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What The Hell Happened To The CIT And The CBI Tournaments?

We wondered if Marquette should take a spot in the CBI or CIT tournaments earlier this week. After seeing the fields, and what's happened to the quality of competition in the last couple years, we're not wondering anymore.

UC Irvine is probably the best team in the CIT, CBI, or Vegas 16 fields. Oof.
UC Irvine is probably the best team in the CIT, CBI, or Vegas 16 fields. Oof.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

On Sunday night, after word (not unexpectedly) came that YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles hadn't been selected to participate in the 2016 NIT, I -- and a few other Marquette fans -- expected Marquette to grab a spot in one of the also-ran postseason tournaments: the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), the Tournament (CIT), or the brand-new Vegas 16. Sure, your school has to pay for the privilege of participating in one of these tournaments, but I figured, at worst, MU would get a couple more weeks to practice together and maybe get a head start on the 2016-'17 season.

That was before the fields for the tournaments were released. Now that the participants have been unveiled, I'm more than willing to admit my mistake and acknowledge that there's really no reason for Marquette to participate in any of these endeavors. Because to say that the CIT, the CBI, and the Vegas 16 are taking on water would seem to be a major understatement.

With a hat tip to Friend of Show and Resident Dog Mascot Conspirator @akschaaf, let's take a look at the fields for the CBI and CIT, last year vs. this year.

First, the CBI:

2015 CBI Conference KenPom 2016 CBI Conference KenPom
Gardner Webb
Big South
197 Nebraska Omaha
Summit 145
Colorado Pac 12
101 Duquesne Atlantic 10
Pepperdine WCC 137 Western Carolina
Southern 186
Seattle WAC 244 Vermont America East
Stony Brook
America East
127 Albany America East 119
Mercer Southern 189 Ohio MAC 128
Eastern Michigan
MAC 144 Houston Baptist
Southland 278
Louisiana Monroe
Sun Belt
170 UNC-Greensboro Southern 200
Vermont America East
109 Montana Big Sky
Hofstra Colonial 125 Nevada Mountain West
Radford Big South
162 Pepperdine WCC 135
Delaware State
MEAC 255 Eastern Washington
Big Sky
Rider MAAC 153 Idaho Big Sky
Loyola-Chicago Missouri Valley
129 Seattle WAC 298
UC Santa Barbara
Big West
112 Morehead State
Ohio Valley
Oral Roberts
Summit 199 Siena
MAAC 112

The 16 teams in the 2015 CBI had an average KenPom rank of 160 (if you round up). This year, the average KenPom rank for the 16 teams is 172 (again, if you're rounding up).

The more problematic issue, of course, is the lack of major conference teams in the field. In years past, the CBI has attracted the likes of Virginia, Utah, and Washington (2008); St. John's, Stanford, and Oregon State (2009); Creighton and Oregon (2011); Butler, Pitt, TCU, and Washington State (2012); Purdue and Texas (2013); and Penn State and Texas A&M (2014). Last year, the only representative of a major conference was Colorado from the Pac 12. This year, the closest to the pin would probably be Duquesne, which went 6-12 in the A10 and finished the year by losing 9 of its last 10 games.

But at least the CBI was able to fill out its entire bracket. The CIT, you might have heard, had to slash its field from 32 teams down to 26. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Here's a chart comparing last year's entrants vs. this year's:

2015 CIT Conference KenPom 2016 CIT Conference KenPom
NJIT Indep 166 Texas A&M Corpus Christi Southland 157
New Hampshire America East 183 UC Irvine Big West 94
Eastern Illinois Ohio Valley 216 Tennessee Martin Ohio Valley 209
Oakland Horizon 164 Army Patriot 250
James Madison Colonial 203 New Hampshire America East 232
USC Upstate Atlantic Sun 201 Norfolk State MEAC 233
Bowling Green MAC 131 Boston Patriot 225
Saint Francis NEC 222 UT Arlington Sun Belt 102
Norfolk State MEAC 190 Ball State MAC 155
Eastern Kentucky Ohio Valley 116 Louisiana Monroe Sun Belt 122
Louisiana Lafayette Sun Belt 120 Mercer Southern 187
Incarnate Word Southland 228 South Carolina State MEAC 265
Maryland Eastern Shore MEAC 191 Jackson State SWAC 227
High Point Big South 126 Sam Houston State Southland 213
Dartmouth Ivy 165 Grand Canyon WAC 129
Canisius MAAC 146 Coastal Carolina Big South 161
Texas A&M Corpus Christi Southland 212 Furman Southern 163
Florida Gulf Coast Atlantic Sun 200 Tennessee State Ohio Valley 160
Cleveland State Horizon 79 Savannah State MEAC 319
Western Michigan MAC 171 Fordham Atlantic 10 162
Kent State MAC 105 Columbia Ivy 113
Middle Tennessee CUSA 155 Fairfield MAAC 183
UNC Wilmington Colonial 173 NJIT Atlantic Sun 214
Sam Houston State Southland 81 Central Michigan MAC 154
Northern Arizona Big Sky 174 North Dakota Big Sky 194
Grand Canyon WAC 271 Louisiana Lafayette Sun Belt 114
IPFW Summit 169
Evansville Missouri Valley 103
Sacramento State Big Sky 187
Portland WCC 149
Tennessee Martin Ohio Valley 143
Northwestern State Southland 234

The 32 teams in the 2015 CIT field had an average KenPom rank of 168. The 26 teams in the 2016 CIT field are, on average, fourteen spots worse in KenPom's rankings (182).

Of course, that's just the math part of the equation. You'll also note that, after sending two teams to the CIT in 2015 (including a pretty good Cleveland State squad), the Horizon League doesn't have a single entrant in the CIT this year. The MAC is down to one team, and the lone A10 team in the field -- Fordham -- went 17-13 this season and lost in December to Boston College.

But perhaps the CIT's woes are best exemplified by the inclusion of Savannah State, a school that posted a 16-15 mark on the year and finished 319th in KenPom's rankings. The Tigers got bounced out of the MEAC tournament by Hampton, which snuck out an 89-55 win. For their efforts, Savannah State gets a home game in the CIT against UT Arlington.

And it's not like schools were bailing on the CIT and CBI to join the Vegas 16, which also had to trim its field from 16 entrants down to 8, and includes the likes of Towson, Louisiana Tech, and Oakland.

So what's the story? Where have all the Power 5* teams and legit mid-majors gone? Our friends at Paint Touches suggested this might've been a "if you go, I'll go"-type situation for the bigger teams, and when no one was willing to take the plunge first, schools like Marquette decided to take their ball home and call it a year. That certainly makes some sense. If you wanted to get more cynical about, the total absence of big-name schools almost looks like a concerted effort to snuff these tournaments out, doesn't it? I mean, out of all those schools in the bigger conferences that didn't qualify for the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, nobody takes the bait for the CIT or CBI?

(UPDATE: our friend Joe McCann pointed out that the CIT's charter makes clear they have a "no Power 5 schools" policy. That explains why there aren't any ACC or SEC or B1G teams in the field, of course, but it doesn't seem to prohibit a Big East school like Marquette from participating.)

Regardless of the reason, with the way things are going, it seems like we might not even get to debate whether MU should take a spot in the CBI or CIT if MU misses the Dance next year.