The championship game for the 79th annual National Invitation Tournament is set, and it’s a worthy one with two very good teams.
How good? Well, one way to look at it is this: if Oklahoma and Syracuse end up playing in the NCAA Tournament final on Monday, their combined win total this season will be less than that of the two playing in the NIT title game.
Valparaiso and George Washington are the final two left in the nation’s oldest Division I event after the Crusaders edged Brigham Young 72-70 and the Colonials dominated San Diego State 65-46 on Tuesday. The result is a final game on Thursday that will feature two teams with a combined 57 wins this year, with Valpo entering with a sparkling 30-6 mark and GW a fine 27-10.
Valparaiso got a tiebreaking three-pointer from David Skara with 20 seconds remaining and then held on as a final Cougars shot at the buzzer was blocked. The Crusaders survived after BYU gamely fought back from a 16-point deficit and won in their first appearance at Madison Square Garden in more than 70 years, since facing LIU and legendary coach Clair Bee in Dec. 1945.
For some schools, a trip to the NIT finals is nothing more than a consolation prize, and maybe that’s even true for some or even all members of this year’s Valparaiso team (though the ESPN video of players from all four teams walking on the MSG floor for the first time would strongly indicate otherwise). If one is familiar with this program’s Division I history, though, where Valpo is right now-playing for the NIT title-would’ve been literally unfathomable 25 years ago.
In the three seasons encompassing 1989-91, the Crusaders were 14-68 and late in a streak of 16 consecutive losing seasons. Even Homer Drew’s first five years produced no more than 12 wins in a season. The school was patient, though, and it has been richly rewarded ever since.
Valparaiso is going for its first NIT title, and so is George Washington. The experienced Colonials were superb on Tuesday, holding San Diego State to 28.8% shooting (undoubtedly a little of that was from brick-laying by SDSU) and outworking the Aztecs the whole way. Tyler Cavanaugh showed once again why he has been one of the best impact newcomers of this entire season (20 points, 11 rebounds) and GW never trailed once in a surprisingly complete triumph.
Whether it’s the NCAA Tournament (nine trips since 1993), the NIT (six visits since 1991) or other tournaments, George Washington has been a mostly regular postseason team for 25 years now, since the Mike Jarvis era. The Colonials had never been past the final 16 of any event, though, until this year. A GW championship in this event would be meaningful.
The Colonials proved this season against teams like Virginia, Seton Hall and VCU that they were plenty capable of beating NCAA Tournament talent. Valpo did the same in limited opportunities, beating teams like Oregon State and Iona. There won’t be much mediocrity on display Thursday; these are two excellent squads, and the winner will have a hard-earned title in an event that still holds a meaningful place in college basketball.
- The CollegeInsider.com Tournament title goes to Columbia, which tipped UC Irvine 73-67 for its first-ever postseason tourney title. What a year for the Lions, who won 25 games and were part of a strong top three in the Ivy League with Yale and Princeton. Also a salute must go out to the Anteaters, who finally wore down after playing five straight CIT games on the road. The game also is expected to be the final one at Columbia for head coach Kyle Smith, who is expected to be named the new head man at San Francisco. Smith did an outstanding job with the Lions and will add to a roster of coaches in the West Coast Conference that certainly appears to be getting stronger. As always, you can track the coaching changes on Hoopville right here.
- The championship is now set in the Vegas 16 tournament. Old Dominion pulled away from UC Santa Barbara in the second half for a 64-49 win. The Monarchs will face Oakland, which ran away from East Tennessee State late for a 104-81 win. Kahlil Felder notched the triple-double with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and this gives us a championship game matchup with Felder and ODU’s Trey Freeman. That’s an event everyone should be able to get on board for.
- The Associated Press named its All-American team on Tuesday. The first team was highlighted by Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and also included two more seniors in Malcolm Brogdon of Virginia and North Carolina’s Brice Johnson. Tyler Ulis of Kentucky rounds out the first team. Hard to argue with any of these selections, all five are worthy of their honors and have added so much to this season.
- It was reported Tuesday by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that another coaching vacancy had been filled with former Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford ready to be named the new man at Saint Louis. SLU put the brakes on that with a press release late Tuesday night, though, saying it had not made a hire and the search process was still ongoing. If hired, Ford would replace Jim Crews, who was let go after four years. It would be an interesting choice, but Ford did spend his first year playing collegiately at Missouri before going to Kentucky. He also has experience in the Atlantic 10, having coached at Massachusetts for three years from 2005-08.
- Notre Dame junior guard Demetrius Jackson is apparently heading to the NBA, announcing his decision to renounce his eligibility and enter the NBA Draft. He is expected to hire an agent. Also heading to the draft: Kansas junior guard Wayne Simien.
- In addition to the Vegas 16 title game between Old Dominion and Oakland (10 p.m. EDT, CBSSN), the second game of the CBI championship series has Morehead State on the road at Nevada (9 p.m., ESPNU). The Eagles hold a 1-0 lead but now much win one of a possible two games in Reno.
Enjoy your Wednesday.