NIT Champs or Else

Listening to more than 12,000 people scream for the home team in soon-to-be-Viejas Arena is a rare and exhilarating thrill.

The San Diego State University men's basketball team beat St. Mary's to earn a spot in the semifinals of the National Invitational Tournament. The crowd was loud. A national audience saw the Aztecs prevail. Even if you consider the NIT a red-haired stepchild to the NCAA's March Madness, allow the parched college basketball fandom a moment of exuberant release.

The very next question, though: Is this win truly mountainous, or merely more Montezuma Mesa mediocrity? Each year, the NCAA allegedly picks the top 65 teams to compete for the national championship. The NIT gets the also-rans. Most diehard sports fans could reel off the Sweet 16 from last year's NCAA bracket before recalling who played in the 2008 NIT final.

It's great that SDSU has now won three postseason games, but there's just one way to claim the whole year's campaign was a success: win the NIT.

Take the title by winning two games in Madison Square Garden and the team has legitimately redeemed a season of not making the NCAAs. Lose in the semis or final of the NIT and the perception of the Aztecs will fade back into the rank of second-tier college basketball team. Win the NIT and the Aztecs faithful can fairly assert that its team is not just the 66th best team in the land but that it was unfairly left out of the Big Dance. 

Ron Donoho, formerly executive editor of "San Diego Magazine," is a regular contributor to who covers local news, sports, culture and happy hours.

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