The most exciting period of college basketball will reach its conclusion during the next seven days as the final contests of each of the national tournaments will be played. Most attention is given to the NCAA Tournament’s championship game which will be played on Monday night, April 4.
Local fans can attend the championship of two tournaments this week. Columbia University will host the championship encounter of the CIT (CollegeInsider.com) at their gym on the Harlem campus of Columbia on Tuesday night, March 29, where they will face the University of California at Irvine.
A tournament, the NIT (National invitation Tournament) that began, before the NCAA, in 1938 and was initially more prestigious, will spotlight its final four on Tuesday night at the “Mecca of Basketball”, Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night as well. Two nights late, March 31, the winners of the semi-finals will meet for the championship.
At 7 pm on Tuesday, the Valparaiso Crusaders (29-6, 16-2 Horizon) will face the BYU (Brigham Young University) Cougars (26-10, 13-5 West Coast) in the first semi. In the nightcap, the George Washington Colonials (26-10, 11-7 Atlantic-10) and the San Diego State Aztecs (28-9, 16-2 Mountain West) will battle for the second spot in the championship.
All four head coaches attended a press conference and luncheon at the Marriot Marquis in Times Square on Monday. Because of the current higher respect accorded to teams accepted for the NCAA Tournament, each of the experienced coaches admitted the disappointment felt by their players and schools of not being accepted by the NCAA, yet also admitted their joy of being in the NIT and playing in MSG and visiting New York City. Bryce Drew of the Crusaders stated, “We’re thrilled as a basketball program to be in New York and in the semis of the NIT. It’s something our players and program will always remember.” His coaching opponent on Tuesday, Dave Rose of BYU, whose team was in the NCAA eight of the last ten years, remarked, “Our three wins at the NIT mitigate the disappointment of not being in the NCAA.”
Drew explained the game will feature “two contrasting styles. BYU is the best offensive team in the country, and we’re a defensive minded team.”
The second contest includes two successful, veteran coaches whose combined wins in college ball total 1,023, Steve Fisher, one of only two active coaches to lead his teams to both an NCAA and NIT title, spoke historically of the importance of the Nit, “We ain’t slumming, I honor the history, prestige and pride of the NIT. We could not be happier to be here.” Mike Lonergan, coaching in his fifth NIT commented, “Our teams’ been here a number of times.” Showing his respect for the other three coaches, he said, “I’m kind of humbled to even be here with these three guys.”
The emcee of the very pleasant event, former coach and commentator Fran Frischilla closed the formal program by recognizing the capability of each of the four teams, “Every one of these teams could have won a couple of games the NCAA.”
College basketball aficionados who attend the two nights at MSG will almost surely witness competitive contests with outstanding student-athletes.