NIT Final a Positive Sign for Gophers

Updated: 04/03/2014 6:49 PM KSTP.com By: KSTP Sports

Minnesota needed overtime to beat Florida State University Tuesday in the NIT semifinals.
Minnesota needed overtime to beat Florida State University Tuesday in the NIT semifinals.
Photo: Photo: AP/Frank Franklin II

Some like to brush off the NIT as a chance to finish the college basketball season as the 69th-best team in the country, but making the NIT final historically forecasts bigger and better things ahead.

Minnesota will face Southern Methodist University Thursday night at Madison Square Garden for the NIT championship. The Gophers made it to the finals two years ago, but were blown out by Stanford.

The experience helped propel Minnesota to the NCAA Tournament the next season, though, and it helped secure a second-round victory over UCLA, the school's first NCAA tournament win since 1990.

That was under coach Tubby Smith. Now it's Richard Pitino's turn.

Plus, outside of pride, there's another good reason to win tonight's game: three of the last four NIT champions have gone on to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament the following year. Stanford did it two years ago after beating Minnesota.