SEC Well-Represented In NIT FieldPosted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on March 18th, 2014
You were probably too busy rifling through your bracket and getting ready to take a stab at Warren Buffett’s billion dollars, but the 2014 NIT field was released Sunday night. As expected, the SEC was well-represented in the secondary tournament (Brian said the NIT would be the SEC Tournament revisited, and I thought that comment deserved a wider audience). In total, four SEC teams got the call: Missouri (2 seed), Georgia (2 seed), Arkansas (3 seed), and LSU (4 seed). As this SB Nation article points out, the NIT bubble was smaller this year due to many mid-major regular season champions not winning their conference tournaments.
Therefore, the Belmonts and Utah Valley States of the world may have cost Ole Miss a spot in the field. Given how highly the NIT committee apparently views Georgia, it’s possible Ole Miss could have secured an invite had they won its hard-fought quarterfinal Friday night in Atlanta against Georgia. Instead, Andy Kennedy was unable to follow up his most successful season in Oxford with another postseason appearance. We’ll have more in-depth coverage and breakdowns of the individual matchups as the week goes on, but a general theme heading into NIT competition is how it can be a positive for the teams taking part. Missouri, Arkansas and LSU all had varying degrees of favorable NCAA odds at different points this season, so to miss out is no doubt disappointing. Georgia also played itself to the brink of being in the bubble discussion. But there’s a glass-half-full outlook for all four of these teams.
Across the board the extra games can be a valuable developmental tool for younger players. Jordan Mickey and Jarrell Martin (if they both return to LSU) should form one of the most talented duos in the SEC next season, so getting more knock-out game experience will be a plus for Johnny Jones. The same can be said for Frank Haith and his young front court that will need to improve for the Tigers to be a factor next year. Then there’s Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines, who with another step forward could headline a tournament team in Athens in 2014-15. The NIT invites could also help the standing of certain coaches. For Mark Fox it is a kind-of reward for the job he did with a Bulldogs team that was nowhere near postseason play entering the conference season. For Mike Anderson, it might serve to buy him a little more time to finish his rebuilding project in Fayetteville.
There is one final SEC team that will be playing postseason basketball. Texas A&M accepted a bid to the 16-team College Basketball Invitational, which features fellow major conference teams Penn State and Oregon State. The Aggies have a Wednesday home game against Wyoming, a team that went 9-9 in the Mountain West and knocked off then #5 San Diego State in mid-February. Texas A&M AD Eric Hyman reportedly gave Kennedy a postseason mandate prior to the season. If that’s true, Kennedy technically pulled it off, and should keep his job going into next season.