Could Seattle U Hoops Make the NIT?
It’ll be three seasons until Seattle University’s basketball team is eligible to make the NCAA Tournament, so coach Cameron Dollar set the loftiest goal he could before the season, telling players: “Our goal is to play for a championship in New York, play in the NIT.”
When I read this, I thought coach Dollar was blowing smoke. The NIT, the consolation tournament for teams that don’t make the NCAA Tourney, seemed to me to be way out of reach for a school in just its second year of D1 ball.
But, last night, after SU went to Salt Lake City and upset the University of Utah–which won 24 games and was a #5-seed in the NCAA tourney last year–I’m taking Dollar seriously.
First, a little bit about yesterday’s game. The Redhawks trailed 50-39 with 16 minutes left, but fought back with an 18-6 run, during which six different SU players scored. They held Utah to just one field goal in the final six minutes, and came away with a 77-74 win. Charles Garcia led SU in scoring again, tallying 24 points on 13 shots against a Utah front line with two seven-footers.
Now, let’s talk NIT. The tournament has 32 teams. Automatic bids go to teams that win their conference’s regular season title but not their conference tournament, and don’t receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tourney. There were 5 such teams in last year’s tourney field, giving the tourney committee 27 at-large bids.
How many wins do you need? Major conference teams can sneak it with as few as 17, like Wazzu did last year. But Seattle U, with its schedule primarily consisting of Big Sky, Big West, and Independent teams, will need to do better than that.
More likely, they’ll be treated like lesser conference at-large teams such as Illinois State of the Missouri Valley Conference, which made last year’s field with a 24-9 record. Or Saint Mary’s of the WCC, which got in with a 26-6 record.
Seattle U plays 31 games this year. I think that to make the NIT, they’ll need to finish 24-7 at a minimum. Considering that they’ve already lost twice (Oklahoma St., Portland), they face the tough task of going 21-5 the rest of the way. Could they do it?
Almost certainly, they’d need to win all 11 of their remaining home games. (You can help there, buy tickets today, get out to KeyArena and cheer). SU’s toughest home test will likely be Idaho on January 30th.
SU also plays at Idaho. The Vandals are one of seven schools that the Redhawks will play both home and away. The others are UC Davis, Eastern Washington, Sacramento State, Cal State Northridge, Portland State, Utah Valley.
The Redhawks also have road games against Pac-10 opponents Oregon St. and Washington. Mark those down as likely losses.
So, assuming that SU wins out at home, they would have to go 10-3 in their other road games to get to 24-7. It’s a tall order. But after going into SLC and beating Utah, I think they at least stand a chance.