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Minnesota takes out SMU to win the school's 3rd NIT championship.

Mike Stobe

Minnesota may not have been in the postseason tournament they wanted to be in this season, but that got a whole lot easier to deal with after Thursday night.  The Golden Gophers picked up a huge win over SMU to win the NIT title last night.  At the end of the day, a championship is a championship and this kind of performance can go a long way toward building a program.

The star for Minnesota on Thursday night was definitely Austin Hollins.  He would receive NIT MVP after another great performance for 19 points and 4 steals.  He led all players in the NIT Championship Game.  It was a brilliant night to end Austin's career as a Gopher.

It's also a big night for Austin considering his rise.  He entered Minnesota rated as a 3* recruit according to Rivals and was largely ignored by the big schools.  Even his dad had some doubts:

Austin wasn't the only one who had a big night though.  Andre Hollins scored 14 points on the night and Deandre Mathieu threw in 13 points and 7 assists.  That is going to be an exciting backcourt for the future.  Honestly, they have a shot at being the best backcourt in the Big Ten next season.  Certainly not a slam dunk just yet, but they both have shown plenty of promise.

This is also a big win for Richard Pitino and the Minnesota program.  Let's be honest here.  Winning the NIT is certainly not comparable to accomplishing something big in the NCAA Tournament.  However, Minnesota still had to beat quality teams to do this.  In fact, SMU was ranked in just Week 19.  The Mustangs were not a bad team.  Many thought they were unfairly excluded from the NCAA Tournament.  Add in wins over Florida State and Southern Mississippi and you put together a solid run.  At the end of the day, virtually every Minnesota fan would have taken that NCAA bid over an NIT Championship, but that should not take away from this.  Winning the NIT title is still a big deal going forward.

Think about this, of the last 4 NIT Champions (Baylor, Dayton, Stanford, Wichita State), all 4 have at least 1 Sweet Sixteen appearance in the last 4 seasons.  Regardless of how that happened, that's a pretty good trend to have.  Along with that, here are some stats of the 8 teams that made the NIT title game from 2010-13 in the following season of play:

  • 1 - Elite Eight Appearance
  • 2 - Sweet Sixteen Appearances
  • 6 - NCAA Tournament Appearances
  • 1 - Conference Regular Season Championship
  • 7 - 20 Win Seasons
  • 2 - NIT Appearances
  • 2 - Conference Tournament Championship Game Appearance
  • 1 - Early Season Tournament Championship
  • 2 - Early Season Tournament Championship Game Appearances
Regardless of your opinion on the NIT, that is a pretty good record for teams following an NIT title game appearance.  Six out of the eight teams made the NCAA Tournament the following season and several of them included very good years.  Plus, if you add in the fact that a team like Wichita State was in the NIT in the 2010-11 season, that goes a long way to show that things can turn around very quickly following an NIT run.

In terms of history, this is Minnesota's 3rd* NIT Championship and the program's 5th* Championship Game appearance (1998 title vacated).  In terms of the Big Ten, this is the conference's 11th title and 13th if Maryland and Nebraska are included in that number.  This was also the Big Ten's 20th NIT Championship game appearance and 23rd if Maryland, Nebraska, and Rutgers are included.

For Minnesota, their season is now over, but a great NIT run will certainly help to make Richard Pitino's first season much more memorable.  There's no doubt that bright things are ahead for Pitino.