First let me premise this post by saying that in no way is an NIT championship a done deal or even close. We've been this close way to many times to think otherwise. SMU, my original pick to win the tournament, has an early 60% chance to knock us off in the Semi-Finals according to KenPom. Even with a win, either Florida State or Minnesota would make for an extremely tough championship matchup.
That being said, a recent debate over what a NIT Championship means sparked my interest so I wanted to learn and share a bit about our basketball program's history and then see where a potential NIT title would fit in.
The last three NIT champions used it as a springboard. With no seniors, we could do the same. In 2011 Wichita State won the NIT. They made the NCAA tournament each of the three succeeding seasons advancing to the Final Four in 2013 and earning a #1 seed in this year's tournament. The 2012 NIT Champion was Stanford, who knocked off Kansas to reach the Sweet Sixteen in this year's NCAA tournament, and last year's champion had the quickest jump as Baylor sprinted past Doug McDermott's Creighton Bluejays to reach the Sweet Sixteen this year. On the flip side, South Carolina made the NCAA tournament in 2004 and then won back-to-back NIT Championships in 2005 and 2006. They have not sniffed the NCAA tournament since, showing it is never a sure thing.
Below I've broken up our program's accomplishments into three categories. I'd organize the banners in LJC into seven individual banners. One for each of the lines in the table below.
Elite Eight (1980)
Southern Conference Tournament Champions (1939)
Sweet 16 (1990)
Sweet 16 (1997)
Round of 32 (1989)
*In 2011 Clemson won a First Four game before being eliminated in the Round of 64 by West Virginia.
They've been few and far between, but we've had some big time accomplishments. A trip to the Elite Eight in 1980 takes the cake. An ACC Regular Season Championship and Sweet 16 run in 1990 also jumps out. There was another Sweet 16 run in '97, but beyond that, we've only advanced past the round of 64 one other time. Even if you don't put winning the NIT on par with an 0-1 NCAA tournament appearance (a debate you're welcome to take up in the comments below), this would still be the 12th best postseason in school history. We have not won a postseason championship of any sort since 1939.
If the crowds in the final two Clemson home games say anything, it's that Clemson basketball is regaining traction. The excitement is coming back. With new facilities on the way, recruiting picking up steam, and a youth-laden squad, this is a program on the rise. Now we're two wins away from adding a line to the table above and a banner to the rafters in Littlejohn Coliseum.