|The NIT is different because it's the rare November tournament that's truly a tournament. (US Presswire)|
NEW YORK -- Delaware's Devon Saddler buried a 3-pointer with a little more than three minutes remaining, at which point Kansas State's Bruce Weber called a timeout to gather his Wildcats in what was now a one-possession game in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tipoff.
You know that Bosstones song we all remember from the late 1990s?
It was blaring through Madison Square Garden.
Have you ever had the odds stacked up so high/You need a strength most don't possess/Or has it ever come down to do or die/You've got to rise above the rest
The Blue Hen mascot was dancing on the court.
The Delaware alums were standing.
And it really was a cool moment for everybody connected to this Colonial Athletic Association school, which is why it's unfortunate that opportunities like these have nearly become non-existent. So add that to the list of things Billy Gillispie screwed-up. Yes, Billy Clyde Gillispie pretty much ended the earn-your-way-to-the-big-stage early season event in 2007 when his Kentucky Wildcats lost to Gardner-Webb at Rupp Arena in the quarterfinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic and thus failed to advance to Madison Square Garden.
"You're talking to the guy who had to cancel the Kentucky charters, Kentucky hotel rooms and Kentucky tickets that were purchased when, all of a sudden, Kentucky was not coming," the Gazelle Group's Rick Giles told me this week. "That was the beginning of the end."
Indeed it was.
Because the only early season event that still gives smaller programs a chance to win their way to a big stage is the NIT Season Tipoff featuring Delaware this week. The three events Giles runs -- the 2K Sports Classic, the Legends Classic and the Gotham Classic -- all now have predetermined matchups, meaning the schools that are supposed to get to New York are guaranteed to get to New York, meaning fans can plan trips well in advance risk-free.
"That's huge," Giles said. "That's the No. 1 benefit."
For an event organizer, it absolutely is. And let the record show that if I were Giles and in charge of running events and filling buildings I'd do the same thing. It's a business. He's a businessman. His approach makes sense from his perspective. But from college basketball's perspective it's just another development that widens the gap between the haves and havenots, which brings me back to this Wednesday night before Thanksgiving.
Delaware played. On national television. Inside The Garden. Against a Big 12 school. Because the Blue Hens spent last week winning at Virginia to earn a spot on this stage. And how cool is that for Delaware?
"It would've been kinda anticlimactic to beat Virginia and then not get a chance to come to The Garden," said Delaware coach Monte Ross, and I bet Youngstown State's Jerry Slocum is shaking his head reading this. Slocum, of course, won at Georgia earlier this month in a preliminary round of the Legends Classic. For that he got ... nothing.
Georgia still advanced to the Barclays Center to play UCLA and Indiana because the event's final four was predetermined. No Georgia fans had to abruptly cancel flights and hotels. No Youngstown State fans had to abruptly book flights and hotels. So, needless to say, Ross would rather be in his spot than Slocum's, and it hardly matters that the Blue Hens came out of that timeout after Saddler's 3-pointer and allowed an Angel Rodrigues layup that pushed KSU's lead to 60-55, and it hardly matters that Delaware never could tie things in the final minutes and ultimately lost 66-63. Ross was still coaching on national television. Inside The Garden. Against a Big 12 school. Because his team spent last week winning at Virginia to earn a spot on this stage, and that's something he'll cherish forever.
"And that's what makes this tournament so special, and I hope it never changes," Ross told me afterward. "Like you said, [the opportunities are] dwindling. But it's fantastic to have the opportunity."