A fair question arose on Sunday as we were watching the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, a made-for-TV event where 65 teams get the good word that they have made it to the Big Dance:
If you were a college player, would you rather be eliminated in the first round of the NCAAs, or win the 32-team National Invitational Tournament?
The consensus, by a 4-3 vote: Win the NIT. (We voted in the minority.)
The NIT is for schools -- some of them with big-name programs such as, this year, the defending NCAA champion University of North Carolina Tar Heels -- just not good enough this season to make the final cut.
Turned out the Arizona State Sun Devils were one of those teams.
In a miserable 40-minute span last Thursday night against Stanford, ASU fell off the "bubble" and into the abyss. The Devils got crunched pretty badly in the first round of the Pac-10 postseason tournament by a Cardinal squad they had beaten twice during the regular season.
The NIT beckoned after the NCAA made the snub of the Devils official on Sunday afternoon:
Just two Pac-10 teams, regular season champ Cal and tourney champ Washington made the cut, though it will be a surprise if either makes it to the Sweet 16 after this coming weekend.
At least the Devils get to play one more game -- more if they beat Jacksonville tonight at Wells Fargo Arena. Game time is 8 p.m., and it will be aired on ESPN2 and KTAR620.
We don't know much about Jacksonville, other than they tied for first in the not-so-vaunted Atlantic Sun Conference and have a 19-12 record. Supposed to have excellent team speed, though that alone doesn't put the ball in the basket.
ASU finished with a 22-10 record, but the infuriating loss to Stanford ruined any chance of returning to the NCAA's for the second straight year.
Tonight's home game provides another chance for fans to enjoy the play of scrappy point guard Derek Glasser, a senior who has represented the school well for four years.
Some teams who suffer a disappointing end to their NCAA hopes have been known to dial it in during their NIT games. But Sun Devils head Coach Herb Sendek seems like a guy who won't abide by that -- we predic that his squad will be ready to play some ball tonight.
Whether that's enough to beat the Dolphins remains to be seen: ASU hasn't been a team that has beaten other schools too easily.
But, like the man said, playing a ballgame is better than the alternative.