Now that this week's conference tournament results are in, it has become evident that the Crimson Tide basketball team's chances for an NIT invite are still alive, but not all that strong. In what follows, I'll break down the situation from top to bottom to show you where we stand heading into Selection Sunday.
For those who don't want to take the time to go through the whole break-down, the Tide will need a little bit of luck as the selection committee makes their decisions. If it were like the old days and the NIT was simply the top 32 major-conference teams not in the Big Dance, we would be a shoo-in. Even if it was simply the best 32 teams, I would feel pretty good about us getting an invite. But alas, that's not the case. As of 2006, the NIT also reserves spots for automatic qualifiers, and there were 8 of them this year. So we are actually trying to be one of the top 24 teams left out of the Big Dance, and not only are we competing against the name schools who didn't get invited like North Carolina and Arizona, but we're also competing against the quality mid-major schools who had great years but didn't quite make the cut for the Big Dance. Keep in mind, there are 343 Division I basketball teams out there, much different than the 120 FBS football teams.
One bit of good news for us, though: The NIT selection committee is chaired by none other than former Bama coach C.M. Newton, who led the Tide to 3 SEC championships and 6 post-season appearances in 12 seasons at the Capstone from 1969-1981. Newton also played a semi-formal consulting role for UA when his old friend Mal Moore began his search for Mark Gottfried's replacement last year. Newton reportedly was very high on hiring Grant and supposedly lobbied to bring him to Tuscaloosa. I doubt this will have any significant impact on our chances, but it's interesting to note nonetheless.
That said, I strongly encourage everyone to read below the jump to see how it all breaks down and where we stand heading into Selection Sunday...
UPDATE: I've included today's results in the tournament break-downs.
First, let's take a look at how the automatic bids were assigned for both the NCAA and NIT tournaments. Each of the 31 Division I basketball conferences is listed in the table below in order of the conferences' rank in the RPI. Each of the 31 conference tournament winners is guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament. Those tournament winners that are projected to be top-11 seeds--in other words, those who would have been chosen as at-large teams even without winning their tournaments--I have categorized as "NCAA at-large" under the column "Winner Status" to distinguish between those teams who got in solely by winning their conference tournaments and those who did not. For those tournament winners projected as 12-seeds and lower, I have categorized "NCAA automatic" under the column "Winner Status". You will see that 19 of the conference tournament winners are projected as seeds such that they got in only as automatic bids, while the other 12 tournament winners (including the four crowned today) would have gotten in without the automatic bid.
Meanwhile, there were also 31 regular season conference champions. 17 of those champions went on to win their conference tournaments, guaranteeing them a spot in the NCAA tournament. Of the remaining 14 champions, 6 lost in their conference tournament but are expected to qualify as at-large teams. That leaves 8 conference champions who lost in their conference tournaments and will not qualify for the NCAA tournament as at-large teams. Those 8 will receive automatic bids to the NIT.
|San Diego State
|New Mexico State
|East Tennessee State
|Sam Houston State
|Sam Houston Sate
|8 NIT auto bids
|17 NCAA auto bids
Since 17 (technically 31, but 14 of those would have qualified as at-large teams anyway) of the 65 NCAA bids will go to automatic qualifiers, there will be 48 spots open for the top 48 teams in the country, as determined by the NCAA selection committee.
According to ESPN's bracket experts, the following 42 teams are considered locks to be among those 46 top teams (in order of expected seeding):
San Diego State
According to ESPN's bracket experts, the following 9 teams are "on the bubble" for contention for those final 4 NCAA at-large spots. The 5 teams from this group that are not chosen for the NCAA tournament are considered locks for the top 5 at-large spots in the NIT. (Listed in order of chances by ESPN)
Since 8 of the 32 NIT bids will go to automatic qualifiers, the NIT selection committee will choose the top 24 remaining teams in the country for at-large spots in the NIT. The five teams from the above group on the NCAA bubble who are not chosen by the NCAA committee will be locks for at-large spots in the NIT, so that will leave 19 spots. In addition to those teams, the following 13 teams are considered NIT locks by the websites Bracket Project and NIT-ology--pretty much the only two sites out there that track NIT projections. (Listed roughly in order of projected seeding)
William & Mary
That leaves only 6 spots left for at-large teams in the NIT. Since the major sites like ESPN don't track the NIT and there isn't much media scrutiny on the NIT selection process, it's hard to say how the pecking order will go for the final teams chosen. Below I will mention 17 teams that the two NIT websites mention as possibilities for those final 6 spots. (Listed loosely in order of chances for being chosen)
So there you have it. Alabama is one of about 17 or so teams fighting for the final half-dozen or so NIT at-large berths. We could very well be one of the teams who gets an invite, but simple probability states that there probably just aren't quite enough spots. Bottom line, if I had to bet one way or another, I'd bet against us getting an invite, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if we did, as we should at least be in the discussion at the NIT committee meeting.
One final note, it is in fact within the realm of possibility that should Alabama be chosen, we very well could be matched against UAB in the opening round. If the Tide does get in, it will most likely be as a #6 or #7 seed, meaning a matchup with a #3 or #2 seed. UAB will most likely be either a #2 or #3 seed. Even if we do get in and the seeds do line up that way, there is still only a one in four chance that we would even be in the same bracket as UAB. Just something to think about if we do get invited.
I'm certainly hoping for the best, as it would be great to give Torrance and Brock another run-out or two and give our returning players some valuable added practice time and post-season experience. If we are left out, as I'm afraid we will be, it will only give Grant and company extra time to hit those recruiting trails.
One way or another, the Process continues. Roll Tide.