Thursday, April 01, 2010

We are the champions

Winning the National Invitation Tournament doesn't come anywhere close to winning the NCAA Tournament in college basketball. Essentially the NIT is a consolation competition for teams that weren't quite good enough to get into the top one. Nevertheless, watching the University of Dayton claim the NIT championship tonight means a lot to me as a lifelong fan of the Flyers. My team, the one I've lived and died with for so many years, has won a title, even if others dismiss the accomplishment as meaning they're the 66th best team in the nation. (The NCAAs take 65 teams.)

In the college basketball pecking order Dayton is usually referred to as a mid-major, which means that they don't play in the top tier conferences, i.e. those that have the most money and pull. Dayton has a storied basketball history and is consistently among the attendance leaders, but they are always fighting for respect rather than having it automatically granted to them. (In fact, the bigger teams often won't play them except under the most favorable conditions because UD doesn't equal an assured win.) That they beat North Carolina, one of the premier programs and one I may loathe more than any other, to win the NIT makes the victory all the sweeter.

Yes, it's "only the NIT, but if I'm being rational, the chance of them ever winning an NCAA championship is unlikely. The way the deck is stacked means that the best Dayton can hope for in any year is a Sweet 16 of Elite 8 finish. Maybe there's a fluke year, like 2010 Final Four qualifier Butler, but it's hardly something to expect. The goal is always going to be making the NCAA Tournament rather than winning the NIT, but as consolations go, this one's pretty satisfying.

The NIT looms large in Dayton basketball history--they last won it in 1968--and growing up I would hear and was told that back when the Flyers racked up NIT appearances, it was more prestigious than the NCAAs. That's certainly not been the case for some time, but it adds more meaning to this title than it might for a school without that history. (UD ranks second all-time in wins in the NIT.)

So an NIT championship has value. The five Flyers wins in this tournament featured the kind of effort and execution that was lacking in many of the close but frustrating losses during what had been a disappointing season. The NIT showed what this team could do if everything was going right. As a fan I was proud to watch them give it their all. Plus, to see the underdog slay giant after giant and be awarded the trophy isn't something that happens very often. For one night, though, the Flyers, a team that has meant as much to me as any other I've followed since I was little, came out on top. In its own way, it meant I did too.

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At 9:57 AM, Anonymous LittleWit said...

That's awesome! Congrats on the Dayton win :)


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