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Penn State: The Improbable NIT winner

April 3, 2009  |  By Benjamin Miraski

Penn State, NIT, champions, college basketball, tournament, basketball, AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Penn State finished off Baylor last night 69-65 to take the NIT title. While some may mock the winner of this secondary tournament -- calling then No. 66 even though this title brings with it more prestige than dropping a first round NCAA game in an upset -- the NIT has been a stepping stone for many teams moving into the next season.

I wrote about this at Examiner, but here is a list of the teams that have turned recent NIT success into NCAA tournament glory the next season:

Ohio State turned last year’s championship into a No. 8 seed in this year’s NCAA tournament.

West Virginia, the 2007 champion, reached the Sweet Sixteen in 2008. The runner-up, Clemson, was No. 5 seed but ran into a hot Villanova team.

Two-time defending champ South Carolina started the 2007 season 10-3 before getting rolled by a hot SEC conference that ultimately produced NCAA champ Florida.

Ok, so Ohio State's tournament run didn't end with fireworks and parades, but they made the field. That should give Penn State a lot of hope going into next year, even with the loss of Jamelle Cornley.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Penn State's run to the title is how improbable the whole thing was.

It might not have been as unlikely as Davidson winning it all as the computer predicted. The Wildcats would have had to win every single game of the tournament on the road or at neutral courts.

Yes, the NCAA tournament is played all at neutral sites, but winning in Greensboro, N.C., is a lot different than going into someone's bandbox of a gym and taking them out. Just ask Northwestern who had to travel to Tulsa, or Davidson for that matter who went down to St. Mary's in Moraga, Calif.

Penn State benefited from getting every NIT game at home until its quarterfinal game against Florida. Yet, the Nittany Lions were the underdog in the computer's mind for every single game.

The last time that a team made a run like that with the odds stacked against them so badly was George Mason, and even the Patriots were favored by the computer in two of their tournament games.

And those same Patriots almost ended Penn State's run before it started. It took a last second three-point shot for Penn State to tie George Mason and send the game into an overtime period that the Nittany Lions ultimately prevailed during.

That was the first round of the tournament. Penn State almost did get a chance to sniff at Madison Square Garden and the banner that will hang in their rafters.

To recap their run, here are the chances that Penn State had to win each of their games:

  • Vs. George Mason: 48.33%
  • Vs. Rhode Island: 48.31%
  • Vs. Florida: 8.17%
  • Vs. Notre Dame: 46.98%
  • Vs. Baylor: 39.76%

You may look at that and say, "Well, there are three games there where the chances were almost 50 percent."

Sure, but the 8.17 percent chance that Penn State had against Florida on the road, and the less than 40 percent chance that it had against Baylor more than diminish the seemingly lofty chances of the Nittany Lions in the three toss-up games.

The total chance of winning was somewhere around 0.3 percent!

And remembers, two of those coin flips were home games for Penn State. Teams are rarely the underdog at home when the skill level is close.

So congrats to Penn State, who was on no one's radar to begin the season, and almost grabbed an NCAA tournament bid despite its horrid non-conference schedule.

You beat the odds and came out a champion.

The MRI Rankings are copyright 2009 by MRISports.com. Ben Miraski is a freelance reporter, edits and writes for MRISports.com and is a featured blogger on FanIQ. He also is the Northwestern Wildcats Examiner for Examiner.com. Readers can contact Ben at bmiraski@mrisports.com


Posted April 3, 2009 12:11 PM