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By BRENDAN McGAIR
Ed Cooley made it perfectly clear following Providenceâ€™s ouster from the Big East Tournament that itâ€™s either NIT or bust for his Friars. While some may interpret Cooleyâ€™s choice of words â€“ â€śI didnâ€™t come to Providence College to play in another basketball tournament.â€ť â€“ as the head coach brushing aside the CBI (College Basketball Invitational), recent history suggests that playing in a postseason event thatâ€™s not affiliated with the Field of 68 (NCAA Tournament) or Field of 32 (NIT) does have some merit.
The same Pittsburgh team that secured a double bye in this yearâ€™s Big East Garden Party participated and won the 2012 CBI. While the Panthers have enjoyed perennial NCAA Tournament status under Jamie Dixonâ€™s watch, the coach was onboard with the idea of exposing the 2011-12 Pittsburgh club â€“ one that won just five Big East games and stood at 17-16 prior to the CBI â€“ to postseason competition.
â€śWe have a young team and we are looking forward to continue playing,â€ť is what Dixon was quoted on pittsburghpanthers.com upon the school accepting an invitation to participate in the CBI.
Along those same lines, wouldnâ€™t Providenceâ€™s players benefit from extending their season regardless of the tournamentâ€™s name? To expose Kris Dunn and Josh Fortune to a new dimension of college hoops can only aid in their development moving forward. Ditto for Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts, two juniors who have never experienced so much as a sniff at basketball action post-Big East Tournament.
If Providence is dead set on taking a major step forward next season, why not get the ball rolling now? As Pittsburgh demonstrated a year ago, the CBI may not be the prettiest of consolation prizes, but itâ€™s not all bad. Itâ€™s something Cooley should keep in mind in case the phone rings Sunday night and a representative from the NIT isnâ€™t on the other end.