When the NIT bracket is revealed tonight at 6 p.m. PT, the Washington State Cougars and their fans are going to be on pins and needles to see if the team will be rewarded for its best season in a decade with its first postseason appearance since 2011.
The NIT selection show can be found on ESPNU or streamed on ESPN.com (with a cable subscription).
The Cougs spent much of the season in the NCAA tournament bubble conversation, but an inability to pick up any significant wins — coupled with a handful of iffy losses — have eliminated WSU from consideration for the Big Dance.
Unfortunately, it’s the same thing that’s got the Cougs squarely on the NIT bubble.
By just about any metric, WSU is a quality team. They’re ranked 61 by the NCAA’s own NET, and they sit at 56 at kenpom.com — that’s on par with the other major conference teams that will be selected for the NIT. For example, Colorado and Oregon are widely considered to be locks for the NIT, and both are ranked lower than the Cougs in both of those metrics.
But what those two teams have that WSU does not are quality wins. The NIT selection committee uses the same kind of criteria as the NCAA tournament selection committee, and where Colorado has beaten Arizona, and Oregon has beaten UCLA (twice) and USC, the Cougs have not demonstrated their quality by beating anyone of note. Fair or not, that’s a key measuring stick for any team in the NCAA’s eyes.
Which presents quite a quandary! Here’s how The Barking Crow, which tracks the NIT as close as anyone, put it:
Man, we love Washington State. Don’t think they’re gonna make it, but we love those guys. Kyle Smith is a computer dressed in a human body, and much like how it’s gone for the Oakland A’s these last two decades, he doesn’t have any great wins, but dammit, the approach makes sense. Wazzu’s in a weird boat where they might be a tournament contender if they make it, but again, they probably won’t make it. Big gap between how good this team is and how good their résumé is. Like Providence, but opposite direction.
The good news is that, heading into Sunday’s games, the four main NIT “bracketologists” were split on the Cougs. John Templon, who’s been doing this for a while, put the predictions together into a composite bracket, and the Cougs were in as a 7 seed.
The bad news? Princeton’s loss in the Ivy League tournament earlier today means there’s one less at-large bid available to go to someone like WSU — starting in 2017, the NIT began giving automatic bids to teams that had won their league’s regular season title but did not win their conference tournament and were left out of the NCAAs. As of right now, 11 of the 32 spots are taken up by projected auto bids, and about half of those teams would probably not be in the field otherwise.
It’s going to be pretty nervy come 6 p.m. If the Cougs do make it, they’ll play their first game on Tuesday or Wednesday on the road at the site of the higher seeded team. If they don’t make it ... I would think the CBI would be an option.