'Other' Final Four
The Florida Gators have again reached the Final Four. OK, this time it's in the NIT, which stands for National Invitation Tournament. But in this NCAA-centric age, it has come to mean something else. Not In Tournament.The 65-team NCAA field carries an all-or-nothing importance for men's college basketball. Once upon a time - before ESPN, Dick Vitale, Bracketology and March Madness - the NIT was actually considered the more prestigious tournament. Those days have long passed, although for Billy Donovan's Gators, UMass, Ole Miss and Ohio State, the trip to New York's Madison Square Garden isn't a bad consolation prize. Here's a look at the NIT, which began 70 years ago: NIT FUN FACTS•Former Supreme Court justice Byron "Whizzer" White played for Colorado in the inaugural NIT (1938). •The final NIT (1967) played at the old Madison Square Garden featured Southern Illinois guard Walt Frazier, who would star for the New York Knicks. •LSU's Pete Maravich was held under 30 points by Georgetown and Marquette at the 1970 NIT (Tennessee had been the only other opponent to achieve that defensive feat). •USF made three NIT appearances (1981, 1983, 1985) under Coach Lee Rose. When the Bulls defeated Fordham 81-69 at the Sun Dome, prominent USF booster George Steinbrenner, the New York Yankees owner, was joined at courtside by Howard Cosell. •Florida is the second state team to reach two NIT Final Fours. Jacksonville made it in 1972 and 1974. •Kansas State guard Askia Jones had 62 points in a 115-77 NIT quarterfinal win against Fresno State in 1994. Jones set an NCAA postseason record with 14 three-pointers. •Jeff Jones won NIT titles with Virginia as a player (1980) and coach (1992). •In 2000, Notre Dame's Troy Murphy became the first consensus first-team All-American to participate in the NIT since 1978 (Indiana State's Larry Bird). •South Carolina (2005, 2006) became the first repeat NIT champion since World War II. The first title was clinched on a buzzer-beating shot by Gamecocks guard Tarence Kinsey of Jefferson High School. •The NIT's selection committee, comprised of former Division I men's head coaches, is chaired by former Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton. It includes former Florida interim coach Don DeVoe and former Purdue coach Gene Keady. NIT FINAL FOUR APPEARANCES St. John's has the most NIT Final Four appearances with 16: No.SchoolNIT Championships16St. John's1943, 1944, 1959, 1965, 1989, 20038Bradley1957, 1960, 1964, 1982 8Dayton1962, 19687Duquesne19557Providence1961, 19636New York UniversityNone (second in 1948, 1966)6St. Bonaventure19775AlabamaNone (second in 2001)5ArmyNone (third in 1964, 1965, 1970)5DePaul19455Notre DameNone (second in 1973, 1984, 1992, 2000)5Villanova19945West Virginia1942 FUTURE SUCCESS? Thirteen teams that made NIT Final Four appearances were in the NCAA Final Four the following season: TeamNIT (Finish)NCAA (Finish)Oklahoma State1944 (4th)1945 (1st)Kentucky1947 (2nd)1948 (1st)Bradley1949 (4th)1950 (2nd)St. John's1951 (3rd)1952 (2nd)Temple1957 (3rd)1958 (3rd)NYU1959 (3rd)1960 (4th)Loyola (Ill.)1962 (3rd)1963 (1st)North Carolina1971 (1st)1972 (3rd)UNC Charlotte1976 (2nd)1977 (4th)Purdue1979 (2nd)1980 (3rd)Virginia1980 (1st)1981 (3rd)Georgia1982 (3rd)1983 (3rd)Louisville1985 (4th)1986 (1st) STATING THEIR CASE The best NIT finishes for the state's men's teams. Florida (1992): The Gators (19-14), picked for last in the SEC, reached New York by beating Richmond at home, then winning on the road against Pittsburgh and Purdue. UF lost against Virginia 62-56 in the NIT semifinals (then fell to Utah in the consolation game. Florida State (1997): The Seminoles (20-12) reached the NIT championship game, but fell to Michigan 82-73 after falling behind by 18 points. FSU, which defeated Connecticut 71-65 in an overtime semifinal, beat Syracuse, Michigan State and West Virginia in the preliminary rounds. USF (1995): The Bulls (18-12) dispatched St. John's and Coppin State at the Sun Dome and were one victory away from the NIT Final Four. But USF fell in overtime at Marquette 57-50. Trailing by one point, USF point guard Chucky Atkins was fouled with two seconds remaining. He made the first, tying it at 43-all, but the second attempt hit the back of the rim, the front of the rim, then popped out.