Without much fanfare, Pirates take CIT
Posted April 3, 2013
Congratulations are in order for East Carolina after the Pirates capped off their best basketball season in school history by claiming the CollegeInsider.com Tournament Championship.
Now you'll be excused if the first reaction to this news is, "wait, what?"
It's not like the CIT has been a well publicized event since its inception in 2009. It competes with the College Basketball Invitational, which started in 2007, for most superfluous postseason tournament.
Unlike the National Invitational Tournament, it lacks the backing of ESPN and the allure of Madison Square Garden for the final rounds. Instead, the CIT is broadcast to fewer homes on the CBS Sports Network and headlines are buried deep inside the college sports sections of national websites.
But let's not pretend NIT participants aren't subjected to the same snide remarks about relevancy despite the tournament's ancient pedigree.
Bottom line: If a school is going to participate in a tournament, they might as well go out and win it. So props to the Pirates for ending their season in winning fashion. Their game against Weber State was entertaining and had an exciting finish thanks to Akeem Richmond's dagger at the buzzer.
At the very least, East Carolina can claim a title Duke, North Carolina and NC State don't have in their trophy cases. Am I right?
Basketball success in Greenville is a relative thing. East Carolina had never produced a season with 20 wins or more before Jeff Lebo showed up on campus. The Pirates had never won a postseason tournament game either, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 1972 and 1993. Even their first trip to the CIT in 2011 resulted in an early exit.
In an ironic twist, it could be argued that East Carolina's lack of basketball success kept them on the Big East back burner while the conference was looking for full-time replacements. It wasn't for lack of football success and Greenville's market size could be overcome when including fan support throughout the state of North Carolina. As much as football has been a driving force of expansion, the old Big East still needed to appease the basketball-only schools and their desire to keep the tournament in New York prestigious.
Winning the CIT might mean nothing in the long run, but the hope in Greenville is that it becomes the first step in turning East Carolina into a respectable mid-major program. It's necessary for the university's overall athletic profile and future realignment positioning.