Does the NIT have value for Marquette?

2017 Marquette Madness

Photo by Ryan Messier/ Paint Touches

On Friday morning, when I started seeing the updated brackets roll in following Marquette’s loss to Villanova and saw that the consolidating consensus was that MU would not make it in, I started thinking a bit more about the NIT. 

I can’t speak for everyone, but just hearing the words NIT means the season was a failure. The goal each and every year should be to make the NCAA Tournament, end of story. But once I got over that initial sense of disappointment, I started thinking about this Marquette team not as a sum of this individual season, but as part of a foundational block for Wojo’s tenure. 

Obviously making the tournament builds stronger foundations than anything else, but with that not being an option, a young team that is set to return all but one player could definitely use as many games as it can get. And the fact that Marquette is going to be a top seed and host a a round or two at the Al McGuire Center, something it’s only done once in an actual game, gives it a bit of novelty that makes me, dare I say, excited. 

I can already see the hate Tweets flowing. This is not to excuse the season, I’ll have a full evaluation once it’s over, but it isn’t going to be positive. And it isn’t just an excuse to see Marquette a few more times, although that too is undoubtedly a positive. If the team buys in to the opportunity as one they can build on, and doesn’t mail it in like an exhibition, I truly believe it can build some positive momentum to carry over into next year where the expectations will be turned way, way up. 

As is usually the case, though, I needed to see if the numbers backed up this belief, so I took the last 11 years of NIT winners and runners up and laid out what the expectations were for the following season, and if they were able to meet them. 

Year Result Team Final KP % Min Next KP Start Next KP finish Next finish
2017 Win TCU 29 69.1% 14 22 NCAA
2017 2nd Georgia Tech 77 47.8% 44 116 None
2016 Win George Washington 53 35.9% 83 132 NIT
2016 2nd Valparaiso 42 42.4% 69 104 NIT
2015 Win Stanford 39 39.9% 95 101 None
2015 2nd Miami (FL) 41 69.2% 21 15 NCAA (3)
2014 Win Minnesota 46 54.5% 37 52 None
2014 2nd SMU 31 67.2% 36 26 NCAA (6)
2013 Win Baylor 28 60.5% 28 26 NCAA (6)
2013 2nd Iowa 29 82.9% 15 22 NCAA (11)
2012 Win Stanford 40 55.4% 36 48 NIT
2012 2nd Minnesota 53 75.0% 26 20 NCAA (11)
2011 Win Wichita State 27 57.3% 46 11 NCAA (5)
2011 2nd Alabama 51 45.8% 32 27 NCAA (9)
2010 Win Dayton 26 50.1% 54 97 NIT
2010 2nd North Carolina 61 34.8% 13 15 NCAA (2)
2009 Win Penn State 57 58.0% 61 101 None
2009 2nd Baylor 33 47.0% 27 8 NCAA (3)
2008 Win Ohio State 31 33.3% 34 NCAA (8)
2008 2nd Massachusetts 52 56.5% 138 None
2007 Win West Virginia 33 68.0% 18 NCAA (7)
2007 2nd Clemson 29 71.7% 16 NCAA (5)

Despite some recent downward trends, there is a legitimate correlation between a deep NIT run and success the following year. Of the previous 22 winners and runners up, 13 have made the NCAA Tournament the following year. Of those 13, 11 have been single-digit seeds. 

Of the 9 remaining, 4 made the NIT again the next year while 5 didn’t make any postseason at all. Not surprisingly, 3 of these 9 teams (GW ’16, Valpo ’16, UMass ’08) lost their coach after their NIT run, causing some expected disruption. Another (GT ’17) faced NCAA issues prior to the season and extensive injuries during it. Of the 5 without an excuse, 2 saw their coach fired the next year and 2 were Stanford. 

Still, that only tells us so much. What I wanted to find out was if there was an underlying common denominator between teams that do well in the NIT one year and do well in the following season. And it turns out there is, continuity of minutes. Here’s KenPom’s full description, but basically, it measures “what percentage of a team’s minutes are played by the same player from last season to this season.” 

The 13 teams who made the NCAA Tournament averaged 60.1% while those that did not averaged 48.9%. The teams who generally were able to capitalize on an NIT run had more players carrying over those minutes than those that didn’t. And it makes sense. These teams are able to carry over experience and don’t have to start from scratch. That’s not to say it is the only factor, adding a few 5-stars like North Carolina did after 2010 is probably a better strategy than hoping your young guys improve, but since that isn’t an option fpr 99% of teams, making sure you have that familiarity and experience on the court does make a difference. 

So that’s what history tells us matters, but what does it mean for Marquette? As of today, the only scholarship player set to depart is Andrew Rowsey, who played 15.9% of the team’s minutes. So right off the bat, you are bringing back 84% or so last year’s minutes, which will help with the continuity. With key pieces like Joey Hauser and Ed Morrow eligible next season, it won’t end up being anywhere close to that high, but depending on what else happens at the PG position, the minutes continuity should be right in line (60ish%) with what has been the average for teams able to use the NIT to catapult into the big dance the following year. 

(As a preview for something we’ll follow up on in the offseason, since 2008, the average minute continuity for Marquette’s NCAA teams has been 57.5%, while the average for Wojo’s tenure has been 41%. The highest it had was 47.3% last season, and not coincidentally, the lone NCAA season.) 

Of course, Marquette has to actually win a few games to be entered in that comparison, and even then, it could just as easily be Georgia Tech from last year instead of TCU. But as a whole, getting this particular team more opportunities to face high level competition as a unit is a positive one. It does not, and will never, match the importance of making the NCAA Tournament, but that not being an option, this is far from the worst thing that could happen.   

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