What even is the NIT?

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The National Invitation Tournament has fallen from most people's good graces as time has gone by. (Photo courtesy NCAA.com)
The National Invitation Tournament began in 1938. (Photo courtesy NCAA.com)

March Madness takes center stage before the players even take to the court. Bracketology becomes the only subject a lot of people find themselves interested in. Fans all around the nation wait patiently for Selection Sunday and fill out bracket after bracket until everything is just right.

But the National Invitation Tournament, or NIT, started a whole year before the NCCA began its championship tournament.

As BYU makes its first appearance in the NIT since the 2005–2006 season, plenty of people are probably wondering what the NIT is and where it came from.

The NI What?

Now considered a second-rate substitution for the Big Dance, the NIT was once the most prestigious college basketball competition. It’s called the National Invitation Tournament because teams were, and still are, invited to play in it. Once upon a time, playing in the NIT really was something special.

In 1970, Marquette University head coach Al McGuire, in a completely unheard-of sequence of events, actually turned down the No. 8 seed offered to the then-Warriors in the NCAA Tournament and played in the NIT instead. McGuire and the Warriors went on to win the NIT Championship.

The first tournament was played in 1938 at Madison Square Garden, and the original field consisted of 6 teams. As the first tournament of its kind to be played in the United States, the NIT, which includes both pre-season and post-season tournaments, operated as a separate entity from the NCAA until 2005, when it was purchased by the NCAA. Despite there being a pre-season tournament, the name NIT refers to the post-season tournament almost exclusively.

BYU & the NIT

Stan Watts celebrates with the 1951 NIT Championship team. (Photo courtesy byucougars.com)
Stan Watts celebrates with the 1951 NIT Championship team. (Photo courtesy byucougars.com)

BYU has competed in the National Invitation Tournament 10 times throughout the school’s history and has won the NIT Championship twice. Coach Stan Watts led the Cougars to both of those championship wins, first in 1951 against Davidson and then in 1966 against NYU. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inducted Watts in 1986.

The Cougars’ overall record in the NIT is 12-8, with their last appearance being a first round loss against Houston in 2006.

BYU & Washington

As the Cougars now take on the Washington Huskies in the first round of the NIT, it’s interesting to note the teams’ history against each other. The Huskies and Cougars have met 18 times since their first meeting in 1951. According to the Go Huskies website, Washington defeated BYU 66-63 back in 1982, in the Marriott Center, for the school’s first-ever NIT win. The teams last met in 1997 in Provo with the Huskies taking it to the Cougars 83-68.

BYU and Washington go at it tonight in the Marriott Center at 7:30 MDT. The game can be watched on ESPN and heard on KSL Newsradio. If the Cougars defeat the Huskies they will take on the winner of the Tennessee/Mercer match up.

Check out the full NIT bracket to see BYU’s potential competitors.

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