Onward Debates: NCAA Tournament Berth vs. Deep NIT Run
With a pivotal trip to East Lansing to face off against No. 5 Michigan State on the horizon, Penn State basketball is in position to wiggle itself into the bottom layer of the NCAA Tournament bubble talk with an upset over the Spartans.
At 15-8 overall and 5-5 in Big Ten play, the Nittany Lions are currently in sixth place in the conference standings. Seven Big Ten teams made the Big Dance in each of the last three seasons, although the conference has not been up to its typical caliber this year as a whole.
The NCAA Tournament is still very far away from actually being in Penn State’s grasp, and the Nittany Lions would likely be the underdogs in any first round matchup. That pulls together an interesting situation our staff has been arguing about. Would the program benefit more from a deep NIT run, or a first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament?
Austin Smith: Early Exit From The NCAA Tournament
Penn State basketball hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2011, when it boasted Talor Battle and a young Tim Frazier. The Nittany Lions fell to Temple on a last-second buzzer beater, but exceeded expectations nevertheless.
This year, Penn State once again has capable guards who could bring the Nittany Lions back to the NCAA tournament. But even if they were to lose in the first round, would a deep NIT run be better? Absolutely not.
Penn State fans have always come out in full force to football games, but basketball has never been the same. However, an NCAA Tournament berth could change that. Hardly anyone tunes in to see most NIT games since it’s basically a consolation bracket, but there are plenty who would watch a first round NCAA tournament game.
Even if the Nittany Lions were to get eliminated early on in the bracket, viewership would skyrocket because the team was part of the Big Dance. Not only that, but it would give the fans something to believe in for seasons to come. Coach Chambers was on a pretty hot seat just a week or so ago, but a tournament berth could prove he’s made strides with the program during his coaching tenure.
Mitch Stewart: Deep NIT Run
Penn State even won the NIT in 2009, helping to develop the team that eventually made the Nittany Lions’ last trip to the Big Dance in 2011. With Chambers entering the final year of his contract in 2018-19, that confidence gained from racking up a bunch of wins in the NIT could propel Penn State to finally ascend into a legitimate Big Ten contender next year.
Would you rather Penn State basketball make a deep NIT run or lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament? Let us know in the comments.