The NCAA tournament is every college basketball program’s goal, but the teams missing out will be forced to accept a bid to 2014’s 77th NIT at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Programs that had successful 2013-14 seasons, such as Florida Gulf Coast, Belmont and Davidson, will earn spots in the NIT bracket and should be able to make deep runs in the tournament.
The following programs were stifled in their conference tournaments and will now be the strongest bids heading into the NIT.
Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (22-12, 14-4 A-Sun)
The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles were the second-best team in the Atlantic Sun Conference this season, but the program was unable to overcome top-seeded Mercer to win the conference championship.
Florida Gulf Coast will be forced to settle for an NIT berth now, according to Seth Soffian of The Fort Myers News-Press:
The Eagles struggled against Mercer all season, but there is no shame in losing to the top team in the A-Sun. The big-game experience from last season's NCAA run will have FGCU ready for its chance at redemption in the NIT.
After winning 16 of 21 games to end the season—two of the losses during that stretch came against Mercer—Florida Gulf Coast has shown it has the right mix of offense, rebounding and defensive prowess to be a threat in the NIT.
Belmont Bruins (24-9, 14-2 OVC)
The Belmont Bruins finished the season at the top of the Ohio Valley Conference East standings but lost in the conference championship to Eastern Kentucky in the third matchup of the season between the two teams.
Eastern Kentucky took two of the three games, including the most important one.
While most teams would be happy about an NIT berth, Belmont head coach Rick Byrd told David Climer of The Tennessean about his true feelings:
When you get a taste of it and been fortunate enough to get as many trips as we’ve had, there’s nothing like it. These seniors have been to the NCAA three years in a row and lost in the first round. Selfishly, I’d love to be a part of the first Belmont team to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. We’re definitely capable of playing longer into the tournament than we ever have before. We’ll be disappointed if we don’t.
Belmont hit a rough stretch in December and lost five of the six games it played during the month. The program won 16 of its final 19 games, with two of the three losses coming at the hands of Eastern Kentucky.
Now that Belmont’s biggest foe is in the NCAA tournament, the team can enter the NIT with supreme confidence and great momentum. Led by the strong scoring of senior J.J. Mann and sophomore Craig Bradshaw, the Bruins have the potential to make some noise.
While Belmont would rather be dancing in the NCAA tournament, making a run at the NIT championship would be a satisfying consolation prize.
Davidson Wildcats (20-12, 15-1 Southern)
The Davidson Wildcats' 2013-14 season was a tale of two halves. The program struggled to start the campaign, losing 10 of its first 14 games and falling further in the Southern Conference standings with each loss.
Which program has the best chance to win the NIT Tournament?
Davidson won 16 of the final 18 games on the schedule and managed to finish the regular season at the top of the Southern standings.
The Wildcats’ biggest strength is their high-powered offense, which puts up an astounding 78.6 points per game (30th in the nation this season), but the inability to rebound and the inconsistency in the defensive end may ultimately be the team’s undoing.
If Davidson gets hot on the offensive end, though, the NIT will be on notice.
*Stats via ESPN.com.