Ask an average sports fan about their bracket just a couple days into the NCAA Tournament and most will respond with some variation of the word busted. Ask a true college basketball fan, someone who is hardcore and their response is likely a question.
Bracketology these days isn’t just confined to the NCAA Tournament or what is commonly called ‘March Madness.’ Now, the red-headed step child, the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) is starting to garner some bracket interest among those who are truly hardcore college basketball fans.
Consider college basketball conesseuir John Templon, a journalist based out of New York City for Buzzfeed, a huge college basketball fan who has seen this interest lead to an interest in the NIT. His website, a labor of love called NYCBuckets.com, tracks the NIT with bid speculation, rankings and prognostications. He covers the NIT with as much gusto as he trails the NCAA Tournament.
He fills out a bracket for both the NCAA Tournament and the NIT, something that started eight years ago while in graduate school at Northwestern – “Back then making the NCAA Tournament was absolutely unheard of” so he got behind the idea of the NIT as something worth backing.
“So I began doing bracketology and once you spend hours every year figuring out who is most likely to play in the tournament it's always fun to follow it,” Templon said. “Also, there are lots of upsets in the NIT because teams have radically different motivations for being there. Just look at what happened [earlier in the tournament] with Oakland, Richmond, Boise St. and Cal St. Bakersfield beating higher-seeded teams.”
Like Templon, Brian Phan(who hails fromBracketMatrix.com)began to follow and get into the NIT in a similar fashion. His alma mater, Cal “always seemed to be in contention for at least the NIT.” So he began to research the tournament and brackets, coming across the now defunct NITology website. The interest in the storied tournament was born and has only since grown.
Both Templon and Phan are big fans of the NCAA Tournament but they find a place in their hearts for the NIT. They don’t see the need to exclude one over the other.
Formed in 1938, for many years the NIT was considered more prestigious and more difficult to win than its NCAA counterpart. But in recent years the tournament has faded considerably in stature and popularity. It is a distant second place in the eyes of many sports fans, most of whom don’t know that its semifinals and championship game are held at Madison Square Garden.
But what the NIT does do and does well is reward many quality teams with strong regular season records, giving them extra games, revenue, attention as well as valuable practice time for younger players. But while those are fine selling points, NIT games routinely don’t draw terribly well and television viewership pales in comparison to the Madness.
Even though a number of NIT teams could beat several of the NCAA Tournament teams, year-in and year-out. Still, it remains a tough sell.
“My friends couldn't care less about the NIT, even if their team was in it,” Phan said. “Sure, it's second-tier compared to the NCAA tourney, but teams get rewarded for an above-average season with some more games and possibly a trip to MSG. Nothing wrong with that.”
That doesn’t stop those who genuinely love basketball from getting into both the Madness and the NIT. For Phan and Templon, they will continue to follow both tournaments because they simply love the game.
“Yes. People often look at me funny when I say that I do NIT bracketology,” Templon said. “The question I most often get is: "That's a thing?" And it is, but there's only like three of us in any given year, whereas there are hundreds of NCAA Tournament bracketologists.”
Or perhaps it is just another chance at a busted bracket.