Scott Drew was all smiles after his Baylor Bears won the 2013 National Invitation Tournament. Two days previous, he placed a convincing argument for winning the NIT to a room full of reporters at Madison Square Garden.
"There are only two happy teams at the end of the year: the team that wins the NCAA and the team that wins the NIT," Drew said after defeating BYU, 76-70 in a thrilling semifinal matchup. "We want to be one of those happy teams."
He must’ve done the research with the follow-up season — and BYU fans also learn from recent indicators of budding success following the Not Invited Tournament.
In the recent past (or at least since 2008, as far back as Wikipedia would take me), all but three of the NIT finalists from one year have made the NCAA Tournament. And many of them made successful runs in the Big Dance, too.
Last year’s final matchup between Stanford and Minnesota was the anomaly of the period. Though the Cardinal defeated the Gophers, Stanford was invited again to the NIT this year — a source of pride for the defending champs, who fell in the second round. Minnesota, meanwhile, upset UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament before losing to Florida in the second round.
Both 2011 champion Wichita State and runner-up Alabama played in the NCAA tournament the following year. And the Shockers’ Final Four run only two years later will inspire generations of mid-majors for years to come.
In 2010, Dayton beat North Carolina on a last-minute shot that clinched the title. The Tar Heels, however, played in the Big Dance, even until the Elite Eight, while the Flyers — whose fans take more pride in the NIT than the NCAA tourney because of site restrictions from hosting the First Four — mounted another "Not Invited" run.
The 2009 champion Penn State Nittany Lions also made its way to the 2010 NCAA tournament, and Utah Jazz draftee Kosta Koufos and 2008 NIT champ Ohio State fell the next year in the NCAA Sweet 16.
Sure, it’s not a national championship from year-to-year. And the measure of success has been slightly more sporadic when comparing other NIT Final Four teams from year to year. But the experience gained in playing deep into the "second tier" postseason has transferred for young teams intent on making it to the Big Dance the following year.
"This tournament isn’t as bad as people think," said Baylor guard Pierre Jackson, who was named this year’s most valuable player. "There are a lot of great teams in it."