Ray Floriani has been to so many NITs he can’t remember them all, but he sent us this feature story on what may have been the final evening for the Grand Old Lady of postseason college basketball a couple of weeks ago.
NEW YORK CITY- The last one? Hopefully not. Heading to New York on that bright and sunny (finally) afternoon was the realization that this could be the end. The end of the line for the nation’s oldest postseason tournament in college basketball. The final edition as the NCAA gets closer to expansion. Denial was no use as the reality of it all was sinking in and on the minds of fans. Not just the fans of Dayton and North Carolina but the fans of the college game in general.
On the train to New York, we met up with a few Dayton alums from my area. We discuss the game and soon there was an invite to a Dayton pregame reception on the eighteenth floor of the Penn Hotel across from the Garden. The game starts at seven. We’d hit New York at five and considering I plan to check in at MSG about 5:30, it sounded good. At the reception were alumni, friends and students including the band members and cheerleaders. Met a lot of passionately devoted fans, but refused any drinks (there was a game to cover), settling instead for soda.
Off to the Garden where players took the floor about an hour prior to tipoff to stretch, do some light shooting and generally go through their pregame routine. It’s all business on both sides. North Carolina would rather play on the first Monday in April. There is a title at stake here however and the first Thursday instead will suffice. Interesting these two schools are meeting for probably the last NIT championship. Dayton has had a storied history in this tournament with eight previous ‘Final Four’ appearances. Five times the Flyers finished runners-up while twice ascending to the championship. North Carolina has not appeared in the event nearly as much. Their first trip to MSG for the NIT resulted in a 1970 first round loss to Manhattan, coached by Jack Powers later to become a long time director of the tournament. A year later they captured their only title in the NIT.