NIT might have been better for Tulsa

To dance or not to dance is sometimes the question debated in the minds of middle-school boys at the winter social, but maybe it’s a question The University of Tulsa basketball team should have asked themselves last week.

After getting thumped by Memphis, 89-67, in the first round of the American Athletic Conference tournament, many sports pundits figured Tulsa’s chance of making the 68-team field of the NCAA Tournament was slim, if not zilch. Even local media members were quick to point out that TU was likely headed to a spot in the NIT.

But how surprised everyone was, when on NCAA Selection Sunday, the Golden Hurricane was placed as an 11-seed, and slated to play Michigan in the first round. Wow, they didn’t just squeak into the tournament as a No. 16 seed, but they were an 11-seed. If they were honest, I’m sure there were several on the TU campus who were also shocked the team was invited to the “Big Dance.”

Tulsa played well against the Big 10 power, but Michigan hung on to win 67-62.

Several stories online pointed to both the surprise that the selection committee picked TU, and the shock among team members themselves – “Tulsa fails to take advantage of undeserved NCAA Tournament bid,” wrote Yahoo Sports.

“Even Tulsa’s players didn’t think they were going to make the NCAA Tournament,” read a story on SB Nation, which also wrote, “The NCAA Tournament committee did a pretty bad job,” referring to Tulsa getting in, with teams like Monmouth and St. Bonaventure missing the cut.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi called the selection of Tulsa “indefensible by every known standard.”

An organization called the Bracket Matrix compiles brackets from 59 so-called experts, who try to predict what the NCAA Tournament selection committee will do with the 68-team field, and none of them had Tulsa on their bracket.

The reason so many were surprised by Tulsa’s selection was the Golden Hurricane didn’t have a great record, 20-12 overall and 12-6 mark in the AAC. The team’s RPI was 61, which is well below what the selection committee usually accepts for an at-large bid. Plus, the Golden Hurricane was beat twice by a lousy Memphis team in the final weeks of the season.

Selection committee chairman and University of Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione explained, “In the case of Tulsa it was their four top-50 wins, including a road win over SMU. They had eight top-100 wins, and to add some context to that, six of the eight top 100 wins were over teams in the tournament.”

Yes, but, Tulsa went 8-8 against top-100 teams and 10-11 against the top-200. A number of bad loses kind of overshadows a few good wins when it comes to tournament time.

I’m not trying to disparage the fact that Tulsa had enough people convinced they were worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid, but when you get right down to it, I’m wondering if a spot in the NIT might have suited them better. At least in the NIT, Tulsa would have played teams with comparable records to their own, and would have faced other teams that fall in the mid-major range of schools. Also, since they were obviously on the NCAA bubble, Tulsa would have likely hosted at least a first round game and that means another home game for ticket sales and fan support.

Although the last time a college basketball team turned down an NCAA bid was over 40 years ago, maybe this year Tulsa should have said “Thanks, but no thanks,” to the NCAA and instead turned their attention to the NIT.