The NIT is undervalued by college basketball fans.
Nobody wants to find themselves left out of the Big Dance, but upon finding yourself in the NIT, you start to appreciate its charms.
And I don’t mean the experimental rules. (Quarters are stupid.)
College basketball games are meant to be played in front of raucous fans in an on-campus gym. The first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament are amazing, but the sport we watch isn’t authentic college basketball—it’s a very similar game, but it’s played on homogenized courts at neutral site venues that are often half empty.
That’s not what you get at NIT games.
OK, sure, the gyms for the NIT are usually half-empty, but the lower seats are full, and not full of rich blue-hair season ticket holders, either. Tickets are cheap, and it’s a chance for fans who care a lot but can’t donate a lot to sit down in the good seats for once. And they can get rowdy.
When Shep Garner, a senior playing his last home game in front of a crowd that is worked into a frenzy by his mom, hits two giant threes in a comeback victory against an in-state rival, things can get nuts.
Penn State 63, Temple 57
For the longest time, it looked like Penn State was going to lose this one. Temple led throughout, and whether it was the loss of Mike Watkins or disappointment from having to settle for a lesser tourney, the Lions looked flat for the first three quarters. Tony Carr had two points.
First Team All-Big Ten Tony Carr had two points.
But the crowd didn’t give up and go home, and the game was never out of hand. So when Penn State started to close the gap, the feeling of energy in the Bryce Jordan Center was palpable.
And then the floodgates opened. Shep Garner only had eight, but six of them were on two absolutely fearless threes. And the next thing I knew, Penn State fans were taunting Temple about how the Nittany Lions own the city of Philadelphia.
Syracuse and Arizona State went down to the wire, and by virtue of victory Syracuse still has a chance at a national championship, but Penn State over Temple was Wednesday night’s best game.
Mississippi State 66, Nebraska 59
No reputable bracketologist had Nebraska in the field, but that didn’t stop people from complaining that a 13-5 Big Ten team was left out of the field.
To those people, I ask—did you see them play against Michigan in Madison Square Garden?
The had five assists in that game. Five. It was awful, terrible basketball.
The Cornhuskers had double that tonight, but the selfish hero-ball still predominated, and Tim Miles’ squad ended their season in Starkville.
The NIT is not always beautiful. Not every team elevates their game in the month of March. Sometimes you’re just watching two mediocre basketball teams bang their head against a wall until one of them decides they’d like to lose it less. (It happens during the NCAA Tournament, too.)
Anton Gill and Evan Taylor finished their career tonight with a whimper. Take two minutes and appreciate that.
Then, get ready. On Thursday at noon, the Madness begins.