The line is always blurred when considering the last handful of at-large selections to the NCAA tournament and the top handful of NIT teams. This year is no different. The NIT's four No. 1 seeds -- the Kentucky Wildcats, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Virginia Cavaliers -- were four of the most talked-about bubble teams heading into Sunday's NCAA selection show.
Kentucky, the NIT's No. 1 overall seed, was the No. 1 overall seed and national champion of last year's NCAA tournament. It's been a long year since. The Wildcats, No. 57 in the RPI, were forced to replace their top six scorers from the title team, and a litany of personnel problems kept this year's edition from ever sustaining any sort of momentum.
Point guard Ryan Harrow missed four games early in the season when he went home to North Carolina to tend to an undisclosed family matter. Reserve big man Willie Cauley-Stein missed time with a back injury, then center Nerlens Noel tore his ACL on Feb. 12.
Southern Miss won the dubious honor of being the highest-rated team according to RPI to miss the field of 68; its RPI was No. 31. Of these snubs, the Golden Eagles were the closest to grabbing an automatic berth to the Big Dance, and they were about as close as you could get. They lost to the Memphis Tigers 91-79 in double overtime of the Conference USA title game Saturday.
Virginia started its season 1-2 with losses at George Mason and a particularly haunting home loss to Delaware. Otherwise, the Cavaliers could've found themselves in the Big Dance. Virginia earned a 60-54 win at the Wisconsin Badgers on Nov. 28 and earned league wins against Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State.
The Tennessee Volunteers, a No. 2 seed in the NIT, had an inconsistent season with quite a few quality wins -- Florida, Missouri, Wichita State and a 30-point win over Kentucky -- juxtaposed with a weak non-conference (and conference) schedule. Winning any one of a one-point loss to the Georgetown Hoyas, a five-point loss to Memphis, and a six-point loss at the Ole Miss Rebels perhaps could've put Tennessee in the NCAA tournament.
Much like Tennessee, Alabama's season was haunted with inconsistency. Quality non-conference wins over South Dakota State and Villanova were offset in full and then some with an inexplicable two-game losing streak to Mercer and Tulane, both at home.