When Does a WNIT Run Equate to a NCAA Tournament Appearance
The end goal every year is for college basketball teams to make the NCAA Tournament. But is there a point to where a (W)NIT run is deemed as successful?
It's a long debate that gets brought up once every couple of years in this region as we've been spoiled with two great girls basketball programs. SDSU and USD have faced off the last three of four years in The Summit League Basketball Championship game. The winner has moved on to the NCAA Tournament with the loser making an appearance in the WNIT.
SDSU made a run to the WNIT semifinals in 2014 and hosted the likes of Butler, Creighton, and Indiana. They also won a game on the road in Minnesota. The end came in the semifinals with a three point loss to UTEP. USD that year went into the NCAA tournament and lost in the opening round to Stanford.
The Coyotes the following season would end up in the WNIT Tournament after falling short against SDSU in the conference title game. The Coyotes hosted Creighton, but lost on the road in the second round by one to Northern Colorado. South Dakota State lost in the opening round to Oregon State.
This year the Coyotes fell short to the Jackrabbits again sealing their fate into the WNIT Tournament. So far, USD has defeated Creighton, Minnesota, Northern Iowa, and Western Kentucky to get into the semifinals. The Coyotes have hosted all the teams outside of Minnesota. USD now has the opportunity to host Oregon, which is unlikely to happen outside of a tournament format. SDSU was successful in the NCAA Tournament defeating Miami, and falling short of a Sweet 16 by losing to Stanford by one point.
Again, the NCAA Tournament is ALWAYS the main goal for teams during the basketball season. It gives the team the recruiting advantage by being able to show prospects that they are able to get to the dance that everyone grows up watching.
But is there a point where the (W)NIT becomes considered as successful. I don't know if it could ever be considered better, but a case can be made that it can be as good.
For the Coyotes this year, they have had the opportunity to host four postseason games inside the DakotaDome. 3,000 fans went to the Dome on Easter Sunday to watch the game against Western Kentucky. A new facility will open up next season for the Coyotes, and the success of the run in the WNIT, including ticket sales, has to have the administration jumping for joy. There is a ton of excitement surrounding the program. It's perfect timing heading into a new building.
There is no opportunity to host games with an NCAA Tournament bid. However, again, every kid and coach dreams of being able to play against the top teams in the country on the biggest stage. For mid-majors a Sweet 16 appearance is considered a huge accomplishment.
If a team has the opportunity in the (W)NIT to host a minimum of three games and make a deep run, then I think the case can be made that it's just as good as getting to the NCAA Tournament and not advancing past the second round. However, I believe that making a Sweet 16 for mid-majors would be considered more of an accomplishment than winning the W(NIT) Tournament.
The hardest part of this is that the two tournaments are treated so much differently. Either way, teams are able to walk away from both feeling like they have had a very successful season. That is well deserved for both SDSU and USD.