The event is widely viewed as an afterthought, but this year may have more significance for the ACC than at any time in nearly 15 years.
In 2006 the conference placed six teams in the second-tier NIT tournament. In fact the ’06 distribution may mirror what happens this year. Only four ACC clubs out of a dozen made the NCAAs (33.3 perccent) in ‘06, freeing room for six league teams (50.0 percent) to go the next-best postseason route.
This year there’s broad speculation that, barring a surge in the last few weeks of the regular season or an ACC Tournament explosion, NCAA bids will go to only four ACC squads – Duke, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia. NC State has an outside shot, as does Notre Dame. Both are handicapped by their usual lightweight early-season schedules and chronic inconsistency.
The ACC meanwhile could be well-represented in the 32-team NIT field. Like a lower-tier football bowl outing, NIT participation affords an opportunity to build reputations, team cohesion, individual game experience, coaching bonuses and program coffers regardless of how much the event is denigrated as an gathering of also-rans.
Besides the six potential ’20 NCAA contenders (40 percent of the membership) nearly that number of ACC teams still possess, if barely, winning overall records: Syracuse, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Pitt and Miami.
An NIT berth would mark the third time in six years the Orange, their reputation as a college colossus grown threadbare, would miss the NCAAs.
Georgia Tech and BC hover around .500. Since 2017 the NIT has taken teams with records below breakeven, which might give those schools or UNC, a potentially big draw, a chance to be included with a creditable closing run.
Last year the NIT champion was Texas, which beat Lipscomb. The last of four ACC clubs to win the title was Wake Forest in 2000 under Dave Odom.
Previously Virginia won twice, in 1990 in Terry Holland’s last year as head coach, and in 1980 in Ralph Sampson’s first year as a Cavalier. North Carolina won in 1971 after losing by a point to South Carolina in the finals of that school’s last ACC Tournament.
Three ACC squads made the NIT finals during the last decade, only to lose: Georgia Tech to TCU and former Pitt coach Jamie Dixon in 2017; Miami to Stanford and former Duke player and assistant Johnny Dawkins in 2015; and UNC to Dayton and future Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory in 2010, the only comparably forlorn season at Chapel Hill under Roy Williams.
Every ACC program took its shot in the NIT since 2010 except Wake, which last went in 2006 and is quite unlikely to go in 2020, and Duke, which last went in 1981, Mike Krzyzewski’s first year as head coach.
BC has only managed to reach the postseason twice since 2010 (2011, 2018) and that was in the NIT.
In the six years since the ACC’s 2014 expansion, no team that finished higher than sixth in the league standings was consigned to the NIT. Clemson went as a sixth-place finisher in 2014 and reached the NIT semifinals. Miami tied for sixth in 2015, won four games, and lost in overtime in the final at Madison Square Garden.
Virginia Tech in 2010 tied FSU for third in the ACC and still went to the NIT. That was back when fellow coaches vainly urged Seth Greenberg to improve his nonconference schedule rather than be left griping about postseason snubs.
ACC Teams in NCAA and NIT, by Year Since 2010
|2019||9 of 15||7 V**||2 C, NS|
|2018||12 of 15||9||3 BC, UL, ND|
|2017||12 of 15||9 NC**||3 C, GT*, SU|
|2016||10 of 15||7 NC*||3 FS, GT, VT|
|2015||8 of 15||6 D**||2 Mia*, UP|
|2014||8 of 15||6||2 C, FS|
|2013||7 of 12||4||3 FS, Md, V|
|2012||5 of 12||4||1 Mia|
|2011||7 of 12||4||3 BC, Mia, VT|
|2010||9 of 12||6 D**||3 NC*, NS, VT|
|* Reached final.
** Won championship.