The NIT has merit.
NCAA Division-I basketball consists of 351 schools in 32 conferences. One-hundred teams make either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, equating to just over 28 percent. Just 19 percent receive NCAA Tournament bids.
I’ve used this stat before, but it bears repeating: College football, by comparison, hands out bowl bids to a whopping 62 percent (80 of 128) of its teams each year. If football followed the basketball model of percentages, that would equate to just 24 teams earning a bowl berth.
Yet the NIT is a source of much derision for some, especially for fans of Ole Miss. The frustration is understandable to a point. Andy Kennedy has two NCAA Tournament berths on his 11-year Ole Miss resume, compared to six NIT appearances. Even still, the postseason is important, even if the Rebels are playing in the secondary tournament, and it’s arguably of greater significance this season considering the talent Ole Miss has returning in 2017-18.
Ole Miss, a No. 5 seed in the NIT, just wrapped a meaningful basketball game in March, a 91-83 win at No. 4 seed Monmouth Tuesday night. Prior to 2006, Ole Miss had three 21-plus-win seasons. Kennedy secured his sixth in West Long Branch, N.J., tonight.
Ole Miss shot 51.6 percent from the floor, including 65.4 percent in the second half. The Rebels were plus-15 in rebounding. Sebastian Saiz notched his 21st double-double of the season (23 points, 11 rebounds), breaking a single-season school record held for some 60 years. Deandre Burnett scored 17 points on 6 of 14 shooting and 4 of 8 from 3.
Ole Miss will return a wealth of talent next season. Of its five starters against Monmouth — Breein Tyree, Burnett, Terence Davis, Justas Furmanavicius and Saiz — all but Saiz are expected to return, with 7-foot Drake transfer Dominik Olejniczak standing in waiting to replace Saiz. Cullen Neal should be back. Same for 7-foot freshman Karlis Silins, a raw but intriguing talent who suffered a season-ending ACL injury earlier in the year. And Ole Miss is set to add a pair of Top 100 signees in Devontae Shuler (No. 99) and Jamarko Pickett (No. 57), as well as three-star wing Parker Stewart and at least two signees this spring.
Kennedy will have arguably the greatest collection of talent on hand in his Ole Miss tenure. And the vast majority of the roster will have played in at least two postseason games.
The NCAA Tournament is the standard, without question. But the NIT should not be dismissed. And NIT wins? Invaluable. Tuesday night was played with postseason urgency and a sense of finality. Ole Miss was the more composed team, however, and executed down the stretch to pick up its first postseason win since 2015 and first NIT win since 2010. Can the Rebels continue their run to New York city? That remains to be seen. But they showed they’ve still got fight, that they’re not ready for their season to end.
Those Ole Miss fans who remain resistant to the Rebels’ plight would do well to carry the mindset of the team they cheer for. Because the NCAA Tournament chase of next season is already underway.
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy
On the win: “I think that Monmouth was terribly under-seeded. Last year they may have been the team out (of the NCAA Tournament). They had a tremendous year, and their non-league wins were of more quality than this year. This year they get left out, and I think they realized they probably weren’t going to get an at-large bid, but I really thought when I was watching the NIT show, I was hoping that we could get a top-four seed so we could play at home. We get a five, and then Monmouth gets a four. I thought they’d be in the two, three range at worst. Obviously you don’t have a lot of time to prepare. Obviously we find out at 7:30, 8 o’clock, then we find out about the weather situation. Only the Rebels go right into the teeth of a state of emergency, don’t we? Most people flee a state of emergency. We go right into it, man. Wide open. We were fortunate that we were able to get the game in. We’re fortunate that we’re going to be able to get out of here tonight and live to fight another day. Proud of my guys. Made shots in the second half. We had a hard time guarding them.
“They’re a team that’s won 55 games the last two years. They’re at home, they’ve got two seniors, once of which (Robinson) who, obviously, this is a special player. They’ve had a special run. We were having a hard time guarding them. But our guys in the second half, man, we come in and shoot 65 percent from the floor. We’re plus-15 on the glass. Deandre Burnett showed up for us big in the second half. Sebas was Sebas. Quality. Typically guards are guards. Whether you’re in the MAC or in the SEC or in the ACC or in the Sun Belt, everybody’s got pretty good guards. The difference is size, and we don’t have a lot of that. That’s not the strength of the team, but we had the best big in the gym, so we were playing through Sebas, and he delivered.” On Saiz breaking the some-60-year single-season record for double-doubles in a single season: “Sebas, I hope I get to talk about him a few more weeks and we’re still playing. There’s nothing more that I can say about him. Love the kid. He represents everything that we’re about as a program, that we’re about as a university. HE delivered big for us tonight.” On facing either Syracuse or UNC-Greensboro: “Obviously the weather hit them a little harder than it did here. The game was postponed. We’ll see what happens. Just for those that don’t know, the higher seed always hosts. Syracuse is the 1, so they would host throughout if they won. Obviously we would have to make another trip up north if indeed the ‘Cuse gets it done.”
WEST LONG BEACH, N.J. — (AP) Senior Sebastian Saiz posted a double double with 23 points and 11 rebounds and junior Deandre Burnett added 17 points, including 15 in the second half, to lift the Rebels over Monmouth 91-83 and advance to the NIT second round Tuesday.
The Rebels trailed by as many as seven in the game after a dunk by Monmouth senior guard Collin Stewart with 5:51 left in the first half. Ole Miss cut the lead to three right before the half with a putback from an offenseive rebound by sophomore Terence Davis. Davis finished with 11 points and 5 rebounds.
Ole Miss came out at halftime firing on all cylinders after trailing by three at the half. Burnett knocked down 4 of 7 3-point shots in the first seven minutes of the second half to lead the Rebels to a 52 point second-half performance.
Saiz went a perfect 10-10 from the charity stripe to pick up his 30th career double double and 21st of the season to set the Ole Miss single-season double-double record. Junior Cullen Neal and New Jersey native Breein Tyree had 11 points each.
Ole Miss outplayed the Hawks on the glass 46-31 and shot 51.6 percent from the field, including 45.0 percent from beyond the arch. The Rebels await the winner of No. 1 seed Syracuse and No. 8 UNC Greensboro, whose game was postponed until tomorrow due to weather.