The University of San Francisco men’s basketball team has made a steady climb under head coach Kyle Smith.
Since taking over in 2017, he’s taken a team that had seen the postseason once in the previous four years to the first round of the CBI, then the championship series of the CBI. This year, though, despite a résumé that, in years past, would have meant a surefire bid to the NIT, the Dons will be staying home.
After not being selected during Sunday’s National Invitational Tournament Selection Show, the Examiner has learned that San Francisco, a team that was heavily in the discussion to make the NCAA Tournament, will not accept bids to either the College Invitational Tournament or the College Basketball Invitational, and will end its season at 21-10.
After starting the season 12-1, the Dons had high hopes of breaking a 21-year NCAA Tournament drought. San Francisco, though, went from 14-2 and leading the No. 2 team in the nation (Gonzaga) with 3:50 to go at War Memorial Gym, to finishing 7-7 over the final 14 games of the season.
Even after losing three road games to San Diego, St. Mary’s and Gonzaga, the Dons were still in the discussion for an at-large bid to the Tournament, but then came three straight losses to finish the regular season, and a lackluster loss in the quarterfinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament.
San Francisco, which finished fourth in the WCC, is 66th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and 60 in the College Basketball Power Index. While they climbed into the top 40 of the NET during the midst of their hot start, the Dons finished in 74th, one spot behind NCAA Tournament team St. John’s.
In the last three NITs, teams with analogous rankings were high seeds in the tournament. In 2018, Utah had a BPI of 68 and a KenPom rating of 58, and earned a No. 2 seed. In 2017, Iowa had a BPI of 79 and a KenPom rating of 71, and was a No. 1 seed. In 2016, Princeton had a BPI of 54 and a KenPom of 70, and were a No. 6 seed.
What may have ultimately sunk San Francisco’s chances was the new structure of NIT selection. The tournament is mandated to take teams that won their conference’s regular-season title, but did not win their league tournaments, which grant those winners automatic bids into the NCAAs. The fact that Harvard (NET of 129) did not win its conference tournament, but won the regular-season Ivy League title, likely contributed to the Dons’ failure to make the field.
Campbell, which won the Big South’s regular-season title and had a NET of 223, was stunned in its conference tournament by No. 4-seed Gardner-Webb, and made the field as a No. 8-seed.
Davidson is perhaps the most frustrating selection for San Francisco fans. The Wildcats have a NET of 75, a BPI of 77 and a KenPom ranking of 84, plus a loss in the Atlantic 10 semifinals. They’re a No. 4-seed.
Other teams made the field while well below the Dons in the NET.
Georgetown, with a NET of 82, finished third in the Big East behind Villanova and Marquette, and was named a No. 3-seed.
Aforementioned Harvard, which won the Ivy League regular-season title, fell to rival Yale, 97-85, in its conference tournament final on Sunday, and made the NIT as a No. 6-seed. Hofstra, which won its league’s regular season but lost in the CAA Tournament, is a No. 7-seed with a NET of 76.
Saint Francis of the Northeast Conference, with its NET of 265, is a No. 8 seed. Wichita State, at No. 83, is in as a No. 8-seed, as is Write State, at No. 140, as a No. 7-seed. Norfolk State, at an NET of 260, faces Alabama as a No. 8-seed. Sam Houston, at NET 174, is also in as a No. 8-seed. San Diego — which beat San Francisco twice this season, and has a NET of 97, got in as a No. 6 seed. Finally, last season’s NCAA darling, Loyola-Chicago, with its NET of 128, is in as a No. 7-seed.