By BRENDAN McGAIR
Ed Cooley made it perfectly clear following Providence’s ouster from the Big East Tournament that it’s either NIT or bust for his Friars. While some may interpret Cooley’s choice of words – “I didn’t come to Providence College to play in another basketball tournament.” – as the head coach brushing aside the CBI (College Basketball Invitational), recent history suggests that playing in a postseason event that’s not affiliated with the Field of 68 (NCAA Tournament) or Field of 32 (NIT) does have some merit.
The same Pittsburgh team that secured a double bye in this year’s Big East Garden Party participated and won the 2012 CBI. While the Panthers have enjoyed perennial NCAA Tournament status under Jamie Dixon’s watch, the coach was onboard with the idea of exposing the 2011-12 Pittsburgh club – one that won just five Big East games and stood at 17-16 prior to the CBI – to postseason competition.
“We have a young team and we are looking forward to continue playing,” is what Dixon was quoted on pittsburghpanthers.com upon the school accepting an invitation to participate in the CBI.
Along those same lines, wouldn’t Providence’s players benefit from extending their season regardless of the tournament’s name? To expose Kris Dunn and Josh Fortune to a new dimension of college hoops can only aid in their development moving forward. Ditto for Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts, two juniors who have never experienced so much as a sniff at basketball action post-Big East Tournament.
If Providence is dead set on taking a major step forward next season, why not get the ball rolling now? As Pittsburgh demonstrated a year ago, the CBI may not be the prettiest of consolation prizes, but it’s not all bad. It’s something Cooley should keep in mind in case the phone rings Sunday night and a representative from the NIT isn’t on the other end.