The Not Invited Tournament kicks off on St. Patrick's Day, appropriately for all those involved.
I'm sure you're all somewhat familiar with the Illinois "Fighting" Illini, who entered the Big Ten Tournament needing a win to solidify a place in the Big Dance and got vaporized by a .500 Michigan squad. This team was expected to make the tournament and to play their best basketball in March and when it counts. They did neither. Ironically, John Groce's most recent claim to fame when Illinois hired him was upsetting Michigan in the NCAA tournament as a 13 seed. Groce is 1-7 against the Wolverines since being hired at Illinois (0-2 in the Big Ten Tournament).
Their opponents, the Alabama Crimson Tide, were so thrilled with their 12-3 start finishing in an 18-14 season that they fired head coach Anthony Grant.
Defending NCAA tournament champs Connecticut are a 4 seed in the NIT and I don't need to elaborate any further.
Jim Larranaga's Miami Hurricanes of 21 wins and a road victory at Duke will be a 2 seed. They were ranked #15 when they knocked off Illinois back in December.
The Richmond Spiders are the 1-seed in Illinois' region, and after going 2-0 against VCU in the regular season losing to them in the A-10 tournament must have been tough. They are 19-13 with an RPI of 56.
The Temple Owls bring a 23-10 record to the NIT and earn a 1-seed despite an RPI rank of 31st and a 25-point beatdown of Kansas. Eight top-100 wins apparently wasn't enough to overcome losses to St. Joseph's and an 0-3 mark against SMU. Pittsburgh is the #4 seed in their region.
The 1-seeded Colorado State Rams won 27 games, the most in the history of the program. However, despite finishing with the 29th best RPI, their loss to San Diego State in the Mountain West tournament and their January 3rd loss at 172-RPI New Mexico were enough for the tournament committee to toss them. Only 28-win Coastal Carolina in 2011 won more games without making the field (eight other teams have won 27 and been snubbed).
The last 1-seed, the Old Dominion Monarchs bring a 24-7 overall record and a 46-ranked RPI to the NIT. Despite beating VCU and going 11-1 in the non-conference, the loss at #237 UT-San Antonio was apparently unforgivable.
The Murray State Racers also won 27 games, though against lesser competition than CSU. Being knocked off by Belmont on a prayer in the OVC tournament invalidated their 25-game winning streak from earlier in the year in the eyes of the tournament committee, and 79.1 points per game didn't make up for a 63 RPI rank. They got a 3-seed for their efforts.
A potentially interesting note: The NCAA cares so much about the prestigious NIT that this year's edition will beta-test rule changes including a 30-second shot clock and a four-foot blocking foul arc. I, for one, am excited to see the Illini jack up a contested three with 20 seconds left on the clock instead of 25, and to see how they adjust to having a bigger area to concede to a baseline cutter of whom they've lost track during a defensive switch.
The veritable buffet of disappointment that is the 2015 NIT field features egregious snubs, programs in down years and teams that finished the year as underachievers. But don't sleep on the NIT. Everyone knows that an NIT championship is the springboard that boosts a team to prominence the following year. Look at 2009 champion Penn State and last year's champion Minnesota!
Oh wait. PSU finished last in the Big Ten the next year and Minnesota went 6-12 in conference play this year.
This NIT preview was much longer than it needed to be, so here's the condensed version: