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Welcome to the NIT: a primer for Xavier fans

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This is unfamiliar territory, but don’t worry, I’ve done all the googling for you.

New York Islanders v New York Rangers
It’s at MSG. Hopefully Brian O’Connell won’t be.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

If you have clear memories of the last time Xavier competed in the NIT, you’re old enough to legally buy the alcohol it took to stomach what happened on Friday. The last time the Muskies were in this tournament was March 2000. A lot has changed since then, both in basketball and in the real world. I’ll try to answer the questions I’m anticipating you have, focusing almost exclusively on the basketball side of things and particularly the NIT.

What is the format of this dang thing?

I’m glad you asked. The NIT is 32 of the almost-finest college basketball programs in the land. For a long time, it was the premier postseason tournament in the college basketball world. It’s not anymore, but it’s still a tournament your dad will recognize, which is better than could have been reasonably hoped for five weeks ago.

How are these almost-finest teams selected?

There are two ways to get into the NIT, and both of them involve getting your heart broken. The first is to win your conference’s regular season but fail to win the tournament. Basically 18 or 20 games of supremacy vanishes in an instant; nobody wants to hear, “Don’t worry, we still have that NIT bid to fall back on!”

The other is to be on the bubble and then not make it. If the auto bids are mid- and low-major teams that felt like they had a solid chance to making the big dance after ruling their conferences, the at-large bids are generally high-major teams who thought their resume over the course of the season would have been enough to get them in if they had just caught one or two more breaks or been a media/committee darling. Instead, they endured the gut punch of hearing 68 names that weren’t theirs called.

When is the tournament played? And for that matter, where?

The tournament kicks off with the first round being played on March 19 and 20, the Tuesday and Wednesday after Selection Sunday. The second round is then scattered through the NCAA Tournament games on March 21-25. The third round is played Tuesday and Wednesday, March 26-27.

All of the games in the first three rounds are played at the home floor of the higher-seeded team. The bracket is constructed with travel distance in mind, so expect your team to be playing at home or somewhere nearby, at least until...

The NIT Final Four is staged Tuesday and Thursday, April 2 and 4 at MSG (perhaps you’ve heard of it) in New York.

Anything else I need to know?

Yeah, kind of a lot. The NCAA uses the NIT to try out new rules that may end up becoming part of standard play; the 30-second shot clock and the restricted arc under the hoop are examples of these. This year includes the following tweaks to be aware of, per the NCAA’s own release:

• The 3-point line will be extended by approximately 1 foot, 8 inches to the same distance used by FIBA for international competition (22 feet, 1.75 inches).

• The free throw lane will be widened from 12 feet to 16 feet, consistent with the width used by the NBA.

• The shot clock will reset to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound instead of the full 30 seconds.

• Team fouls will reset at the 10-minute mark of each half for the purpose of determining free throws and one-and-one free throws will be eliminated. Teams will shoot two bonus free throws after the fifth team foul of each 10-minute segment. Additionally, teams will be awarded two bonus free throws after the second team foul committed under two minutes remaining in each half if that foul occurs before the fifth team foul of the segment. In each overtime period, team fouls will reset, and teams will shoot two free throws beginning with the fourth team foul or the second team foul committed under two minutes remaining if that comes before the fourth team foul of the overtime period.

Does Xavier have any history in the NIT?

Oh, I don’t know, do you count winning the dang thing in 1958? Realistically speaking, though, nothing that happened before the players on the current team were born is really that relevant. I guarantee Loyola Chicago is getting a thousand times more mileage out of their Final Four from last year than they are their fifty-year-old national championship. How pathetic would you have to be to still be trumpeting about something that happened before the parents of your current players met?

Anyway, Xavier went once under Bob Staak and once under Pete Gillen, making the quarterfinals each time. Skip took them twice, finishing third once and washing out in the second round the other time. Sean Miller and Chris Mack each missed the NCAA tournament once, but neither of those squads was deemed worthy of an NIT bid.

Why should I care?

Because these guys played their guts out to go from dead and buried to almost making the NCAA tournament to where they are now. Because it’s a young team with a young coach that has another opportunity for development. Because Welly, Hanky, and KC gave their senior years to this program and they deserve your support.

Because it’s basketball, and when it’s done, all you have is the long, miserable summer until the cycle begins anew next fall.