Why NIT bid might not yet be a certainty for Tech

After his team lost to Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA tournament Tuesday night, Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner spoke of an NIT berth as a foregone conclusion. In fact, he was still making the case that the Yellow Jackets still deserved a spot in the NCAA tournament for having finished 8-10 in the ACC, widely regarded as the top conference in the country.

However, even though the Jackets were considered to have a slim chance of playing their way into the NCAA tournament if they could pull a series of upsets at the ACC tournament, a spot in the 32-team NIT field may be likely, but might not be a certainty.

In the past five years, the NIT selection committee has given at-large bids to only three power-conference teams with RPI’s higher than 90, and only one was higher than Tech’s 105. Perhaps more concerning, the NIT has not taken a team with 16 wins over that same span. In the record books, Tech is 17-15, but the NCAA selection committee does not recognize Tech’s win over Division II Tusculum. It isn’t clear how the NIT selection committee considers it, but the NIT is owned by the NCAA.

But even if it is included, only five 17-win power-conference teams received NIT invitations in the past five seasons. Tech’s closing slide, going 2-5 in its past seven, may be costly. After the first-round loss to Pitt Tuesday night, Tech’s RPI fell 10 spots, to 105. A win over Pitt would have added another victory with a chance at another while improving Tech’s RPI to 89, according to rpiwizard.com.

Reached Tuesday, NIT selection committee member Reggie Minton, deputy executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, was asked if Tech was under consideration.

“I think that’s reasonable (to say),” said Minton, declining to offer a more definitive assurance of the Jackets’ place in the field.

The Jackets’ record and RPI don’t disqualify them, obviously. But one reason why so few teams with similar records or RPI rankings have been accepted into the NIT field is that there were enough teams deemed more deserving ahead of them. And, in Tech’s case, that might also be the problem.

Going into Wednesday’s games, there were 15 power-conference teams that a) were not in the field of 68 as projected by ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi; b) had as many wins or more than Tech and a better RPI. Further, many of those teams have the chance to add to their résumés in their conference tournaments.

In the past five years, there have been between eight and 11 power-conference teams that made the NIT field.

In an interview with the AJC last year, Minton said that the NIT selection committee approaches its job similarly to the way that the NCAA group appraises teams for its tournament — good wins, bad losses, road record, schedule strength, RPI, "the eye test" and so forth. He also said that how a team finishes is considered, which does not serve the Jackets well.

Tech’s four RPI top-25 wins (North Carolina, Florida State, VCU and North Carolina) continue to be impressive, as is its league record, and those factors may ultimately secure its spot. However, those achievements have also been watered down by its win-loss record, its weak non-conference schedule and poor finish.

The NIT gives an automatic bid to any team that win its league’s regular-season championship but doesn’t win its conference tournament and doesn’t make the NCAA tournament. Through Wednesday’s games, six regular-season mid-major winners had already lost in their tournaments and at least five will likely need the automatic NIT bid. Many conferences were to start tournament play Wednesday or Thursday.

John Templon, NIT bracketologist at the website NYC Buckets, surmised Wednesday via email that, barring a high number of automatic bids, the Jackets will get in, “but it’ll probably be close.”

The NIT field will be announced Sunday evening after the NCAA tournament is announced.