By Arnie Leshin
The National Invitational Tournament was the tournament. It began in 1938 with Temple University from Philadelphia winning over University of Colorado.
The following year had Long Island University of Brooklyn downing Loyola of Chicago, and in 1940, back came Colorado to carry off the winning trophy over Duquesne of Pittsburgh.
It was so big it had two-time winners of the national men’s championship, and that began in 1950 when CCNY (City College of New York) defeated Bradley twice, first in the NIT, then in the NCAA, and then hell broke loose.
That was the year of the fixed games scandal, times of the betting, times of the newspaper headlines, especially in the NYC dailies, and it centered mostly on the New York-area schools such as City College, New York University, LIU, St. John’s, and Manhattan College.
CCNY had a super lineup, with its Ed Warner Most Valuable Player in the land, but once the scandal broke, it suffered the most embarrassment. Bradley was also involved, but in a smaller way, and it was ruled a no-champion campaign.
Prior to this, St. John’s had won the NIT in the World War II years of 1943 and ’44. When that war began in 1941 with the Japan attack on Pearl Harbour, LIU was the winner.
Since that time, the former Redmen, the Johnnies, now known as the Storm, has won it ten times, and lost in three finals, with Bradley next in hoisting the trophy seven times.
The NIT has already pieced its 2023 tournament together, and North Carolina, not selected for the NCAA 68-field March, Madness, was picked for the NIT, but then declined. The Tar Heels played in it twice, winning in the 1971 final over Georgia Tech, and losing in the 2010 final to Dayton.
Of the teams penciled in for the 2023 tourney, along with Bradley, Michigan has won this tourney three times, and Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech and Southern Mississippi twice each.
The 32-team field assembled has Oklahoma State (21-9) as top seed in the East and will play Youngstown State, No. 2 San Houston faces Santa Clark, No. 3 is North Texas and it takes on Alcorn State, and No. 4 is Washington and it goes against East Washington.
In the South Region, it’s Oregon (19-11) as No. 1 seed and it plays UC Irvine, 2nd-seed Liberty faces Villanova, third-seed Wisconsin takes on Bradley, and No. 4 is Florida and it goes against UCF.
In the North Region, No. 1 seed is Rutgers (19-14) and it plays Hofstra, 2nd-seed Colorado faces Seton Hall, third-seed New Mexico takes on Utah Valley, and No. 4 is Cincinnati and it goes against Virgina Tech.
In the West Region, No. 1 seed is Clemson (23-10) and it plays Morehead State, 2nd-seed Michigan faces Toledo, third-seed Vanderbilt takes on Yale, and No. 4 is UAB and it goes against Southern Mississippi.
A big fan favorite came along in the 1961 tournament, and that was 5-foot-8 MVP point guard Vinnie Ernest leading Providence to the championship.
Other elite players finding their place in the NIT were Walter Dukes of Seton Hall in 1953, Tom Gola of LaSalle in 1954, George Mikan of DePaul in 1945, Ed Macauley of Saint Louis in 1948, Maurice Stokes of Duquesne in 1955, Tony Jackson of St.John’s in 1959, Lenny Wilkens of Providence in 1960, and Walt Frazier of Southern Illinois in 1967.
There were more. There was Bill Melchionni of Villanova in 1966, Dean Menninger of Marquette of 1970, Tom McMillian of Maryland in 1972, Cedric Maxwell of UNC Charlotte in 1976. Ralph Sampson of Virginia in 1980, and Reggie Miller of UCLA in 1985.
There was no actual champion in 1987 when Florida State won by forfeit, in1988 when Penn State won by forfeit or in 2003 when Georgetown won by forfeit, as well as in 2020 when there was no tournament due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Until now, the NIT Final Four was always held at the most famous of all Mecas, Madison Square Garden, but it now switches to the semifinal being contested in Las Vegas.
It wasn’t always this way when the teams play single-elimination at the home of the higher seeds. Before that, it was by overall records posted by those invited. And when the last four made it to MSG, it was usually a sellout.
Big turnouts came when schools like St. John’s, Seton Hall, Syracuse, Princeton, Rutgers, Connecticut, Villanova, Temple made it to the Final Four, and this includes four different Madison Square Gardens through the many years.
Local favorites were Kenny McIntyre and Bill Lloyd
of St. John’s, Togo Palazzi of Holy Cross, Dukes, Ernst, Jackson.
Other quality programs to play in the NIT were Kentucky, Ohio State, Louisville, UCLA, Connecticut, Stanford, Minnesota, Texas, Virginia, Indiana, Purdue, Maryland, and North Carolina.
Probably not happy to see the NIT Final Four moved at this time to Las Vegas are the likes of Seton Hall, Villanova, Rutgers, and Yale.
Otherwise, the legendary ageless NIT plays on.