Countdown to Tipoff: 46 Days
Everyone knows how critical experience is in college basketball. Time after time, we have seen the mid-major or low-major school make an NCAA tournament run on the backs of a core group of seniors. Basketball is a game of inches. It’s a sport that often comes down to the final possession, despite nearly 100 possessions in a game. With experience, comes valuing every one of those possessions and understanding that every point matters. Experience leads to being in the right place at the right time. Experience leads to more cohesion and confidence amongst players. And experience was something that the Jackets had very little of last season.
Last years team returned just 22% of its scoring from the previous year, but was still able to put together a 21-16 season. It’s hard enough to have success with such little experience, but to do it with a brand new coaching staff was remarkable. The returning players had to learn a whole new system on top of learning how to play with each other and the incoming players. This year, things are different as the Tech coaching staff is in their second year and the team returns 67% of its scoring, including the top three scorers. That should completely change how the team prepares this offseason. Instead of working on installing new concepts and learning how to play with each other, the team will be able to pick up where they left off, instead working to master the already existing concepts and implement more advanced concepts.
Back to the NIT and how Tech’s run last year specifically should benefit them. Over the last five years (2012-2016), teams that made the final four of the NIT have averaged 21 wins the season after. Seven of those teams have translated their NIT runs into an NCAA tournament berth. A final four run has been particularly beneficial to high major schools, as nearly half of them have gone on to make the NCAA tournament the following season.
A pair of those teams particularly stand out for their success that they had the year after their NIT run. Both of these teams have something in common with the Jackets; they returned a large majority of their team. In 2015, Miami finished second in the NIT. The year after, they returned 73% of their scoring and finished the next season 27-8, earning a three seed in the NCAA tournament. In 2014, SMU also finished second in the NIT. The next year, they returned 78% of their starters and finished 27-7, good for a six seed in the NCAA tournament. The point? Senior laden teams that have made NIT runs have often fizzled the year after. On the other hand, young teams that made NIT runs have been able to translate that experience and added reps into even better performances the year after.
After averaging an impressive 15.5 ppg through the regular season, Josh Okogie took his game to another level in the NIT, averaging almost nearly 20 ppg throughout the five game run. As if there was any doubt before, Okogie made it clear he was one of the best players in the conference and that this team is his. That five game run should directly carry over to the start of this season.
After entering last season with nearly zero expectations, things will be a little different this year. The Jackets success last year can be viewed as both a blessing and a curse, as it has completely changed how the team will be viewed by the fans, opposing teams, and the media. Expectations will be higher this year, but if the team is able to build upon the success of last season, it will be in large part due to their NIT run and the added repetitions and cohesion that the team was able to build along the way.
What are your thoughts? How much of an impact do you think the NIT run will have?