Go To The NIT

Greg Gard wouldn’t commit. When asked, in the wake of the Badger’s worst performance of the season and their one-and-done in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, whether he’d accept a bid to the NIT, he wouldn’t say.

I get it. It’s like you’ve been expecting a free trip to Paris and then somebody points out that you misunderstood. It’s Peoria.

Well, Peoria can be nice this time of year. Their gray snow banks are almost gone.

And it’s not like the Badgers wouldn’t have good company. North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Vilanova and Michigan are just some of the once proud and mighty who could be slumming it with our guys.

I just don’t see the downside. Your guys get to play at least one more game, possibly before a home crowd. They get a chance at redemption — why would anyone want to go out on that stinker against Ohio State? And for all those returning players they get the feel of some tournament action, even if it isn’t at the big dance.

Wisconsin has a storied history in the NIT. Well, not so much with the Badgers, who have only been there a handful of times and then only for a cup of coffee. No, the history is about Al McGuire and Marquette. In 1970, McGuire had a team that was a legitimate contender for a national title. But he felt snubbed when the Warriors (now the Golden Eagles) were assigned to a regional in Texas. So, he rejected the NCAA and went to the NIT, where his team won the NIT championship.

Al McGuire made the most of the NIT, and everything else.

McGuire, one of the most colorful figures in Wisconsin sports history, has the reputation for being a street fighter. Scrappy does’t begin to describe it. A New Yorker through and through, it’s possible that one reason he wanted to go to the NIT is that they played their final four series in Madison Square Garden. Seven years later McGuire won the NCAA tournament. He cried. He cut down the net. Then he retired.

The only thing Greg Gard has in common with Al McGuire is that they both coached basketball. And, of course, Gard wouldn’t be making any kind of dramatic statement by accepting a bid to the consolation tournament when his team played themselves out of the main event. Still, it’d be fun to see if these guys could win two games in row. That in itself would be a little vindication.

And then there’s today’s Marquette. Shaka Smart’s team will not only get a bid to the NCAA, but they will probably be a number 2 seed at the worst. They play their next Big East tournament game this evening at 5:30 on FS1.

So, all is not lost, sports fans. When you get a chance to keep playing, well, keep playing.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

One thought on “Go To The NIT

  1. They will go to the NIT, but no major conference coach would even acknowledge that the NIT exists before the NCAA bracket is announced. That’s like saying you want to go to prom with your sister before your dream date tells you “no”. Gard and his staff are smart enough to value the opportunity for more practice and game time to work on developing his players. Maybe more importantly for Chris McIntosh, and in keeping with YSDA sports cynicism, the AD will value the opportunity to make some money hosting a game or two at the Kohl Center. It’s just like the football team going to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl!


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