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How Valuable Is An NIT Championship?

For many fans the NIT is mocked as the “Not Important Tournament“. I don’t fall into that category, but programs like North Carolina declining an invitation this year help perpetuate that. There was a time when the National Invitational Tournament was the most prestigious tournament. It still had many of the best teams in the nation until the NCAA finally expanded the tournament field.

With the quality of teams that play in the NIT I would classify it as a big deal to go to the Final Four or win the NIT. College basketball has grown a lot in the last 30 years. It’s now up to 363 teams from 301 in just 1993. With only 100 spots in the NCAA and NIT up for grabs I would argue even making the NIT is a solid season, and for many programs it is treated that way.

In many cases in the past teams have used the experience as a springboard to NCAA success following it or as justification as to why they should have been an NCAA team that season. It’s a rallying cry to show them what they missed.

North Texas in winning the NIT over conference mate UAB (he 4th time they played) I believe made their case as why they should have been in the NCAA. We had them mocked in and believed they should have been. They were on of the highest NET teams at 38 left out in the 5 years it has existed. They cemented that complaint, and FAU has shown us all that CUSA was underrated this season and likely deserved at least two bids if not three.

So What is the Value of the Championship

This is a tricky thing to try to equate. For me personally I think if you are a fan of a program that never makes it to the NCAA, just going to the NCAA’s is and will always be more valuable for those teams. You want that monkey off your back an to break a streak. An example this year would have been someone like Furman who hadn’t been since the early 1980s.

For mid-level P6 type teams though that to the NCAA and NIT fairly regularly I would make the case that winning the NIT is a bigger deal than just going to the NCAA and losing in the first round or possibly even in the 2nd round. At least that’s how I view the value of the NIT. To me an NIT championship is basically the equivalent of making the 2nd round in the NCAA tournament. It’s a pretty solid season.

Here are the last 10 NIT Champions with their final KenPom rankings which includes the postseason.

NIT ChampKenPom
2023North Texas31
2018Penn State19
2016George Washington53

The NIT clearly has value in a final season rankings. Many of those teams can use the NIT as a way to objectively rank higher than teams that advanced in the NCAA tournament. It’s also just cool to win your last game and get a trophy I would imagine. Probably cooler than getting to the second round if we are being honest. Who really even remembers what year you did that unless it’s a big upset by a mid major. As a college basketball fan I remember many of those NIT champions.

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