So a couple of weeks back after the ASU debacle I wrote a quick piece about disappointment and the good that could result from the night we all thought our tournament hopes died. If you'd like a quick jaunt back into memory lane you can find it here. Overall I think I got some things right, but this isn't about me, this is about our boys as they move toward what will be a clash of NIT Titans in Madison Square Garden. If you want my thoughts on this whole thing feel free to keep going after the jump.
First and foremost I want to applaud the Cougars for their effort on Thursday night. I'll say that it took a couple of days and no small amount of stewing on the that one to get over it. None of us likes to lose to the Huskies, especially when there's a big prize on the line. Still, for the most part everyone gave it their all and in the end that's all we can honestly ask for as fans. I think it speaks volumes that for the first time, possibly ever, there were multiple conversations with my friends about the game, and no one once thought to say "We Couged it." If you have read any of my previous work here, you know that those words make my blood boil. I think with the effort we saw on Thursday and Klay's transcendent performance no one could really call into question how hard they had played despite whatever mistakes and missed opportunities there may have been.
So, on to the NIT. Honestly, I think this has played out about as well as it could have for our Cougs without being a 1 seed. Our boys won't have to travel for the first couple of rounds and altogether they got a favorable draw to make a deep run in a tournament that is full of potential NCAA teams. As some of you who have gone back and read my other post might know, my good friend Billy, who is the basket ball guru I defer to when I'm not reading Ken Pom or this site, said after the ASU game that he doesn't want excuses, he wants to see a final four banner hanging in Beasley in the next few years. I don't know if we'd make a final four banner if we do our jobs this year in the NIT, but I know that he is not averse to seeing an NIT championship banner hanging in Beasley since it is still an opportunity to capitalize on right now. I said a couple of weeks ago that this could be the best thing to happen to this group and I still believe that.
Say we had downed Washington and eventually took their spot by winning the Pac 10 tournament. Would it have been nice? Hell yes. Would it have been good for the program? Certainly. Would it have been enough for us fans? For the most part. That's where the sticking point is for me. I, like my friend, believe that as we move forward we should expect bigger and better things out of this team. Going to the NCAA's and winning a game as a 7 would have been nice, but what happens when we would have run into UNC? Odds are everyone would have tolerated a loss and shrugged it off as a good effort against a superior program. I don't know about you all, but I've been alive and seen our football program able to topple a much more established powerhouse in the Holiday Bowl. If they could topple #5 Texas, then it isn't a reach to believe that this is a program that can be built to contend with the UCLA's, UNC's, and at a minimum Gonzaga's of this world. The NIT brings us closer to doing that than a 7 seed does this year.
This group needs to mature as a whole. The inconsistency that plagued the season and ruined what started as a legit shot to go to the big dance will not be allowed in the NIT. It also would not have been allowed in the NCAA's, but it would've hurt more there. For growth you need coachable moments. This team is more liable to earn their lessons against legit solid competition in the NIT than it would have been in the NCAA Tournament. It's one thing to let a team put up a run on you because of a couple of bad turnovers or a mental lapse or a missed opportunity offensively. It's a whole other game when the team on the other side is UNC. I don't think in either situation that a coaching staff will generally panic, but kids can and DO. There's no getting past that Tarheel awe once they've started to run the floor with you. There again, when a team comes in and wants to make a bit of a name possibly, but you know for a fact that you can and should win, it's a lot easier to dust yourself off and get back out there. The NIT is going to serve as a series of teachable moments that will prepare this team for a run to the big dance next year. Like I said a couple of weeks ago, this tournament can be used to build a hunger, potentially even one strong enough to keep Klay around for just one more year.
Leading up to Thursday I told everyone that would listen that Klay was going to have a big night. I got that much right. I'm no close personal friend, or even acquaintance, but he's obviously a driven competitor that wants to win. He had something to prove Thursday, so he went out and did it. If this team goes into the NIT and plays from the start to win it all, and who knows? ACTUALLY DOES IT, that is enough I believe to bring a guy like Klay back. He knows he needs to improve his game to be considered a top prospect/pick. Learning to win when everything is on the line is what this team needs to do. ASU, USC, UCLA, and UW were all indicative of that. There were struggles, even in victory, that caused things to go south in a hurry. Things that this team can learn to overcome in the NIT and apply toward the NCAA Tournament next year. We watched Klay just last week have to learn a hard lesson, and now so has this team. This is the chance to redeem a season that many are disappointed in, not the least of which are the players themselves. A national tournament is a national tournament and winning one brings prestige and pride no matter what. However, when it comes at a level that is not the highest it also leaves the best competitors wanting more. Just like it's one thing to go to the Rose Bowl and another to win it, it's one thing to win the NIT, but it's another to go up against the tip top cream of the crop.
The NIT may not be what we fans all wanted, but it's what this team needs. This can be a taste of agonizing defeat or of triumphant awesomeness. We'll have to let them play to see, but no matter what it leaves these guys wanting more and that's what is important. This is the catalyst for a damn good run next year by a quality experienced team that has experienced disappointment and will want nothing more than to win. Make a deep run here, and I'm sure Klay will stay. Make a quick exit and I'm still pretty sure he will. There's just that ONE BIG THING he hasn't done in College yet and that's make a run at the big dance. With one year to do it and a fire in his belly to prove he's the best and that our Cougs are the best I think it'll be enough to come out firing like we have never seen before.
Be happy with what our boys went out there and earned and wish them good hunting. I've got a feeling there's a deep run to Madison Square Garden coming and I can't wait to see it. Feel free to leave your comments and thoughts down below and if you're headed to Pullman Wednesday I'll see you at Beasley. GO COUGS!