On Sunday evening, LSU was selected as one of 32-teams into the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). LSU earned a six in the west bracket, and will travel to Oregon for their opening match. This will be the sixth appearance for the Tigers in the NIT (2004, 2002, 1983, 1982, and 1970). Their best results were making it to the semi-finals back in 1970.
Most college basketball fans don’t pay attention to the NIT tournament. It makes sense, 68 teams are selected to play in the NCAA tournament, so if you’re not good enough to make that you should play in the post-season. Tell that to the three LSU seniors, Chris Bass, Malcolm White and Storm Warren. You don’t think they are excited to play in the NIT and continue their LSU career at least on more game? Two of the players, Chris Bass and Storm Warren, were on the team when they made their last NCAA appearance (2009), but after the team’s performance over the last two years, the seniors can send LSU off in a positive direction.
This isn’t just big for the seniors, but also the underclassmen. The tournament give players like Justin Hamilton, Johnny O’Bryant, Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer the chance to learn to play in a tournament setting. These four players are the core to LSU, and will all be back next year. This next week will be huge for setting the team up for a NCAA tournament run next year. Let’s compare this year’s basketball team to the 2010 football team. That squad was coming off of two sub-par seasons. They had a nice season and went to the Cotton Bowl. As talented as the team was they only trophy they won was the Cotton Bowl. What that game did was build confidence for the team heading into the 2011 season and that season turned out okay. I am not saying that LSU can win it all next season, but can use the NIT as a building block opportunity.
Where this tournament could have the biggest impact is with the fans. Saying that the average LSU fan could care less about men’s basketball is an understatement. Just look at the SEC tournament, only 500 Tiger fans made the trip to New Orleans to support LSU against Arkansas and Kentucky. This isn’t a direct knock on the fans, why should they go? The program has been weak for a long time. In the last 19 seasons, LSU only made seven post season appearances. Most of those appearances was with a team where most of the starters weren’t returning. That isn’t the case this year. If, and a big if, LSU can make a run in the NIT this could build the excitement for the team heading into next year. That is not only good for attendance numbers, but also in recruiting (hopefully).
LSU’s first round against Oregon will air on ESPN on Tuesday night at 8:30. Come back later on as we will preview the matchup.