With the scheduled Stanford season now over, and no earthly chance of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, there remains the NIT for an extension of Cardinal Basketball in 2005-06. The "NIT" has been viewed in some circles as a four-letter word. The second-choice post-season event has been dubbed "Not In the Tournament," in reference to its being filled with teams left out of the NCAA Tournament.
The truth is, however, that the NIT is the only remaining opportunity for Stanford Basketball this season. It may not be where the Cardinal (and their fans) had hoped to focus their attention in mid-March, but at 15-13 it is an appropriate destination for this team. The teams and challenges Stanford could face in the NIT will not at all be "beneath" the Cardinal. In fact, if Stanford is selected to the NIT, you can expect them to be one of the lower seeds. To advance past the opening round or two, the Cardinal will have to pull some upsets and win on the road.
Stanford has not played in the NIT since 1993-94, when Brevin Knight was a freshman and the Cardinal were rebuilding off a 7-23 season (1992-93). Stanford lost their opening game to Gonzaga that year. Their last NIT win came in the 1988-89 season, when the Cardinal went 5-0 in the post-season tournament to capture the NIT title. Stanford beat Massachusetts and Oklahoma at Madison Square Garden in the semifinal and final games.
The NIT has changed a good deal since those days. Previously owned by a consortium of five New York City colleges, the NIT was bought by the NCAA this past summer after extended litigation between the two groups. This year sees some significant revisions under the NCAA-operated NIT. For the first time, all 40 teams will be seeded and a full bracket will be released on Selection Sunday. The NIT selection committee, which this year includes Hall of Famers Dean Smith (former North Carolina coach) and C.M. Newton (former Kentucky athletic direct), has also decided to give automatic berths to the regular season champions of all 31 Division I conferences. Many of those teams will win their conference post-season tournaments and earn NCAA Tournament berths, or receive at-large berths regardless of their post-season conference tournament. Nevertheless, a healthy number of NIT invitations will be locked by mid-major conference regular season champions who are ousted this week in their conference tournaments.
Before we jump the gun and assume an NIT bid, we must review some sobering numbers. For those who in recent weeks still had dreams of the Big Dance in their head, consider the following facts on Stanford:
- Current RPI: #97
- 15-13 record
- 4-6 in their last 10 games
- 5-10 in games away from home
- 0-6 versus the (RPI) Top 25
- 1-7 versus the Top 50
- 2-9 versus the Top 100
Trent Johnson was not speaking for shock effect this past week when he correctly labeled Stanford as an "NIT bubble" team. If roughly the top 65 teams in America make it to the NCAA Tournament, Stanford would be one of the last teams in the next 40 who could earn invitation to the NIT. Once you consider that a handful of weaker teams will upset their way into the NCAAs, and several spots for the NIT will be locked up by regular season conference championships, there is an unnervingly real chance of missing the "Little Dance" on Selection Sunday.
For the moment, let us look at what would happen if Stanford should earn an NIT bid. The structure of the tournament this year seeds the 40 teams into four 10-team regions. The top six seeds in each region receive a bye, while the bottom four seeds (16 total) play an opening round game. The eight winners of those opening games will join the 24 teams who received byes to make for a 32-team bracket.
Stanford almost assuredly would be one of the bottom 16 teams in the NIT field and thus play an opening game. Should they win that game, they would play higher seeds, probably, the remainder of their stay in the tournament. As such, Stanford likely would play games on the road the rest of the way. The big question, which has been explored this past week, is whether Stanford could host the opening round game. The Bootleg broke the story last Saturday that Stanford's seniors voiced their decision and preference to not play an NIT game at Maples Pavilion. The seniors did not wish to sully the sanctity of their Senior Day at the conclusion of the regular season by playing an NIT game at home, which could hold a lackluster crowd.
While Stanford's seniors may feel some embarrassment and trepidation toward the first NIT game in more than a decade for the Cardinal, the fact remains that neither they nor the Stanford administration have a say in how they are seeded or where they play. In the old days of the NIT, for both its preseason and post-season tournaments, site locations and brackets were determined more by backroom handshake deals and negotiations. We saw that work in Stanford's favor in the fall of 2002, when the unranked Cardinal were able to finagle a home game against highly ranked Xavier at Maples Pavilion in the second round of the Preseason NIT, which Stanford won in a 63-62 upset. The NIT today is governed more strictly by its decision makers, and if they decide that an opening game between Stanford and some other low-seeded opponent will best generate revenue at Maples Pavilion, then you might indeed have one last game in this 2005-06 season on The Farm.
In preparation for a home game in the NIT, Stanford has already worked out logistics for fans to affordably and easily procure tickets. The NIT bracket will be unveiled Sunday night at 6 p.m. (Pacific) on the Selection Sunday broadcast on ESPNNews and ESPNU, as well as on the website NIT.org. If Stanford is given a hosting assignment for their opening game, you can go to GoStanford.com at 8 p.m., two hours later, to buy your tickets to the game played later that week.
The exciting news is that tickets will be cheaper than a normal home game at Maples Pavilion. Upper level (general admission) tickets will be just $12 - $8 for seniors as well as children of high school age and younger - making this the most affordable Stanford men's basketball game in many years for families to attend. Reserved tickets in the lower level and loge area will be a paltry $20. Students will be able to attend the game for free, with a Sixth Man Club section maintained as with normal home games.
Stanford season ticket holders are being afforded the first opportunity to buy reserved tickets at the $20 level. Those seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. That means that season ticket holders who sit upstairs can have this opportunity to "upgrade" their Stanford Basketball experience with an up-close view of the action in the lower level.
Stanford is sending an email to season ticket holders with a special code they can use online at GoStanford.com starting at 8 p.m. Sunday night to secure lower-level reserved tickets. Though this year's Selection Sunday will not bring the news for Stanford Basketball that was expected when the Cardinal were consensus ranked Top 15 in the nation, there may still be one more home game where you can watch a great group of seniors and their teammates try to extend their season. The bonus opportunity to have a great seat in the lower level of Maples Pavilion at a low price should make for some busy activity on web browsers Sunday night.
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