Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, March 16, 2014 | 2 a.m.
The Rebels’ streak of seasons without an NCAA Tournament victory has reached six after Friday’s loss to San Diego State in the Mountain West semifinals. UNLV knew for a while that only a tournament title, its first since 2008, would be the only way to earn an NCAA bid.
So now that there’s no chance of that, what’s next for the Rebels? There are three lesser tournaments set up for teams who fall short of the only one that really matters, and with a third-place regular-season finish, the Rebels can play in at least one of them if they so choose.
The three are the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) and the Collegeinsider.com Tournament (CIT). All three contain 32 teams but there’s a clear drop-off from the NIT, which was the NCAA Tournament before the NCAA Tournament existed, and it’s very likely it’s either NIT or nothing for the Rebels.
We’ll find out UNLV’s fate in that tournament late Sunday night. The NIT announces its selections in the hours after the NCAA Tournament selection show. The committee pretty much knows the teams it’s going to select, but it has to wait and see exactly which teams miss out on the Big Dance.
Plus, teams could decline an NIT invitation, although that’s rare. The 32-team tournament is essentially the consolation bracket, with at-large hopefuls and smaller-conference teams just happy to play somewhere, mostly filling out the bracket. The Rebels have appeared in 10 NITs, most recently in 2009.
Recently there’s been a change to make the NIT’s selections closer to the same as the NCAA, meaning it’s a reflection of seed lines more than teams being able to lobby for a home game or things like that. That doesn’t mean that an athletic director couldn’t campaign to get his or her team into the NIT, but it’s less common than it used to be.
There’s precedent for building on a run in the NIT — Wichita State won it in 2011 — and the finals are often littered with major-conference teams happy to use the extra practices and games to improve their program. The last two champs came from the Big 12 (Baylor) and Pac-12 (Stanford).
NIT projections are not an exact science, but most of them have UNLV and its No. 102 RPI on the outside looking in. However, if the Rebels do end up receiving an invite, they would head on the road.
It’s difficult to put a percentage on it, but it’s certainly more likely than not that the Rebels won’t make the NIT. And if they don’t, my guess is UNLV has played its last game this season.
The CBI and CIT are completely unnecessary creations that end up costing athletics departments money without offering much benefit. Programs have to pay between $30,000 and $60,000 to host one of these games and often don't recoup those expenses.
For certain young teams that want to spend more time together playing or for programs that almost never play in any type of postseason, I can see participating. Short of that, it’s not financially responsible and usually not worth it for your team, especially for a group with as many issues as UNLV.
Although details are hazy, it appears Bryce Dejean-Jones and Jelan Kendrick were yelling at each other after Friday’s loss, and Dejean-Jones may have continued with another rant once they reached the locker room. Whatever the circumstance, it’s clear that there are and have been problems among the players. And with so many of them figuring out whether they even want to be here anymore, the Rebels shouldn’t bother with a tournament game their fans and probably even players won’t care about.
If the NIT comes calling, UNLV will take the game. If not, the Rebels should let the 2013-14 season mercifully end with Friday night’s loss to the Aztecs.