Years ago, I had a debate with a friend. It went something like this: would you rather have your favorite team lose its first NCAA Tournament game or win the National Invitational Tournament? If you’re a fan of a bubble team, simply being selected to the Big Dance can be a relief. However, a bubble team is obviously more likely to have a shot at the NIT title. Winning the whole thing on the big stage of Madison Square Garden in New York would be a rewarding end to an admittedly up-and-down season. Speaking of which, the Bears are now 19-11 with a 10-8 conference record.
I’m not saying that Cal, as presently constituted, would take home the NIT crown even if that’s where the team ends up. However, according to Bracket Matrix they would be a 1 seed and begin play at Haas Pavilion against the Golden Grizzlies of Oakland (Michigan). Hey, decades ago the NIT was considered to be on the same level as the NCAA Tournament!
Even after getting blown out by Utah on Thursday, Bracket Matrix had the Bears missing the NCAA Tournament field by two spots. After the loss at Colorado on Saturday, Cal is the projected 6th team out of the bracket. Joe Lunardi of ESPN has them even lower as the 8th team out. Despite the awful road trip, the Bears’ RPI has only fallen to 55. That’s still problematic because of all the teams that gain entry via automatic bids.
Cal is a 5 seed in the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament. It’s not inconceivable that a strong showing in Las Vegas pushes them back into consideration. At this point, that would probably involve defeating both Oregon State on Wednesday (2:30 PM PT) and Utah on Thursday (also 2:30 PM PT) at the very least. If the Bears can win both games, a meeting with Oregon on Friday (6 PM PT) is likely to loom. Ultimately, it may take a third tournament victory to gain NCAA Tournament entry.