WARNING: This post contains depressing content meant to inspire heated debates. The issue may be painful, difficult or thought-provoking!
In the aftermath of Nerlens Noel’s injury, we’ve heard that Kentucky will be evaluated going forward without him by the NCAA tournament selection committee. Essentially, the rest of the season has been deemed a tabula rasa, a blank slate for the Cats to paint any picture they want in the remaining six regular season games. Obviously, we’re hoping for 5-1, or 4-2 (assuming we lose at home to Florida and either to Mizzou or at Arkansas) and at least two wins in the SEC tournament to hopefully secure an NCAA tournament berth.
However, the world of bracketology isn’t as optimistic as we are (ah, who am I kidding, I’m one of the few, the proud, the only optimistic people when it comes to the rest of this season). In Matt’s mock selection committee that he and other media members attended this week, Kentucky failed to make the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid or conference champion. According to Mr. Jones, who speaks for America, the Cats were most harmed by their lack of “signature wins” (I guess the committee didn’t look too favorably on the Ole Miss win, considering their recent meteor-like crash and burn).
And so we remain on the proverbial bubble, knowing the barring a miracle SEC Tournament Championship run, our place in the post-season is anything but secure. Even with a strong end-of-season showing, we probably can’t expect anything higher than a ten-seed, and many analysts have been hypothesizing about an all “blue bloods” First Four. In his latest Bracketology after yesterday’s game, Joe Lunardi deemed the Cats one of the “First Four Out,” making it seem like an optimistic stretch to think that the Cats would even make it in as one of the play-in games. So my question, the one that’s been keeping me up at night in between repeated viewings of Tubby Smith dancing and eating the fruit from my extra Edible Arrangement, is this: would we as Kentucky fans rather see Kentucky as a play-in team, but lose that first game OR win the NIT?
Either scenario could easily happen at this point, so at the very least we can prepare ourselves for the possibilities. I’ve conducted a very unofficial poll among my friends and Twitter followers (one that my psych teachers in undergrad would shake their heads at, concerning my unstandardized methods and bulky question wording), and my estimated results show that most of you would rather lose a play-in game than win the NIT. I’ve had a trickier time deciding, so let’s talk out each scenario.
Why We’d Rather Lose A Play-In Game:
-At least we made it to the Big Dance, right? For Kentucky fans, making the NCAA Tournament, no matter how low a seed we are, is a matter of pride and dignity in our storied program. Accepting a bid to the NIT means publicly admitting that Kentucky’s season has failed and we were a second-tier program this season. We’re Kentucky- we only raise Final Four banners or higher, not NIT banners. As one commenter put it, “We aren’t Vandy.” Well said, Gandalf the Blue. Well said.
–First Four games are in Dayton, Ohio this year- a mere two and a half hours away from Lexington, giving fans a final chance to send the team off right and at least enjoy one game in the NCAA atmosphere- even if it is a play-in game.
–Play-in teams > NIT teams, in terms of quality. Presumably, at least, the Cats would get one more quality game in before the end of the season. Also, with the undisputed parity in college basketball this season, we could end up playing a team with a profile similar to ours- lots of talent but some bad luck down the stretch. As an end of season learning tool, it could be a lot more valuable to lose to a decent team than steamroll a few sub-par teams en route to an NIT championship.
Why We’d Rather Win the NIT
-It’s still a championship. Maybe, after the weird season we’ve had, BBN isn’t in the mood to discriminate. Let’s end the season on a high note and accept a title, no matter how it comes. And, as Drew pointed out on the radio show yesterday, it’d be kind of cool to win an NCAA Championship in 2012, an NIT championship in 2013, and (presumably) an NCAA Championship again in 2014. With next year’s class, it’s actually pretty probable.
–More games means more chances for the Cats to hit their Dougie without Nerlens. One of the biggest complaints about the team this year is their inconsistency from game to game and even within games- not knowing how to finish off blowouts, starting second halves slow, going for stretches at a time playing stupid basketball and not subbing themselves when they’re tired, etc. And without Nerlens, the Cats are going to have to learn how to play basketball together all over again with a mere seven regular season games left. With more games to play in the post-season, the Cats could finally get in the groove we’ve been waiting for all season and play some entertaining basketball, like the kind we got spoiled by all last season. Be honest, that would be a sight for sore eyes at this point.
–Momentum heading into next season. Thanks to Ally Tucker for pointing this out. Ally told me that she generally only thinks the NIT is a good thing for young teams who need momentum and experience heading into next season. At this point, we’re operating under the assumption that Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiltjer are coming back next year, possibly with Willie Cauley-Stein joining them (for the sake of brevity I won’t get into the they shouldn’t go/but they will go argument regarding Goodwin and Poythress). Having extra games to gel and build team chemistry and leadership could be invaluable next season, especially with a young recruiting class and a potentially all-freshmen starting five. One of the early questions about this team that proved a recurring problem was “Who is the leader?” It took the Cats way too long to figure out that Nerlens was the leader of this team, and now we won’t have the luxury of his actual presence on the court to guide the Cats. With an extra five games in the NIT, we may finally see Ryan Harrow stop being “cool” and start being a leader, or see Wiltjer encouraging the team on the floor, or see Willie’s hustle play inspire the rest of his teammates. And those extra games of experience and development could give our already-scary team a leg up next year.
–Fun. Come on, admit it. I want to see this team laughing and smiling on the court like last year’s team, and maybe giving up the snobbery and enjoying an extra five wins would be just the thing. Also, the NIT finals are in New York, home of Jack Demsey’s. I KNOW y’all wouldn’t hate that.
Going into writing this post, I had pretty much decided that I’d rather lose a play-in game than win the NIT, but honestly, I think I’ve now written myself into the opposite opinion. I’m wondering if Calipari would call me “selfish” for wanting the team to lose an NCAA play-in game rather than win an NIT championship that may prove more beneficial to the players. Basically, it’s a matter of pride as fans- and making the NCAA tournament by any stretch is infinitely more acceptable than winning the lowly NIT. That said, I’ll probably change my mind again here in the next hour. What say you?