With the NIT Final 4 beginning tonite, it begs the question: Does advancing in the NIT correlate with an NCAA tournament bid the following season? To study this I compared NIT Final 4 finalists from 2000-2005 with the lowest seeded at-large teams in the NCAA tournament from the same time period. These teams should be similar in ability, as the NIT Final 4 are usually bubble teams who failed to make the NCAA field. Here are the results by year.
NIT Final 4: Wake Forest (champ), Notre Dame (runner-up), NC St., and Penn St.
Wake Forest, Notre Dame, and Penn St. reached the NCAA tourney the following year. Wake was eliminated in the first round, Notre Dame in the second, and Penn St. in the Sweet 16.
Last 4 At-Large Teams: Indiana St., Dayton, St. Bonaventure, Pepperdine
Only Indiana St. returned to the tournament in 2001. Altough they upset Oklahoma in 2001, they would not have made the tournament had they not beaten the Missouri Valley regular season champ, Creighton, in the conference tourney.
NIT Final 4: Tulsa (champ), Alabama (runner-up), Memphis, Detroit
Tulsa garnered an at-large bid in 2002 and made the second round. Alabama improved drastically, receiving a #2 seed before being upset by Kent St. in the second round. Memphis and Detroit failed to make the NCAA tournament.
Last 4 At-Large Teams: Xavier, Oklahoma St., Providence, Georgetown
Xavier and Oklahoma St. returned to the tourney in 2002. Both were also #7 seeds. Xavier advanced to the second round and Oklahoma St. was beaten in the first round by Kent St.
NIT Final 4: Memphis (champ), South Carolina (runner-up), Temple, Syracuse
Memphis made the field of 65 in 2003, but were bumped in the first round. Syracuse won the national title in 2003 behind fabulous frosh Carmelo Anthony.
Last 4 At-Large Teams: Missouri, Utah, Tulsa, Wyoming
Missouri, Utah, and Tulsa all advanced to the NCAA tournament in 2003. However, Tulsa won the WAC tournament, and may not have garnered a bid had they lost. All three teams advanced to the second round.
NIT Final 4: St. John's (champ), Georgetown (runner-up), Texas Tech, Minnesota
Only Texas Tech made the Big Dance in 2004. They made it to the second round where they were beaten by top seeded St. Joe's.
Last 4 At-Large Teams: Butler, BYU, Southern Illinois, Colorado
Southern Illinois and BYU returned to the NCAA tournament in 2004 and both lost in the first round.
NIT Final 4: Michigan (champ), Rutgers (runner-up), Iowa St., Oregon
Only the Cyclones from Iowa St. were able to make the NCAA tournament in 2005. They were beaten in the second round by eventual champ North Carolina.
Last 4 At-Large Teams: BYU, UTEP, Air Force, Richmond
UTEP returned to the tourney in 2005, but they won the WAC tourney. Had they not won, they may have been left out.
NIT Final 4: South Carolina (champ), St. Joe's (runner-up), Maryland, Memphis
Only Memphis made the jump to the NCAA tournament. They improved dramatically as they received a #1 seed.
Last 4 At-Large Teams: UAB, UCLA, Northern Iowa, NC St.
All 4 at-large teams made a return engagement in 2006. UAB and Northen Iowa lost in the first round. NC St. lost in the second round. UCLA is still alive and in the Final 4.
Of the 24 NIT Final 4 teams, 10 improved and made the NCAA tournament the following year. Of the 6 NIT champs, 3 made the tournament the next year. Of the 24 final at-large teams, 13 returned to the tournament the following year, However, 3 of these teams (Indiana St. in 2001, Tulsa in 2003, and UTEP in 2005) won their respective conference tournaments and may not have gotten in had they not done so. Addtionally, 2005 appears to be an outlier, as all 4 of the final at-large teams returned to the tournament in 2006. Not every situation is the same, players leaving, coaching stability, recruiting, and other factors must be taken into account, but the NIT semi-finalists have about the same chance of making the NCAA tournament the following season as the last few at-large teams. Recent history tells us that at least one of the NIT Final 4 (Louisville, South Carolina, Old Dominion, and Michigan) will make the tourney next year as will one of the last at-large teams (Bradley, Texas A&M, Utah St., and Air Force).