Both teams won their semifinal games by double digits, although VCU didn’t shake Boston University until late. VCU was the 5 seed in the CAA tournament, but only two of their losses came outside of conference, and they beat a George Mason team that had a very short trip to the CIT, and forced overtime against eventual tourney champion Old Dominion. Saint Louis became a spoiler for A-10 at-large contenders late in the season, briefly becoming a borderline at-large contender themselves. Both teams now get a chance at the spotlight, however small, and bragging rights heading into next season.

In the CollegeInsider tournament, the semis were split over two days, with Missouri State and Creighton playing an all-Valley matchup on Wednesday. Missouri State won after going on a 10-0 run once Creighton tied the game with over six minutes to play. The following day, Pacific knocked off an Appalachian State team that had made it all the way to the SoCon finals in hostile territory, and will now play their fourth straight road game. The perennial Big West powers were the 2 seed in the conference tournament but were upended by Long Beach State, and in some sense are the North Carolina of the CIT, winning despite constant disrespect.

So if you’re not interested in the Women’s Elite Eight and you’ll miss March Madness over the course of the next week, fret not. If you know where to look, there’s basketball every day of the next week.

Lesser Tournament Championship Week:
CBI Game 1: Saint Louis @ VCU, Monday 7 ET, HDNet
NIT Semifinal: Dayton v. Mississippi, Tuesday 7 ET, ESPN2
CIT Final: Pacific @ Missouri State, Tuesday 8 ET, FCS
NIT Semifinal: Rhode Island v. North Carolina, Tuesday 9 ET (after Dayton-Mississippi), ESPN2
CBI Game 2: VCU @ Saint Louis, Wednesday 8 ET, HDNet
NIT Final: DAY/MISS winner v. URI/UNC winner, Thursday 7 ET, ESPN
CBI Game 3 (if necessary): VCU @ Saint Louis, Friday 8 ET, HDNet

Blogging the Lesser Tournaments III: The CBI’s Revenge

The NIT quarterfinals are already underway, kicking off with Texas Tech playing Ole Miss. Tech would probably be the story of the NIT if they made the Final Four. In some ways they’re a little like Northern Iowa, but different. Tech already proved they were good by beating a fringe at-large contender, Seton Hall, in the first round, and becoming the beneficiaries of Arizona State falling to Jacksonville. Still, Jacksonville was determined to prove they weren’t a fluke, leading by 11 in the first half and not relinquishing the lead until a quarter of the way through the second. Now Texas Tech faces another at-large contender in Ole Miss, who proved their supremacy over Memphis. (Yes, I know that game is already over.)

Here’s something that can’t be explained by popularity alone: North Carolina is still alive. I questioned their 4 seed as a result of a desire to have them host a game, but they upended a legit at-large contender in Mississippi State. (Not a good round if you wanted vindication for the state of Mississippi.) The finish was rather exciting, with Larry Drew II hitting a buzzer-beating layup over one of the country’s leading shot-blockers in Jarvis Varnado. The Tar Heels will face UAB, who had no problems taking care of North Carolina’s in-state rivals NC State.

North Carolina is still alive; Connecticut is not. They made a game of it – leading before Dorenzo Hudson made a 17-footer with 14 seconds remaining, then seeing Kemba Walker blocked, a made free throw, and unable to hit the buzzer-beater – but Virginia Tech is still playing with a chip on their shoulder from missing the NCAAs. Rhode Island had more trouble than they anticipated against 6-seed Nevada, who had already beaten fringe at-large candidate Wichita State. The Rams led by 10, but Nevada came roaring back to cut the lead to one with five seconds left, only to throw the ball away for their 16th turnover. Illinois breezed by Kent State, while Dayton shockingly had little trouble with Cincinnati, admittedly teams with similar at-large profiles. Now Illinois and Dayton – and V-Tech and Rhode Island – play tomorrow for a spot in New York and to prove the committee had them wrong and the other team right.

Also playing tomorrow will be all four semifinals of the CBI and CIT. After a slow start in the first round, the CBI nearly became as exciting as the NCAAs, as all but one quarterfinal went to overtime. Virginia Commonwealth handled Charleston, beating both teams I expected to make its quarterfinal, and may now be the favorite with how everyone else struggled. But Saint Louis is still alive, despite needing two overtimes to knock off Green Bay. Down two late in regulation, the Billikens had a potential game-winning layup waved off because the player that put it up grabbed the net with the ball still going through, but Kwamain Mitchell stole the ensuing inbounds and tossed it to Willie Reed (no relation… I think) for the game-tying layup, with Green Bay unable to hit a buzzer-beater. The teams scored only three points apiece in the first extra session and nothing at all in the final minute, and Green Bay kept it close late in the second overtime, but not close enough. Who wants to see a VCU-Saint Louis final?

Boston University led by as many as 11 over Morehead State, but the Eagles were able to come back and tie it with 28 seconds left, and the Terriers were unable to convert on three opportunities to break the tie in the final 10, but led for all of OT, though prevailed in the final tally by only two. They play Virginia Commonwealth. Princeton will play Saint Louis as part of a run as impressive as their Ivy-mates Cornell but not as easy. IUPUI actually led by two with 29 seconds left in regulation but John Ashworth missed two free throws that could have all but iced the game, and Ian Hummer grabbed the rebound and sprinted down the court for the game-tying layup. The first overtime went similarly to that in the other game in that half of the bracket, while the second was all Princeton, as IUPUI could only manage two free throws and no field goals.

It was the CIT’s turn to lack excitement. Only Pacific had any trouble at all in the “western bracket” final against Northern Colorado. The Bears got within three with six seconds left but Demetrece Young made one of two to ice the victory. Pacific will play Appalachian State, winner of the only other game in single digits. The Missouri Valley representatives had no trouble at all with Fairfield and Louisiana Tech. (Apparently the CIT doesn’t have a problem with matching teams in the same conference in the semifinals, even when the other two teams are on opposite sides of that conference.)

My pick for CIT final: Appalachian State def. Missouri State. But it’s gonna be close.

Blogging the Lesser Tournaments II: The Madness Before the Madness

March Madness started well before Thursday. While the NCAA Tournament took its leisurely time with a play-in game before the real fun started yesterday, the NIT, CBI, and CIT have been blitzing through their first rounds; the last game of the CIT’s first round was yesterday, between Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech, while the NIT and CBI crammed their respective first rounds into two days. And over the past few days, all three tournaments have been proving they can be just as full of excitement as the Big Dance.

In the NIT, UConn barely survived Jim Calhoun’s old team, Northeastern, thanks in part to lock-down defense in the final few seconds. NC State had to wait to see if Richard Howell’s layup with 8 seconds left beat the shot clock buzzer. North Carolina had to come back and play lock-down defense to beat William and Mary, and Jacksonville pulled off a 24-foot buzzer beater to perform the equivalent of a 16 seed knocking off a 1. In the CBI, Virginia Commonwealth had to hold off a furious comeback by George Washington, and in the CIT, Fairfield had to come back from 27 down – possibly the largest deficit come back from in Division I postseason history – to force overtime and eventually beat George Mason, overshadowing a not-so-successful comeback by Western Carolina as they fell to Marshall.

And that was just Tuesday.

I mentioned on that day that the CIT was more an opportunity to play more games than a serious tournament, but it has started to develop a reputation for housing as much March Madness as the Big Dance, only taken to record-breaking extremes. Last year, Bradley hit what may have been the longest buzzer-beater in Division I postseason history to knock off Oakland in the second round. Worth noting that Oakland and last year’s champion, Old Dominion, are both in the Big Dance this year. Sadly, Day 2 of the CIT did not produce as much excitement, with no game being closer than eight points, and Louisiana Tech similarly put away Southern Miss by nine.

The other two tournaments, however, did not disappoint. Following up on the Jacksonville upset, the Pac-10 went down to 0-2 in postseason play entering the NCAAs, before Washington squeaked by Marquette, as Boston University upended Oregon State by 18 points. Duquesne was unceremoniously dumped from the tournament by Princeton, but Green Bay took a while to pull away from Akron, while the NIT produced more buzzer-beaters. Nevada squeaked out a four-point win over Wichita State, Wesley Witherspoon hit a buzzer-beating layup to put Memphis over St. John’s, and Kent State came from behind to knock off Tulsa. The NIT seriously produces just as much excitement as the Big Dance, because its teams are still good teams. In a way, the CBI may have fallen the furthest behind in the excitement department – though remember how I identified only six teams from conferences with RPI rank of #17 or below? All four of the teams that faced teams from top-16 conferences won.

The NIT actually slows down to a more leisurely pace from this point on, spreading the second round over several days, and taking Sunday off, perhaps to make room on ESPN’s schedule and avoid overly competing with the NCAA Tournament – indeed, half the games aren’t played until Monday. That’s when Virginia Tech squares off against UConn, in a game that must look right scary to the Huskies after the way they escaped Northeastern, while Rhode Island takes on Nevada. Mississippi State’s argument is still alive heading into a Saturday showdown with North Carolina, as is Illinois heading into a contest with Kent State. Jacksonville will attempt to make lightning strike twice against Texas Tech, and Cincinnati-Dayton, Memphis-Mississippi, and NC State-UAB round out the NIT slate.

Monday is also when both the CBI and CIT will cram in all their quarterfinals. Saint Louis is the only A-10 team left in the CBI quarters and they face the Green Bay team that squeaked out that tight buzzer-beater, in what may be the most interesting game of the third-tier slate. The next-most interesting game might be Charleston vs. Virginia Commonwealth, two schools not really that far apart. Elsewhere, Princeton takes on IUPUI, and Morehead State takes on Boston University. In the CIT, Appalachian State travels to Marshall in a battle of two 23-win teams that also aren’t that far apart, while Fairfield takes on Creighton, Louisiana Tech faces Missouri State, and the “western bracket” ends when Pacific takes on Northern Colorado.

My picks for CIT quarters: Appalachian State def. Marshall, Fairfield def. Creighton, Missouri State def. Louisiana Tech, Northern Colorado def. Pacific.

Blogging the Lesser Tournaments I: Pick Your Tourney

We don’t need to expand the NCAA Tournament, and we sure as hell shouldn’t. The college basketball regular season is plenty meaningful, and even at the end of the bubble, the NCAA Tournament only selects the elite teams. (Okay, maybe not so much this year. But don’t believe the hype about the NCAA being forced to select bad teams.)

What we need is a change in perception. We need to realize that the 128 teams selected to go to any one of four postseason tournaments are ALL at least above average, even good when you consider that double 128 would be 256 and Division I has almost a hundred more than that. Connecticut and North Carolina are below their usual high standard this year, but they are still good if not great teams, just not fantastic enough to make the NCAAs. Relative to the rest of Division I, even the third-tier tournaments select better teams than the mediocre squads that populate the NBA and NHL postseasons. We need to realize that if it’s a “reward for a great season” Villanova coach Jay Wright wants, the NIT, CBI, and CIT more than fit the bill just as much as the NCAAs do.

In college football, we know this. We recognize the importance of the bowls as a reward for a good season, even if they’re as overloaded with teams as the NBA and NHL postseasons, and even when the teams involved are FAR removed from the national title picture. You got selected to the Texas Bowl? Congratulations, you had a good season and now you get a nice vacation in a warm climate and a game on national television against a good opponent with a chance to end your season on a high note and win a trophy. You got selected to the Holiday Bowl? Ditto for you, plus you’re better than the vast majority of teams in college football; quit griping about not making the BCS. You got selected to the Capitol One Bowl? Ditto for you AND as many people will watch your game as a weak BCS game.

Any playoff proposal worth its salt will keep the bowls as consolation prizes for teams that don’t make the playoff. So will the bowls be treated like the afterthought the NIT is now – as a jeering way to refer to teams that don’t make the playoff, even if they happen to be #17 in a 16-team system? Or will they continue to be seen as rewards for good seasons?

Over the next few weeks I will treat the lesser tournaments as what they are: the non-BCS bowls of college basketball. As a celebration for 64 good seasons that didn’t put their teams within the elite. As a way to have four winners at the end of the season, not one. As a national spotlight (well, it should be) for teams that don’t get a lot of attention during the season because of all the focus on the NCAAs, allowing the NCAAs not to be the end-all and be-all of national attention. And as a trip to basketball arenas across America to see more basketball being played than the NCAAs allow. The titles don’t actually mean anything, but then, neither do the bowls. It’s a shot at bragging rights, and when it gets right down to it, which would a bubble team rather have: a double-digit seed in the NCAAs and only once in a blue moon advancing beyond the Sweet 16 (and rarely making it that far), or being favored to win the entire NIT while hosting home games in the process?

I will follow each tournament round-by-round as they approach their respective conclusions, keeping an eye on all the developing storylines and shining light on the tournaments behind the Tournament. I won’t be able to watch any tournaments other than the NIT, because I don’t have HDNet to watch the CBI or FCS to watch the CIT, but I will still attempt to follow them from afar. Follow the Blogging the Lesser Tournaments category to join my journey to show why a trip to the lesser tournaments is nothing to be ashamed of.

One good thing that resulted from the starting of the CBI and CIT was that it gave each of the three tournaments its own identity, instead of the NIT just being the consolation tournament for NCAA losers. The NIT is dominated by the teams on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble, serving as their attempt to prove they deserved to make the Big Dance. In fact, it really is the “little dance”. Not only does it have all the tradition – a longer tradition than the NCAAs, in fact – and the best non-NCAA teams, but ever since regular season champions that didn’t make the NCAAs started getting auto bids to the NIT, it’s actually gotten its own internal structure in the first round, much like the NCAAs.

In the NCAAs, the 1, 2, and 3 seeds – protected seeds that include the national championship favorites – take on teams that are only there because they have to be. They generally win those games going away; once in a blue moon a 15 or 14 will upset a 2 or 3. The 4 and 5 seeds take on the teams that probably deserved a little more respect – strong champions of weak conferences, borderline at-large teams – and it’s those 4-13 and 5-12 matchups that produce the most exciting upsets. The 6/11, 7/10, and 8/9 games pit at-large against at-large, and while it’s very rare that any of these teams make the Final Four, especially with the 1, 2, or 3 seed waiting in the second round, they certainly make for as appealing a game as you’re likely to find in the first round.

Bubble teams dominate the NIT field. I recognize every one of the top three seeds from the bubble conversation, plus the 4 seed Seton Hall and the 5 seed William and Mary (who I have to imagine is only being forced to go on the road to North Carolina so the big-name Tar Heels get a home game). Similarly, with the exception of Northwestern, the 7 and 8 seeds consist mostly of the teams that got the auto bids. So the 1 seeds get pretty easy trips to the second round, complete with home field advantage (except for Illinois, who apparently will have to go on the road to Stony Brook), while the 2 seeds should have a fairly easy ride if they aren’t caught wallowing in their own inability to make the Big Dance. The 3/6 and 4/5 games, though, should be a LOT of fun. The 3 and 4 seeds will have home court advantage, but they will be playing other good teams that could very easily get feisty on a good day.

The NIT is especially bowl-like because it is the only one of the lesser tournaments to play on a neutral site. In the NCAAs, teams play to win and move on to another semi-randomly chosen site, where the stakes slowly get bigger and bigger, but the Final Four and a number of the regional sites are generally football stadiums. But in the NIT, if you can make it to the semifinals, suddenly you’re playing in the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden. You’re arguably playing on more hallowed ground than most of the NCAA tournament sites. Once you reach this point, you’re practically getting the true-to-life NCAA tournament experience.

For bubble teams, this is their chance to shine and prove the NCAA committee wrong, and while the cases of teams left out this year are weaker than normal, there are still some teams with plenty of motivation. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the upper right section of the draw, where Virginia Tech and Rhode Island are the top two seeds. V-Tech coach Seth Greenberg ripped into the selection committee on ESPN’s Bracketology show, and they have a desire to prove they are better than their non-conference schedule, just as Illinois was better than their RPI and Arizona State was better than their conference. Rhode Island wants to prove not only that they deserved to make the NCAAs, but to make the top line of the NIT – but they may have gotten the toughest draw of the two seeds in Northwestern. And then there’s Mississippi State, who has everyone else arguing on their behalf after almost knocking off Kentucky in the SEC final.

My picks for second round: Illinois def. Tulsa, Illinois State def. Cincinnati, Arizona State def. Texas Tech, Mississippi def. Memphis, Virginia Tech def. Connecticut, Rhode Island def. Wichita State, Mississippi State def. William and Mary, South Florida def. UAB. My picks for MSG: Arizona State def. Illinois, Rhode Island def. Mississippi State, Rhode Island def. Arizona State.

The College Basketball Invitational doesn’t think of itself as third-tier. In its own mind, it sees itself as a competitor with the NIT. The group that started it was partly reacting to the NCAA taking over the NIT and gaining something of a monopoly over the college basketball postseason. But the NIT still has the history and tradition on its side, and the CBI rarely gets more than a couple of defectors to party with them. (It doesn’t help, according to what I’ve read, that the CBI and CIT are pay-to-play and teams would rather play for free in the NIT.)

At this point, you start running out of big-conference teams (although is the dropoff in the BCS conferences really that big after the NIT?), so while the NIT, despite a more balanced composition than the NCAAs (thanks to the auto-bid rule), is mostly dominated by teams from BCS conferences, the third-tier tournaments are filled up with teams from underrepresented conferences – namely, mid-majors. Defending champion Oregon State is the only team from a BCS conference in the CBI field – and in case you hadn’t noticed, the Pac-10 wasn’t exactly BCS quality this season. Saint Louis, who became a borderline NCAA candidate by becoming an A-10 spoiler late in the season, is probably the most interesting team in the field, joining fellow late-season A-10 spoiler Duquesne, who may have only played their way into the CBI field with their late-season heroics. Colorado State is the representative of the highest-RPI conference – even though no Mountain West teams made the NIT field.

On the other hand, while BCS conferences are not well represented, the true mid-majors crowd out the small majors. Saint Louis and Duquesne are joined by George Washington as A-10 represntatives. Indiana State represents the Missouri Valley. Akron holds down the MAC; Virginia Commonwealth the CAA; Green Bay the Horizon. The Eastern Kentucky-Charleston game will feature the only two teams on the left side of the draw from conferences ranked worse than 16th in the RPI, and Charleston comes from the #17 SoCon. The right side is more forgiving to low-majors with Boston U, Morehead State, IUPUI, and Princeton.

The CBI is the least bowl-like of the bunch, but it makes up for its lack of a neutral site final with a final format that neither the NCAA or NIT can boast. The CBI final is a best-of-three series between the two teams remaining, instead of a winner-take-all single game. So while the NIT makes making the semifinal the biggest achievement of the tournament, the CBI places more of its emphasis on the final as the singular, defining event of the tournament. The goal is to reach the final, and then prove you’re better than the other team you face. It makes more sense to talk about halves of the CBI draw than quarters, especially since the CBI doesn’t expressly seed the field like the NIT.

My picks for second round: Saint Louis def. Akron, George Washington def. Charleston, Colorado State def. Boston University, Duquesne def. Hofstra. Saint Louis def. Colorado State 2-0.

The addition of the CBI wasn’t good enough for the people at For them, all it showed was that the NCAAs and NIT didn’t have to be the only two tournaments out there. So last year, they started their own tournament to give more love to the mid-majors out there, and give teams that once were one-and-done in the NCAAs or NIT a chance to win some postseason games, even if in a down year against inferior competition. (Because the newly-formed Great West conference isn’t NCAA-eligible, its conference champion, South Dakota, receives an auto bid to the CIT.) Unlike the CBI, they recognize that they stand behind the NIT in the pecking order, but they do compete with the CBI for teams, and successfully.

In a sense, winning the CIT is like winning the mid-major NIT. I seem to recall them saying they would emphasize teams from conferences that hadn’t put half their teams in the postseason by the time the CIT got their hands on them, but that wasn’t enough for them to pick the Pac-10’s fifth team. Instead, Creighton and Missouri State are the representatives of the highest-RPI conference in the field. But there’s only one fewer team from a conference ranked #16 or higher in the RPI than the CBI, with Western Carolina, South Dakota, Harvard, Appalachian State, Middle Tennessee State, Northern Colorado, and Pacific the only representatives from lesser conferences. Unlike the CBI, the CIT wasn’t willing to pick a team as far down the pecking order as the America East.

The CIT clearly doesn’t take itself as seriously as the NIT or CBI. Not only do they emphasize mid-majors, they expressly forbid teams with losing records, while the NIT or CBI would take them if they had a good enough profile otherwise. Perhaps recognizing the fact they’re more a bowl-like “reward for a good season” than a tournament with any meaning, the CIT doesn’t have a real “bracket” per se, but instead determines new matchups after each round, making each game an event in its own right. Thus the western teams play each other (Portland-Northern Colorado, Pacific-Loyola Marymount) instead of playing for any real “seeding”. In a sense, it’s more a way of adding more games to its teams’ schedules than a real tournament. But emphasizing mid-majors does cost the CIT in the attention department. While the CBI can at least point to teams people paying attention only to the NCAAs might at least have vaguely heard of during the year, like Saint Louis (though really, Oregon State? The team my Seattle Redhawks blew out in Corvallis? South Dakota may be the only lower RPI team selected to any postseason tournament), the CIT has to promote its tournament based on what their teams have done in the past, like George Mason and Creighton. Personally, Appalachian State may be the team that interests me most in this field.

My picks: George Mason def. Fairfield, Marshall def. Western Carolina, South Dakota def. Creighton, Appalachian State def. Harvard, Missouri State def. Middle Tenn. St., Northern Colorado def. Portland, Pacific def. Loyola Marymount, Louisiana Tech def. Southern Miss.