Aron had some good points about why Pitt is a good fit for the NIT this year in one of our Point/Counterpoint features. In the words of EC3, however, I disagree.
For many programs, reaching the NIT is an achievement of sorts. Many of the teams that play in it may rarely reach the NCAA Tournament and to them, it's a big deal. When I was walking the mean streets of Oakland in the 1990s as an almost-entirely oblivious student, reaching the NIT for Pitt was an achievement. The Panthers were saddled with underachieving players and a lack of talent and to get there as they did in 1997 was a degree of success for a team that hadn't had any since earlier in the decade.
Fortunately for the Panthers, the program has surpassed that level.
This isn't to cheapen the NIT, which annually features some pretty good teams. Scratch that - many good teams. Many major-conference programs, in fact, are better than some of the mid-majors that manage to get into the NCAA Tournament by winning their conference postseason tourney. The NIT isn't the CBI and features legit competition. But for a program like Pitt, it's nothing short of a resounding disappointment.
That's not to suggest the team shouldn't be playing in it, of course. As I've written plenty of times this year, all programs go through some rebuilding at some point. This year's version of the Panthers had some bright spots, but their youth clearly showed at times and this isn't a dominant team. Truthfully, the NIT is probably where Pitt belongs this year. That doesn't mean it's a good thing, though.
The NCAA Tournament is all that matters. All that really matters, anyway. Quick, rattle off the names of a bunch of NIT winners. Outside of this shammockery, chances are you can't name more than a few in the past ten years.
Not only that, but for a program like Pitt to drop to the NIT, it's a negative in recruiting. Recruits can be sold on any number of things but a perennial NCAA Tournament team like the Panthers sliding to the NIT is just a bad look. Go ahead and ask Cheick Diallo, who's being hounded by just about every big time program there is what he would think about trying to fight to get into the NIT's Final Four. While Kansas and Kentucky, two teams hot on the trail of Diallo, are competing for an NCAA championship, the Panthers are playing in the Jayvee games.
Now, you tell me which is a better look.
Sure, reaching the NIT is better than not playing in the postseason at all. Few would dispute that. You can regurgitate that same argument many of us used when the Panthers played in the CBI and a young Panthers' team will certainly benefit. But I'm hard-pressed to ever see a scenario where playing in the NIT is better than making the NCAA Tournament.
A common argument is that Pitt could go farther in the NIT than they would have in the NCAA Tournament. That may certainly be true, but a couple of things to that point. First, there's no guarantee of that. Pitt has dropped games recently to Wake Forest and Miami, another possible NIT team. If they can lose those games, they can certainly lose early in the NIT. Looking at it from the other side, this is also a team that knocked off Top 15 schools North Carolina and Notre Dame. What's to say they couldn't get hot and win a couple in the NCAAs?
Beyond that, the only way an NIT visit would pay off over getting into the NCAAs is if they won the whole thing vs. being bounced in the first round of the Big Dance. Other than that, I'd take an early exit in the NCAA Tournament over a deeper NIT run any day of the week. The prestige of making the tournament and the added exposure is far more valuable to me than an Elite 8 run in the NIT. Pitt's name consistently on NCAA Tournament pool brackets distributed to millions of people is just far more valuable. It's advertising, really, and overall, helps to continue to strengthen Pitt's brand.
And part of the amazing thing about Jamie Dixon's tenure is that he's only missed the NCAAs once in his career. Missing it again just kind of dings his resume a bit. It's flat out impressive to say that Pitt has missed out on the NCAA Tournament once in that entire time.
This isn't to suggest that Pitt should decline an NIT invite if one comes their way or that playing in the tournament won't help a young team. But if the Panthers do indeed miss the NCAA Tournament this year, I can't say that's a good thing.
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