The Ohio State Buckeyes took down Akron in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday night, if you weren’t paying attention. It was but a first step in a stated goal to win the whole tournament for Thad Matta’s crew.
According to Matta, there’s value in winning the NIT. He’s instilled that value in his players in just the short time it took to turn around from the Big Ten tournament to the disappointment of missing the NCAA tournament.
“We couldn’t overlook this game, it’s another opportunity to get better,” Marc Loving said. “Postseason play for this team is a good thing.”
Perhaps Loving has a point, but then again history also has a lot to tell us about Loving’s theory of just how much the NIT tournament and a championship can do for a team.
In fact, Ohio State’s fellow Big Ten teams can write a book on just how little an NIT victory can do for a team and the future for a program.
A little digging back in the NIT archives reveals that since OSU won the NIT tournament title back in 2008, the Big Ten has seen two other teams win the title in Penn State (2009) and Minnesota (2014).
Penn State took a promising situation in 2008-09 and turned in to the Big Ten’s bottom dwellers just one year later with a 3-15 B1G record and an 11-20 overall record.
After falling in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2010-11, DeChellis was off to Navy of all places. He had managed to make Penn State in to a yo-yo team and took off before the walls closed in. Since then, Pat Chambers has not gotten his team to an NCAA tournament despite consistent improvement.
Minnesota, a much more historically good basketball program than Penn State, also fell in to a trap after winning the 2014 NIT tournament. It was head coach Richard Pitino’s first season in Dinkytown, and he led the Gophers to a 25-13 overall record (8-10 in B1G play).
It was enough to get in to the NIT tournament, and a team of upperclassmen (six juniors) gave plenty of hope with a run to the NIT title. That next season saw eight upperclassmen on the roster, but it was all downhill due to injuries and other issues.
Same for this past season, where Minnesota went in to the Big Ten tournament with just six players healthy or available due to suspension. The Gophers went from 25-13 in 2013-14 to just 8-23 overall this past season.
Let’s just say the Gophers have become a mess instead of taking that NIT title and becoming a Big Ten power because of it.
However, those are just two of what are plenty of other cautionary tales. No team is more of a cautionary tale than Stanford, who won two of the last four NIT tournament titles. That statement alone should be the cautionary tale, but it is what happened in between and after the 2014 title that are the real historically significant issues.
After winning the 2012 title, Stanford appeared poised to make an NCAA tournament run. Instead a team with nine upperclassmen would go just 19-15 overall and find themselves back in the NIT tournament, bowing out in the second round to Alabama.
The Cardinal made an appearance in the NCAA tournament the next season, making the Sweet 16, but it was back to the NIT tournament a year later. All of it despite adding three 4-star players in the class of 2014.
The 2014-15 team would go 24-13 overall, but finish just 9-9 in Pac-12 play. Given the youth of the team and the big expectations of a highly rated recruiting class, Dawkins was brought back for the 2015-16 season.
Instead of improvement, the Cardinal went to 15-15 overall and 8-10 in conference play, ultimately costing Dawkins his job.
Of course, Stanford doesn’t quite have the OSU pedigree nor Thad Matta’s coaching prowess to lean back on. However, making the NIT a priority and a hopeful springboard also speaks to where this program is compared to its peers.
Teams like Wisconsin and Indiana also saw major roster turnover with much less on the recruiting trail, yet are still prepping for NCAA tournament berths. Heck, Indiana took a few upperclassmen and a good mix of youth right to a Big Ten regular season title, while the Badgers managed to finish third in Big Ten play.
Just how far has Ohio State fallen? OSU has seen its own NIT bounce go from Sweet Sixteen or better in four straight years (2010-13) to being bounced on the first weekend of the tournament in 2014 and 2015, all the way to an NIT berth this season.
That trend isn’t exactly upward and should have OSU fans worried, along with the history of teams who have won the NIT tournament over the past seven years.
Of course, OSU is also in a much different position given its historical successes and all of that. But, this is a team that has consistently brought in the upper echelon of recruiting talent over the past few years and couldn’t find a winning formula.
Will Ohio State be able to win an NIT title and make it count towards the goal of Final Fours? After all, OSU basketball has much bigger goals in mind.
If not, we could be seeing the end of the Thad Matta era at OSU before our very eyes over the next few years.