If you watched Syracuse Orange basketball this season, you saw a very flawed team. You absolutely did not see a team capable of getting to the Final Four. A few good wins do not change that, especially with several months in between them. This was just not a very good team. Yet it is squarely on “the bubble,” meaning that it could still somehow eke into the field. The question that begs is whether Syracuse would be better off in the NIT this year. The answer is “no.”
Before proceeding, let’s not pretend that any program would turn down an NCAA bid to go to the NIT. Even if you have a one in a trillion chance of winning it all, you want that opportunity. You also want that exposure and experience for the players. You never, ever turn down an NCAA bid. Instead, the issue is whether it would be better for Syracuse to (a) be in an NCAA field where winning 2 games is unlikely; or (b) in an NIT field where there is a chance of winning the whole thing and playing several games.
The thing about (b) is that it ignores reality. Boeheim is what he is–he is never going to play young players just to get them experience. He does not do it against Cornell in December, he is not going to do it in the NIT where it is win or go home. The idea that we would suddenly hand over the team to young players ignores all history and tendencies. At best, it would be a few extra minutes in games other than blowouts. Maybe there could be a blowout in an NIT game, but that would be it–one. If this team was capable of blowing out opponents, it would not be on the bubble in the first place.
And is it fair to Silent G to keep him on the bench? He deserves to score and impress NBA scouts. Cooney, for all his ups and downs, does not deserve to be benched. Coleman needs work on all facets of his game, so it would be foolish to not play him as much as possible. And so on. How can you play ANY game with a goal to get experience, rather than win? This is not the NFL preseason, it is a one-and-done tournament.
But perhaps most importantly, there is no reason to believe that this team could win more games in the NIT playing younger players. If this team’s young players were not good enough to play limited roles during the season in big time games, there is no reason to believe that throwing them out there in NIT games is going to lead to automatic wins and “experience.” Stated otherwise, these young players would lead Syracuse no farther in the NIT than the experienced players would in the NCAA. And, if that is the case, what good is the NIT?
There is no need for a few more home games in the Dome in front of 11,000 apathetic fans. Historically, Syracuse has blown games against Florida State and UMass in similar situations where the bubble went the wrong way. The deep NIT runs have been few and far between.
All in all, there is little or no silver lining to going to the NIT. Syracuse fans do not need to jump off buildings if the Orange are sent there, and there is certainly no reason not to take the games seriously (as fans or players), but do not pretend that it is “actually better” for Syracuse to go to the NIT instead of the NCAA. At least, that is the opinion here.