No one claims the NIT is as glamorous as the NCAA Tournament. It’s not surprising that some teams find it difficult to match the intensity of the “Big Dance” when playing to be the 66th best team in the country.
The VCU Rams tried and failed last night in an 80-77 loss to the UAB Blazers in the opening round of the NIT.
Too Little, Too Late
VCU entered the game looking flat, turning the ball over 9 times in the first half and shooting a miserable 25% from inside the arc. Despite that, the Rams were able to build a 7 point lead with 6:40 left in the first, with precision 3-point shooting by senior Jamal Shuler and freshman Lance Kearse going a combined 5-for-6 from long distance to that point.
The Rams would not score again in the next 5 minutes. The Blazers went into halftime up by 11, and VCU looked like toast.
“We dug a hole for ourselves,” said head coach Anthony Grant.
In the second period, the Rams rallied back to within 1 by extending the game with fouls and converting on nearly every scoring opportunity down the stretch, including 10 points off turnovers. UAB helped the cause by shooting a paltry 63% from the line in the final 4 minutes.
But it was not enough. Mr. Clutch Eric Maynor put up a shot to tie as time expired, but did not have the magic touch as he has had so many other times, including last year’s game-winner to topple Duke in the NCAA Tournament.
“We came out in the second half with the toughness and character we were looking for, said Grant. The team “fought as hard as they could.”
Missing from VCU’s lineup was senior Mike Anderson, who was benched by Grant. Five Rams freshmen got significant playing time, with as many as three on the court at a time.
Their inexperience may have contributed to the loss, but Coach Grant saw it in a different light. “We grew as a team tonight.”
Too Many Tournaments?
The NIT is said to be the “Not Invited Tournament.” But the National Invitation Tournament offers consolation to teams whose bubble was popped by the NCAA selection committee.
But this year, the NIT is not alone. The College Basketball Invitational has entered the post season business, snatching up teams overlooked by the NIT. The CBI features a 16-team field including Richmond, UVA, and Old Dominion. If the NIT is the Gaylord Hotel Music City Bowl of college basketball, the CBI is the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. The winner of this year’s CBI Tournament can hold their head high as the 97th best team in the nation.
Considering the three tournaments, a combined 113 Division I teams play postseason college basketball. Some may think that’s too many. But with ESPN forking over $24 million for a 10-year NIT television deal, it’s no wonder that more tournaments are popping up.
With the season complete, the biggest question that remains is whether VCU will be able to hold on to their boy wonder, Anthony Grant, in the hot stove coaching carousel that defines college basketball.
Grant is said to be on the short list of many top-tier programs, including South Carolina, Indiana, and LSU, all of which are hiring. Interestingly, last night’s game matched-up a former Indiana coach in Mike Davis, and a potential future Indiana coach in Grant if the Hoosiers come knocking.
Florida State and Northwestern are other schools that may be making coaching changes this off-season and could tap Grant.
If Grant does decide to stick around in Richmond for one more year, it certainly will make the last two VCU losses easier to swallow.