Tonight, at the Garden, the 2009 NCAA champion North Carolina Tar Heels will face the Dayton Flyers in a far less prestigious national-championship game: the NIT Finals. Lack of prestige aside, though, tonight could be historic. It could be the last NIT game ever.
With the possible expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams — essentially, taking the 32 teams in the NIT and making them part of a preliminary round before the actual tournament — this could be it for the NIT. The NCAA owns the NIT now and can do with it what it wants. It might want to kill it.
“I don’t know if there’s going to be one or not be one, but these kids are playing, they love it,” ESPN analyst Bill Raftery told us Tuesday night at the Last NIT Semifinals Ever. “In my youth it was a really big deal … It has a lot of meaning to a lot of people.”
The Last NIT Game Ever (Probably) will feature a Carolina team that’s not thrilled to be there (and might not even deserve to be there after a glaring no-call at the end of their semifinal game against Rhode Island), and a Dayton team that fought through a feisty, and slightly violent, game against Ole Miss.
But how excited are they to play for history?
“We feel great about it, especially if we have a chance to win a championship and that’s leaving us with the last NIT,” Dayton guard Chris Johnson said. “I think we have a great opportunity at doing that.”
So get your tickets, and save those stubs. This is the oldest tournament in college basketball. And it might die tonight.