Kenny Ocker is an RTC contributor. He was in Eugene for Games Two and Three of this week’s College Basketball Invitational between Creighton and Oregon.
When people talk about March Madness, the College Basketball Invitational is probably about the furthest thing from basketball fans’ collective conscience. Don’t let that fool you, however. The third-rate tournament is a valuable source of experience for teams, and it allows players to hang on just a little bit longer. Without the National Invitation Tournament’s strict standards of only extending bids to teams with above-.500 records, the CBI ends up with the third pick of postseason teams. Though the teams invited aren’t NCAA Tournament-quality, that doesn’t mean they’re not quality teams. For instance, the Creighton Bluejays are 23-16 and the Oregon Ducks are 21-18. “We did win 20 games, which I know we had to play a lot to get to 20, but we did win 20 games, so winning breeds winning,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said after Wednesday’s game. “Hopefully, it will help us down the road. We’ve got a long ways to go with our program, we’re not kidding anybody, but at least guys are playing hard.”
While both teams have been able to pad their records with wins in the tournament, the biggest impact the CBI has on college basketball is giving valuable practice time and postseason experience for growing teams. Creighton’s Greg McDermott and Oregon’s Altman are both first-year coaches at their programs (Altman, incidentally, came to Eugene from Creighton after 16 seasons in Omaha), and the two-plus weeks of meaningful practices both coaches have had with their teams will certainly make an impact next season. Incidentally, the tournament’s last three champions (including 2011) were in their first years at their schools. The six 2010 CBI teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament this season have gone 6-16 so far, compared with NIT teams going 7-32 and CollegeInsiders.com Tournament teams going 1-16. This is especially emphasized in the fairytale Final Four run of Virginia Commonwealth, which won the CBI in 2010. “It’s not the NCAA Tournament. It’s not the NIT,” Altman said after Wednesday’s game. “We’ve got a long ways to go to elevate our program there, but it’s an opportunity to play.”