2012 NCAA Tournament: The NIT Might Be More Preferable for BYU Basketball

Ryan FarnsworthContributor IMarch 7, 2012

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 03:  Head coach Dave Rose of the Brigham Young Cougars signals his players as they take on the Gonzaga Bulldogs during a semifinal game of the Zappos.com West Coast Conference Basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena March 3, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Gonzaga won 77-58.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

BYU is squarely on the NCAA tournament "bubble."

After a strong but not stellar 25-8 season that concluded with a disappointing performance in a loss to Gonzaga in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament, Dave Rose and the Cougars are left to wonder if they have done enough to earn an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. 

The Cougars extended their streak of consecutive 25-win seasons to six, but Dave Rose's team struggled at times with inefficient three-point shooting, subpar perimeter defense and poor shot selection, especially against NCAA tournament-caliber teams.

But as he told Greg Wrubell of KSL Radio in his postgame interview following the Gonzaga loss on Saturday, Coach Dave Rose doesn't believe the Cougars will be left out on Selection Sunday:

"There's no question; I think this team deserves to be in the NCAA tournament.  I'll believe that, and if it happens, then our guys will be ready."

"If" it happens...

College basketball experts and self-proclaimed "Bracketologists" have BYU either in the field of 68 or just barely on the outside looking in as conference tournaments around the country kick into full gear this week. 

BYU's postseason fate may very well be decided by an upset here, an upset there or a tournament championship run by another "bubble" team that still needs to prove that it belongs in the Big Dance (e.g., Colorado State, Tennessee, Texas, Northwestern, Miami (FL) or pretty much any team from the Pac-12—OK, except Utah).

Meanwhile, BYU will be sitting at home anxiously awaiting the announcement of the field of 68 on Selection Sunday with no more chances to prove that it belongs in the NCAA tournament. 

Despite what Coach Rose believes, the Cougars have left their fate up for debate.

However, Coach Dave Rose might want to be less concerned about whether his BYU team will be included in the 68-team field and slated for a probable first-round loss to a higher-seeded opponent, given this team's performances against potential NCAA tournament teams (3-6 against RPI Top 50 teams, including a 1-6 record against teams likely to have higher seeds [No. 4-No. 8] in the tournament such as Baylor, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, and Saint Mary's).

He should be more focused on what could be a very positive and confidence-building performance for a young Cougars team with limited postseason experience in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).

Seniors Charles Abouo and Noah Hartsock are the only Cougars with any significant NCAA postseason experience, and an invitation to the 32-team NIT tournament would likely give BYU a high seed (No. 1-No. 2) with two to three home games in the first three rounds followed by a potential "Final Four" at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Despite its lower position in the hierarchy of postseason tournaments compared to the NCAA tournament, the NIT has served as the platform for many powerhouse programs to build confidence in their young and rebuilding teams and to prepare them for future postseason runs in the more prestigious NCAA tournament.

In fact, Ohio State (2008), Baylor (2009), North Carolina (2010) and Wichita State (2011) all made it to the NIT championship game in recent years, and all four teams are expected to make it to at least the Sweet 16 in this year's NCAA tournament.

Winning up to five postseason tournament games in the 2012 NIT could prove to be invaluable for BYU next year and in the years to come.

In addition to struggling against tougher competition overall this year, the Cougars also struggled in the "one-and-done" format of the WCC tournament last week as they squeaked out a victory over a poor San Diego team and struggled mightily against Gonzaga. 

A spot in the NIT would provide BYU with experience in playing in "one-and-done" games while playing and winning the first couple of those games in the friendly confines of the Marriott Center.

Following the loss of Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery after BYU's run to the Sweet 16 in 2011, Coach Dave Rose knew coming into this season that his young team would struggle at times while working multiple freshmen and inexperienced players into the playing rotation.

Although Coach Rose and the Cougars will be hoping their name is called on Selection Sunday, an invitation to the NIT might not be such a bad alternative.