In their first postseason appearance in 15 years, Santa Clara took the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) championship by storm.
"It means we're doing our work to get in that group. It's only 140 out of 340 teams," said Head Coach Kerry Keating, referring to his team's postseason appearance. "Obviously we want to be [among] the 68 (in the NCAA Tournament), but that requires us to keep going up."
For a team looking to play in The Big Dance, ending up in the CIT may seem like receiving a consolation prize, but the postseason experience is still highly valuable. Notable athletic programs that have played in the CIT include: James Madison, Oakland, Rider, Old Dominion, Austin Peay, Marshall, Appalachian State and Harvard.
"[To] get used to practicing and playing at this time is an important step for our program to keep taking the steps necessary to be there year-in and year-out," said Keating following the team's final regular season win.
In fact, additional practice has been an emphasis for Keating. His team is traveling to junior forward Marc Trasolini's hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia for a Labor Day tournament. This means his team will have additional practices over the summer.
"It is going to be a unique offseason," said Keating in a conference call over the break, "because our season is going longer, it's really going to streamline our offseason workouts and individual work."
For those who are speculating that Keating is skirting around NCAA regulations like the Bruce Pearls and Rick Pitinos of the world, rest assured this tournament checks out. It counts as an allotted summer trip.
The win is a good omen for Santa Clara, as VCU won a similar tournament last year and is now in the Final Four
In the bigger picture, USF and Santa Clara join three other WCC teams in postseason play. While Brigham Young University is a member of the Mountain West Conference this season, they will join the WCC next year.
"I hope it speaks well to [the WCC]," said Keating in reference to having five 20-win teams in the conference (not including BYU) and four WCC teams (plus BYU) in the postseason. "I know we have good players and we're continuing to get good players as a conference and we're adding a team to our conference that's going to make it even more [competitive]."
BYU and Gonzaga competed in the NCAA Tournament this year and St. Mary's played in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT).
The optimist would say that Santa Clara is following the yellow brick road. That there will be a windfall as a result of the team hosting major contests at HP Pavilion, a contract with Comcast Sports Net that would televise every regular season game; the school will hit a jackpot in Vegas when Orleans Arena sells out and will receive a big check from the John, William and David Fry who will have forgotten that football was dropped in 1993.
The pessimist, however, would feel that they are being led down the garden path and that the CIT Championship still fails to eliminate the fact that Santa Clara's future road to the NCAA Tournament remains clogged. Adding nationally ranked BYU to the conference, in addition to the WCC tournament setup—which heavily favors the conference's top two seeds—means that the Broncos still have obstacles to overcome in order to reach the field of 68.
Coach Keating disapproves of the way the WCC Tournament is currently structured.
"Sure enough, just as I said in the beginning of the year, there's a 20-game winner finishing fifth in our league, which is ludicrous," he said in February, before the tournament. "Our league should be one-through-eight next year, eight should play one, that's how it should be. That's how good our league is."
Only an average of seven non-BCS teams make the NCAA Tournament, meaning that the WCC will not necessarily be granted an at-large bid each year. This year, the Big East had 10.
"It's irrelevant that St. Mary's didn't make it," said Keating. "We could be in that category because we're in a non-BCS conference. It wouldn't be smart for someone to assume that we'd be getting in two or maybe three [at-large bids], you have to earn that, regardless of your conference affiliation."
Thanks to The Santa Clara staff for editing the article.