Story highlights include:
- Providence’s long NIT history
- NIT appearances typically lead to the postseason the next year for PC
- End of the road for Council, and potentially Batts
The last time Providence won a game in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) they carried that momentum into the following year — the 2003-04 season that saw them peak at #12 in the national rankings.
On Wednesday, the Friars return to the NIT for the first time since 2009 when they host Charlotte at the Dunkin Donuts Center. The program has lost their last three NIT games (1st round knockouts in 2007 and 2009 and a loss in 2003 after winning a pair of games), but will look to build momentum much like the 2002-03 group that traveled to Richmond for a win and then defeated Charleston at home before losing to Georgetown. The core of that 2003 group returned the following season and delivered the best year of any PC team since the Elite 8 appearance of 1997.
When asked about the potential for carrying momentum from the NIT into next season, Ed Cooley said, “That’s the goal,” when I spoke to him on Sunday night. A win against Charlotte will set up a rare opportunity to take on John Calipari and Kentucky in the second round.
While Kentucky is the glamour program in college basketball today, in the 1960s and ’70s Providence leveraged the NIT to turn itself into an Eastern power.
At a time when only 12 teams played in the NIT and 20-25 schools were in the NCAA Tournament, Providence was a staple of the NIT in the early 1960s.
The Friars made the semifinals in 1959 and the finals in 1960 before winning the entire thing in both ’61 and ’63.
After the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1975 to 32 teams (to include more than just conference winners), PC made the NIT finals in ’75 and semifinals in ’76 behind Joe Hassett. Those two seasons were followed by a pair of NCAA Tourney appearances the next two years.
PC went a full decade before returning to the NIT in Rick Pitino’s first season of 1985-86. Of course, they were Final Four-bound in ’87.
An NIT semifinal showing in 1993 preceded PC’s Big East Tournament Championship of 1994, while the ’97 run came after being ousted in the NIT’s second round in both ’95 and ’96.
Typically, an NIT appearance is followed by some sort of postseason bid the next season for Providence. Since 1959, the only years in which PC made the NIT and then didn’t play in the postseason the next year were 1968 (the first year after Jimmy Walker graduated), 1992 (the year after Eric Murdock graduated), 2000 (the year after Jamel Thomas graduated), and then the two appearances in ’07 and ’09.
Walker, Murdock and Thomas rank second, third and fourth all-time in scoring at Providence, respectively, so clearly their losses were enormous.
Leading a team into the NIT can be a challenge as a coach. In today’s “NCAA or bust” world of college hoops, the NIT is seen as a consolation prize — one that many veteran teams are not all that encouraged to receive. While the experience for a Kris Dunn, Josh Fortune or Bryce Cotton could potentially translate into next season, this tournament marks the end of the road for Vincent Council, and potentially Kadeem Batts as well.
The Friars were set to return everyone but Council next season, but now rumors of Batts’ leaving are circulating. Having redshirted his freshman season, Batts is on target to graduate this year, and after making a big leap from year 3 to year 4, he could decide to go the professional route at season’s end.
The Big East’s Most Improved Player and an Honorable Mention All Conference player, Batts has been an anchor for the Friars in 2013 and his loss would be significant, especially with the program on the verge of taking a big step forward next season. They could still be talented enough to make the NCAA Tournament without him, but bringing back a senior with his level of experience and production would be a major boost.
We’ll have the coming weeks to follow that decision, but in the meantime the top storyline in Providence revolves around if this team can get through Charlotte tomorrow and potentially play Calipari’s Cats in Kentucky. There won’t be a better learning experience for any young core in this season’s NIT than to play in front of a sea of blue and white.