MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Unless Bob Huggins knows something you and I don't - and certainly he does, although probably not on this count - his West Virginia basketball team isn't going to make it into the NCAA basketball tournament for the sixth straight season.Sure, there's a chance. There's always a chance. Grambling is the only Division I team in the country without a win this season and even the Tigers have a chance. They could win their conference tournament and get an automatic bid.But while West Virginia's odds of winning the Big 12 tournament are probably slightly better than that of Grambling winning the SWAC tourney, it's still among the longest of long shots.And it's only slightly more likely that West Virginia will somehow reverse its fortunes and start winning enough games to get into the at-large pool. At 13-13, the Mountaineers could win four or five of the remaining five regular-season games, maybe two or three more in the Big 12 tournament and finish, say, 20-15 and squarely on the bubble.Of course, that would make them among the hottest teams in college basketball and, really, where is the evidence that that is even remotely possible from a team that is now 1-11 against teams in the Top 100 of the RPI?No, it's past the time to be realistically considering NCAA possibilities and move on to the far more relevant question: Can this team make it into the postseason on any level for the 10th straight season?Well, call this your alphabet soup primer. It's time to forget - probably past time - NCAA and begin investigating NIT, CBI and CIT.It's been a while, hasn't it? The CBI and CIT didn't even exist the last time West Virginia didn't have an NCAA dance card. The Mountaineers won the NIT in 2007, the only time in the last eight years they haven't made the NCAA field.
So we need a primer, and here it is.First off, eliminate the CIT. West Virginia's chances of getting into that are less than the odds of making the NCAA field. The CIT (that's CollegeInsider.com Tournament) only invites teams from non-power conferences.The CIT also requires a team have a winning record to be invited, which is certainly no sure thing for West Virginia. The NIT no longer demands that, nor does the CBI, which might be the only reason WVU is still in the mix for either.The NIT, though, has never taken a team with a record below .500 and isn't likely to start now. There are now automatic bids given to teams that won their regular-season league titles but lost in their tournaments and did not make the NCAA field. That reduces the number of at-large berths in the 32-team field, and there are always plenty of teams with winning records to fill them. Iowa was the closest last year, invited at 17-16 with an RPI of No. 130. WVU would probably have to be 17-16 and would likely have a better RPI (and yes, that matters a bit in the NIT's new selection process, which now pretty much mirrors that of the NCAA, which owns it).
The CBI (College Basketball Invitational), on the other hand, doesn't invite a lot of teams with losing records, but it's certainly not unusual. In fact, Washington State finished 15-16 last season and then was invited to the CBI and came within a game of winning it. The CBI invites 16 teams, plays three rounds in order to determine the finalists and then those teams play a best-of-three series.Pitt, which went to the CBI with a 17-16 record last year, won the title by beating Washington State twice in Pittsburgh after losing the first game in Washington.As far as West Virginia being invited to either the NIT or the CBI, well, that's going to depend on the team's finish. The Mountaineers have lost to every one of the five teams remaining on the regular-season schedule, so an 0-5 finish and a 13-18 record heading into the Big 12 tournament is certainly possible. In that case, this is all a waste of discussion.
The thought here, though, is that West Virginia might - might - win enough to make the discussion pertinent. Three of the final five games are at home (Oklahoma State, Baylor and Iowa State), along with road games at Kansas and Oklahoma.There's also a good chance the Mountaineers will remain where they have been most of the season in the Big 12 standings (the bottom four), so barring a late run they will play one of the two Wednesday games in the Big 12 tournament, which pit No. 7 against No. 10 and No. 8 against No. 9. They are 6-0 against those other teams this season, so winning that one prior to facing the No. 1 or 2 seed on Thursday is a good possibility.The bottom line is that in those final five games and the tournament WVU probably needs to go 4-3 and make it to 17-16 to even be on the NIT's radar. A 3-4 finish might be needed to have a chance to play in the CBI.West Virginia would certainly accept an NIT bid, and probably would agree to play in the CBI, too, although that's not a given. Deputy athletic director Mike Parsons said Wednesday that, quite frankly, the discussions hadn't reached that stage yet. But the CBI knows not to strike them from the list.The CBI, of course, is a pay-to-play deal. Teams that host first-round games are required to shell out $35,000 and the fee goes up in subsequent rounds, doubling by the finals. But home teams also make money from the gate (as well as concessions and parking), so it's still a moneymaker unless absolutely no one shows up. The problem is going on the road to play. Then the losses could mount, but that's no different than going on the road during the season.So there's your NIT-CBI primer. You may not want it - Huggins certainly doesn't - but at least now you know.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.