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Preseason Tournament Predictors

December 4, 2002 Columns No Comments


March Predictions from Pre-Season Tournaments

by Jed Tai

In the early going of each and every basketball season, college basketball fans are treated to some fun, tournament-style action in several pre-season events. Teams often make early impressions in tournaments such as the Pre-Season NIT, Great Alaska Shootout, and Maui Invitational that stick in the minds of many fans – and tournament selection committee members – throughout the entire season. This year has been no different.

North Carolina showed that it may be back with its upset romp through the Pre-Season NIT. In the Maui Invitational, Indiana showed that it could be ready for a return to the title game with a big performance. And with some surprisingly good play, College of Charleston burst onto the national scene with the Great Alaska Shootout title. While all this great early season play is impressive, it brings up an interesting question — does it necessarily translate into Final Four magic at the end of the year?

I thought it would be interesting to look back and review the teams that have won the Pre-Season NIT, Great Alaska Shootout, and the Maui Invitational the past decade or so, and how those teams ended up doing in the post-season. I chose these three tournaments as they have been around the longest, and seem to have the best fields year after year. As I looked back through the winners of these events back to 1991, the first thing I noticed is that only once has the winner of any of these three tournaments went on to win the NCAA tournament, which at first glance was absolutely astonishing. Considering the quality of the teams that have participated (and won) in these tournaments each year, one would think more of the winners would have been eventual NCAA champions as well. In fact, until Duke won it all in 2001 after winning the Pre-Season NIT in the fall, the last team to win the championship after winning one of these three pre-season tournaments was Michigan during the 1988-89 season (the Wolverines won the Maui Invitational that year).

Here are the winners of the Pre-Season NIT, Great Alaska Shootout, and Maui Invitational since 1991, and how the winners ended up faring in the post-season that year (NCAA Tournament is assumed, unless otherwise noted):

Pre-Season NIT

Year Winner Post-Season

2002

North
Carolina

???

2001

Syracuse

fourth place (NIT)

2000

Duke

won National Championship

1999

Arizona

lost in 2nd round

1998

North
Carolina

lost in 1st round

1997

Kansas

lost in 2nd round

1996

Indiana

lost in 1st round

1995

Arizona

lost in Sweet 16

1994

Ohio
University

lost in 2nd round (NIT)

1993

Kansas

lost in Sweet 16

1992

Indiana

lost in Elite 8

1991

Oklahoma
State

lost in Sweet 16

Great Alaska Shootout

Year

Winner

Post-Season

2002

College of Charleston

???

2001

Marquette

lost in 1st round

2000

Syracuse

lost in 2nd round

1999

Kansas

lost in 2nd round

1998

Cincinnati

lost in 2nd round

1997

North Carolina

lost in Final Four

1996

Kentucky

lost in Finals

1995

Duke

lost in 1st round

1994

Arizona

lost in 1st round

1993

Purdue

lost in Elite 8

1992

New Mexico State

lost in 2nd round

1991

Massachusetts

lost in Sweet 16

Maui Invitational

Year

Winner

Post-Season

2002

Indiana

???

2001

Duke

lost in Sweet 16

2000

Arizona

lost in Finals

1999

North Carolina

lost in Final Four

1998

Syracuse

lost in Elite 8

1997

Duke

lost in Sweet 16

1996

Kansas

lost in 1st round

1995

Villanova

lost in Sweet 16

1994

Arizona State

lost in 2nd round

1993

Kentucky

lost in 2nd round

1992

Duke

lost in 2nd round

1991

Michigan State

lost in 2nd round

While other than Duke in 2001 there have been no eventual NCAA champions from this list of pre-season tournament winners, there have been plenty of quality teams. All but two have gone on to the NCAA tournament, and some have even reached the Final Four. But perhaps not enough of them? Arizona (MI ’00) and Kentucky (GAS ’96) made the Finals and North Carolina (GAS ’97, PNIT ’99) made the Final Four, but other than those teams (and Duke’s title team) there are a lot of early round exits.

How does each early season event do historically in terms of producing teams with post-season success? Giving each team a point for each round they reached in the NCAA tournament, here’s how the three tournaments stack up:

Pre-Season NIT: 25 (average 2.3)
Great Alaska Shootout: 29 (average 2.6)
Maui Invitational: 32 (average 2.9)

So, on the average the Maui Invitational winner has advanced to the Sweet 16, and the Pre-Season NIT and Great Alaska Shootout winners get somewhere between there and the 2nd round. Does that mean we should expect UNC and the College of Charleston to bow out in the second round and Indiana peak in the Sweet 16?

Of course not.

While these early tournaments have featured many great teams, players, and games and are a lot of fun, they are certainly not an indication of how a team will do at the end of the season. With these games happening so early the year, the performances of teams is simply an indication of how well they are jelling early on. But it is interesting to notice how teams that have won (and lost) in the tournaments have ended up doing at the end of the year.

But if you do believe that early indications can successfully predict future returns, maybe it’s better for a team to simply participate – and maybe even lose a game in these tournaments. Duke lost in the Great Alaska Shootout finals to Cincinnati in 1998-99, yet didn’t lose another game until the NCAA Finals that season. Florida finished 3rd in the Maui Invitational a couple of years ago and also reached the Finals. Oklahoma State in 1994-95 lost two games in the Great Alaska Shootout, yet eventually made it to the Final Four that year. Some pre-1991 early season tournament losers include the 1989-90 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (Pre-Season NIT) and the 1987-88 Kansas Jayhawks (Maui Invitational) — both eventual NCAA champs.

So don’t fret, Kentucky, Kansas, and Michigan State fans. Maybe losing that tournament game or two was the ticket.

     

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