2006-2007 Preseason NIT Season Tip-Off
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by Kyle Winchester
East Region Champion: North Carolina
Semi Finals: North Carolina over Gonzaga
Finals: North Carolina over Indiana
The 2006 Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off field features eight teams who played in last year’s NCAA Tournament. From traditional powers Indiana and North Carolina to mid-major leaders Gonzaga and Winthrop, this tournament has a number of teams with high hopes at the start of the 2006-2007 season. The goal for each team involved in the NIT Tip-Off is to make only one NIT Tournament appearance this season, instead playing in the Big Dance at season’s end.
Take a closer look of the list of this event's champions at the right. If you notice on this list, only the 2000 Duke team won both the NIT Tip-Off and NCAA Tournaments in the same season. However, a number of teams have gone on to appear in the Final Four following an NIT Tip-Off title: Duke (’85 champion, ’86 Final Four), UNLV (’86 champion, ’87 Final Four), Duke again (2000 champion, ’01 Final Four & title), and Georgia Tech (’03 champion, ’04 Final Four).
More recently, there have been four teams in the last ten years to earn an NCAA Tournament number one seed after winning the title: ’98 Kansas, ’00 Arizona, ’01 Duke, & ’06 Duke. In that same period of time, only Syracuse in 2001 and North Carolina in 2002 have won the NIT Tip-Off and failed to make the NCAA Tournament the following spring. Finally, the ACC has tasted great success in this event. The league has won four titles in a row and six of the last eight. Obviously that is good news for the ACC participant this season, North Carolina.
The point of this historical data is to acknowledge two things. First, the NIT Tip-Off organizers do a great job of landing key teams in the tournament field. Of course it is easier when the semi-finals and finals are in Madison Square Garden, an obvious draw for teams. However, consistently landing good competition is why many teams keep coming back. After a tune up game or two, the good teams get a shot at another two teams who also have NCAA Tournament aspirations. Second, this event should be carefully monitored and filed away in the NCAA Tournament storage drawer in your brain, as typically teams who succeed in the Tip-Off are at least major factors come March. The selection committee surely takes into account these neutral court, tournament style matchups when weighing the seeding or selection of a team four months later.
Under the new format, the NIT Season Tip-Off is divided into four geographical regions played at a quasi-neutral site in the home state of that particular region’s marquee team. Let’s take a look at each region before discussing the possibilities of these teams playing in New York and beyond.
Besides just the matchups themselves, there are a few national storylines found in this tournament. First and foremost, as briefly mentioned earlier, the Kelvin Sampson era begins in Bloomington. Sampson, whose NCAA violations while coaching Oklahoma are well documented, will attempt to lead the Hoosiers back to the NCAA Tournament. Wait, Mike Davis did that. So Sampson is charged with leading the Hoosiers to the Final Four. Wait, Davis did that too. So that only leaves championships for Sampson to please the Indiana faithful. While I’m sure they have an NCAA Title in mind, I’m also certain that the Hoosier fans would love an NIT Tip-Off championship to start things off. Anything less than a championship apparently earns you a pink slip at IU.
A second major storyline on a national level will be the play of the mid-majors. Last season unprecedented breakthrough by mid-major teams shook the foundation of the college basketball world. However, the question that now remains is if these teams are here to stay or were simply a one-year wonder. Winthrop, UNC Wilmington, Rice, and Butler will carry the mid-major flag in this field. Each of these teams has a shot against a national name in either the first round, second round, or, in the case of Butler, both.
Finally, the third major national storyline centers on one of the best teams, according to pre-season prognosticators, in the nation: North Carolina. The Tar Heels are the prohibitive favorite to claim the Tip-Off title. Some even say they are a favorite to claim the national title. This tournament should provide an early-season test of the chemistry of this team. Talent is of little question, but establishing a starting lineup, much less a regular rotation, will be challenging for Coach Roy Williams. Tyler Hansbrough is the best player in this event and should use the big stage of Madison Square Garden to add to his legend around Chapel Hill.
There are nine or ten teams who have a fighting chance to earn an NCAA at-large berth in March. Though Selection Sunday is a ways off, one can never ignore the repercussions of an early season upset or the ability to win four straight games and earn the NIT Season Tip-Off title. Also, though only one team will win the event, others can do a great deal to plant a seed in the collective head of the tournament committee as a squad worthy of an at-large bid in March. With so much on the line this early in the season, NCAA hoops will grab some of the attention of the NFL and College Football and shine before the nation.