Kragthorpe: BYU deserves credit for motivated NIT play
Published: April 1, 2013 12:44PM
Updated: April 4, 2013 05:50PM
BYU guard Craig Cusick (2) leads his teammates as they begin to celebrate their win over Southern Mississippi in the final seconds of their NIT college quarterfinal basketball game in Hattiesburg, Miss., Wednesday, March 27, 2013. BYU won 79-62. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

In the old days of the 64-team NCAA Tournament, I once derided the NIT as a competition to determine the 65th-best basketball team.

That was unfair. Because of the number of automatic-qualifying conferences, the NCAA field thins out considerably after the top 50 or so teams. So I would say now that winning the NIT is comparable to winning an NCAA game in the round of 64.

Obviously, that standard makes it difficult to quantify what BYU has done to this point, advancing to Tuesday’s semifinals vs. Baylor at Madison Square Garden in New York City. But the Cougars deserve credit for their achievement — and so do Weber State’s men’s team and Utah’s women’s team, also playing into April.

Much like football bowl games, postseason basketball aside from the NCAA Tournament is about motivation as much as ability. That makes BYU’s run of beating Washington, Mercer and Southern Mississippi impressive. Before even learning their NIT draw, the Cougars had to practice for a week after being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the West Coast Conference tournament.

They’ve kept extending their season, playing their best basketball. The way they’re performing now almost becomes an indictment of their regular season in some ways, but it is also a tribute to their competitiveness.

Same with Weber State. The Wildcats have bounced back from the disappointment of another failure in the Big Sky Conference tournament with wins over Cal Poly, Air Force, Oral Roberts and Northern Iowa in the Tournament, and now they’ll host East Carolina for the championship Tuesday.

Utah already has won four games in the Women’s NIT, just to reach the semifinals Wednesday at Kansas State. The Utes have beaten Long Beach State, San Diego, Pacific and Saint Mary’s, with three victories coming on the road.

Anthony Levrets might be doing the best coaching job in Utah’s entire athletic department in 2012-13. Maybe that judgment gives too much value to the WNIT, but it’s clear that like the BYU and WSU men, the Utah women have decided that if they’re going to play in this tournament, they might as well excel.

Twitter: @tribkurt