The CBI For What It’s Worth

[Note:  South Florida ended up winning the 2019 CBI.  Article updated below.]

Starting in 2008, the College Basketball Invitational (hereafter CBI) became the third of what are now four postseason college basketball tournaments for division I teams.  Without a doubt, the most prestigious of them is the NCAA tournament, where 68 teams compete for the national championship.  Next in prestige is the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), which has 32 teams competing for a championship played in Madison Square Garden.  One does not turn down invitations to these two tournaments, with the NIT being a well-regarded consolation bracket for teams that just missed the NCAA tournament as bubble teams or for regular season champions who lost in conference tournaments.  However, the CBI is a different sort of tournament, and throughout its history many teams have refused to play in it, because they did not consider it worthwhile.

Let us examine this phenomenon first, and see what teams have, throughout its history, refused to play in the CBI.  In 2008, New Mexico State, Alabama, Seton Hall, Texas Tech, and Wake Forest refused to participate in the CBI [1].  In 2014, St. Bonaventure and Indiana refused [2], while Texas Christian, Cal, Florida, Florida State, Indiana, Kansas State, Memphis, Minnesota, Northwestern, Oregon State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, and Tennessee refused in 2015 [3], Auburn refused in 2017 [4], Bradley, Georgetown, Maryland, Northeastern, Oakland, Southern Methodist, Toledo, Tulsa, and Virginia Commonwealth refused in 2018 [5], and Fresno State, Bowling Green, Jacksonville State, San Francisco, BYU, and Omaha refused in 2019 [6].  This indicates that while at first it was only big schools that thought they were too good for the CBI, eventually smaller schools who did not consider the “pay to play” aspect of the invitational to be worthwhile refused themselves to be involved as well.  Since there are sixteen teams each year who want to continue their season though that have not been invited to the 68-team NCAA tournament and the 32-team NIT tournament, it does not appear as if there will be any stopping the tournament as long as it makes financial sense and allows a team to continue its season in the hope of postseason glory.

What kind of glory does a team get for winning the tournament in the first place?  In 2009, for example, the winning team of the CBI received a visit to the White House.  It did not hurt that the winning team, in this case, was coached by the first lady’s brother.  This has not been a commonly recorded occurrence, though, and it does not seem as if the CBI is viewed as being all that prestigious of a tournament, although winning it does make a failed season appear more successful.  Let us note the final four teams for all of the years the CBI has taken place and see what sort of programs have been successful in it as a way of gauging its worth:

2008:  Tulsa (winner), Bradley (finalist), Virginia, Houston (semifinalists)
2009:  Oregon State (winner), UTEP (finalist), Richmond, Stanford (semifinalists)
2010:  Virginia Commonwealth (winner), St. Louis (finalist), Princeton, Boston U. (semifinalists)
2011:  Oregon (winner), Creighton (finalist), Boisie State, UCF (semifinalists)
2012:  Pittsburgh (winner), Washington State (finalist), Oregon State, Butler (semifinalists)
2013:  Santa Clara (winner), George Mason (finalist), Western Michigan, Wright State (semifinalists)
2014:  Siena (winner), Fresno State (finalist), Illinois State, Old Dominion (semifinalists)
2015:  Loyola-Chicago (winner), Louisiana-Monroe (finalist), Seattle, Vermont (semifinalists)
2016:  Nevada (winner), Morehead State (finalist), Ohio, Vermont (semifinalists)
2017:  Wyoming (winner), Coastal Carolina (finalist), Illinois-Chicago, Utah Valley (semifinalists)
2018:  North Texas (winner), San Francisco (finalist), Jacksonville State, Campbell (semifinalists)
2019:  South Florida (winner), DePaul (finalist), Coastal Carolina, Loyola Marymount (semifinalists)

Having provided a list of final four contenders, we can note that there have been no repeat champions of the tournament, and only a few teams (namely Oregon State, Vermont, and Coastal Carolina) which have ended up in the final four multiple times.  We also see a mix of mediocre teams from power conferences and teams from minor conferences represented among those who have performed well at this tournament:

2008:  Conference USA (2), Missouri Valley (1), Atlantic Coast (1)
2009:  Pac-12 (2), Conference USA (1), Atlantic 10 (1)
2010:  Colonial Athletic (1), Atlantic 10 (1), Ivy League (1), America East (1)
2011:  Pac-12 (1), Missouri Valley (1), Western Athletic (1), Conference USA (1)
2012:  Pac-12 (2), Big East (1), Horizon (1)
2013:  West Coast (1), Colonial Athletic (1), Mid-American (1), Horizon (1)
2014:  Metro Atlantic Athletic (1), Mountain West (1), Missouri Valley (1), Conference USA (1)
2015:  Missouri Valley (1), Sun Belt (1), Western Athletic (1), America East (1)
2016:  Mountain West (1), Ohio Valley (1), Mid-American (1), America East (1)
2017:  Mountain West (1), Sun Belt (1), Horizon (1), Western Athletic (1)
2018:  Conference USA (1), West Coast (1), Ohio Valley (1), Big South (1)
2019:  American (1), Big East (1), Sun Belt (1), West Coast (1)

From this we may note several patterns.  Only rarely has a team had more than one team end up in the CBI final four, with Conference USA doing it in 2008 and the Pac-12 doing it in 2009 and 2012, the last year in which we find teams from that conference participating in the tournament at all.  When we look at the rankings of overall conferences to have CBI final four teams, we end up with the following picture:

Conference USA (6)
Pac-12 (5)
Missouri Valley (4)
America East, Western Athletic, Horizon, West Coast, Mountain West, Sun Belt (3)
Atlantic 10, Colonial Athletic, Big East, Mid-American, Ohio Valley (2)
Atlantic Coast, Ivy League, Metro Atlantic Athletic, Big South, American (1)

So, what does a win in the CBI tournament mean?  Oregon State won the tournament in 2009 but refused to play in 2015.  Virginia Commonwealth won in 2010 but refused to play in 2018.  For several years, starting in 2013, we see a paucity of power conference teams performing well in the CBI until two such teams (South Florida and DePaul) made the finals this year.  Virginia’s place in the first CBI came before their consistent appearances in the NCAA tournament (they are in this year’s final four of that tournament as the lone surviving 1 seed), but Pitt’s championship in the CBI marked a precipitous decline in form to the point where it is now a doormat in the Atlantic Coast Conference and not a contender at all for the NCAA tournament or any other tournament for that matter.  Still other teams (like Coastal Carolina, Virginia Commonwealth, and Vermont) find themselves somewhere between CBI powerhouses and regular contenders for the NIT and NCAA as mid to low seeds depending on the season.  So what is a CBI worth?  The final is shown (this year) on ESPNU.  Whoever wins between South Florida and DePaul as a piece of hardware to show off for a championship season, and expectations are likely to be that the team should show improvement and play in a more prestigious tournament next year.  What’s that worth to you?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_College_Basketball_Invitational

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_College_Basketball_Invitational

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_College_Basketball_Invitational

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_College_Basketball_Invitational

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_College_Basketball_Invitational

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_College_Basketball_Invitational

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to The CBI For What It’s Worth

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    I don’t watch basketball or follow it at all, but hats off to USF! They make us proud.

  2. Catharine Martin says:

    I believe that it was mentioned on the sports part of the news one day, but it was not treated as a big deal. That is really sad because it truly was. USF has come a long way in is sports program, especially because it recruits honestly (as far as we know.) By the way, we are REALLY excited about the Lightning!!

    • Well, the Lightning did have the best record in the NHL this year, but success will be judged by how well they do in the Stanley Cup playoffs, I imagine. I’m not surprised that the CBI wasn’t considered as a big deal. Hardly anyone even knows about it, it seems.

  3. Catharine Martin says:

    The Lightning matched the all-time record for the most wins in an NHL season. No one can take that away from the record books. The other team holds this honor did not win the Stanley cup. I hope that our team will break that record. We lost the first post-season game, though. We’ll see how we do tonight…

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