Minnesota's Richard Pitino looks to build on NIT title success
In case you have forgotten, Minnesota won the NIT last season in Richard Pitino’s first season in the Twin Cities. The Big Ten has done well in the NIT in recent years. Iowa got to the title game in 2013. Minnesota was in the championship tilt in 2012. Penn State won it all in 2009 and year after Ohio State did so in 2008.
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It was an impressive run for a Golden Gophers program that’s a work-in-progress and has some mojo heading into Year Two under Pitino. But he’s not so sure of the value of that NIT hardware.
“The NIT, winning the NIT, it’s just a weird — nobody knows how to handle it,” said Pitino. “Do you brag about it? Do you talk about it? You know, he didn’t even put it in the notes, the Big Ten guy. I noticed that. That’s okay, though. But, certainly, your goal is to get into the NCAA Tournament every year. We know that. But when you get in the NIT, it’s really difficult, and you’re playing some really good teams with great competition.
“So our guys are very proud, especially of those last two games. You play Florida State. Again, it was a very good team. You beat a very good SMU team. They were certainly very proud of it. But that’s not the goal to be in the NIT, and I think everybody in the locker room knows that. And it’s good in the sense of we know what kept us out of the NCAA Tournament, and we know what won us the NIT. So that carryover, I hope is there, because I know those guys are pretty focused to get in the NCAA Tournament.”
Winning the NIT hasn’t been a springboard to big things for recent winners. Baylor won in 2013; Stanford in 2012; Wichita State in 2011; Dayton in 2010. Still, the extra games help with player development for a veteran club led by guards Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins. Keep an eye on this team.