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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.

Talor Battle was leading Penn State the last time it made the Big Dance.

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

With Penn State’s only real loss coming by way of Shep Garner next season, this young team could benefit a lot more by playing as many important postseason games as it possibly can to gain experience. The young group could potentially clinch a high enough seed in the NIT to play a few additional games at home, which might at least bring more fans than some of the regular season games normally would.
It would be better for Carr, Watkins, Stevens, Reaves, and company to pick up three or four additional wins and play in Madison Square Garden in the NIT Final Four than to lose immediately in the postseason in a tournament they obviously aren’t ready for.
The Nittany Lions have already played in one New York NBA arena this season — The Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets.
Sure, Cinderella teams can make runs, and the NCAA Tournament does matter a lot more to the players, fans, coaches, and even to the media from a relevancy standpoint. But if these two scenarios were the only options, I’d take the extra playing time in a meaningful setting for those guys to improve.

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.

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About the Author

Mitch Stewart

Mitch is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism from Roanoke, Virginia. In addition to his role with Onward State, Mitch talks about all the #sprots on Penn State's CommRadio. To contact Mitch, feel free to send him an e-mail at [email protected], and if you really don't value your social media accounts, follow him as he yells on Twitter about Penn State basketball @mitchystew.


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