CBI more realistic for Iowa than NIT, and perhaps more useful

Hawkeyes, Cyclones emerging from the darkness

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I've heard several people recently say Iowa's men's basketball team could go to the National Invitation Tournament.

Ummm, it probably won't.

I understand why that assumption is made around here. Back when the Hawkeyes went to the NIT in 2003 and 2004, you were probably going to get an invitation if you were from a power conference and had a record of .500 or better. Iowa got in the '03 NIT at 15-13 and the '04 at 16-12.

But in 2005, the NCAA purchased 10-year rights to the NIT. Starting in 2006, all teams that won regular-season conference championships but failed to earn NCAA tournament bids were guaranteed places in the NIT. That accounted for 13 of the tournament's 32 berths last year.

The tourney is no longer "arranged," with bidding on home games and such. It used to be a somewhat-stacked deck. But now the NIT takes, in a transparent selection process, the best remaining at-large teams available. California had the worst record of any NIT team last year, at 17-14. Northwestern got in at 18-13. No one in the field was worse than three games over .500.

In other words, the NCAA tried to give the NIT more legitimacy.

In 2010, there were eight automatic qualifiers, opening the door for three 17-15 at-large teams. Two teams squeezed in the 2009 at two games over .500.

The field is seeded, too, with the higher seeds getting home games throughout the tourney until the semifinals in New York. Last year's four No. 1 seeds were the final four teams to miss out on an NCAA tourney at-large berth, Alabama, Boston College, Colorado and Virginia Tech.

A Web site that does a good job of predicting how this NIT stuff will go is this one. As you can see, it projects Northern Iowa as a No. 5 seed in this year's NIT as of now, though much will change as conference tourneys unfold this week.

Iowa is 16-15. If it beats Illinois Thursday in the first round of the Big Ten tourney, it will play Michigan State on Friday. Win both of those and lose Saturday to finish 18-16, well, that might get it to NIT bubble status on the strength of beating five ranked teams. But just beating Illinois and losing to MSU to be 17-16 come Selection Sunday? It's highly doubtful that would get it done. In fact, I'll go as far as to say forget about it.

The College Basketball Invitational is another matter.

The CBI was born in 2008. It's a 16-team affair, with the purpose of providing programming for HDNet, which I don't get as part of my cable package.

The first four CBI champions were Tulsa, Oregon State, Virginia Commonwealth and Oregon. No Big Ten team has ever played in the tourney.

You can have any kind of record and be invited to the CBI. Oregon was 16-17 at the start of last year's event, and got three home games in succession. It won them all, then faced Creighton in the best-of-three final (yes, a best-of-three final). Creighton was at home for Game 1 and won. Games 2 and 3 were in Eugene, the Ducks won, and the rest is history.

Oregon beat Weber State, Duquesne and Boise State to get to the CBI final. Creighton, playing entirely at home until the final as well, beat San Jose State, Davidson and Central Florida.

All past CBI results can be found here.

If Iowa does go to the CBI, you can bet good money the Hawkeyes would host a first-round game. And if they won that and drew anything above and beyond 4,000 fans, I'd bet they host again. And if they won the quarterfinal, I'd bet they host a semifinal.

I think the CBI would be a good home for the Hawkeyes this season, and then never again for a long time, if ever. They would get some postseason experience and a chance to go deep into the tourney. That can only help Devyn Marble, Aaron White, Josh Oglesby, Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe for the future.

Virginia Commonwealth fared pretty well in 2011 after winning the 2010 CBI, wouldn't you say?


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