The 2011 Final 4 from Houston will not have a single No. 1 seed participating for just the third time since seeding began back in 1979. The other years were 1980 and 2006 with both of those Final 4s being held at Indianapolis (funny how that kind of stuff happens). Louisville (a No. 2 seed) beat an eighth-seeded UCLA in the 1980 title game with Iowa (5-seed) and Purdue (6-seed) joining them in Indianapolis that year. Florida (a No. 3 seed) won the first of its back-to-back national championships in 2006, also beating UCLA (there’s that symmetry again), the highest seed to make that year’s Final 4 as a No. 2 seed, joined by LSU (4-seed) and George Mason (11-seed).

So I guess the only two surprises about seeing No. 8 Butler vs No. 11 VCU in one semifinal game (the lowest combined seeds to ever meet in a national semifinal) plus No. 3 UConn vs No. 4 seed Kentucky in the other semifinal, are that this year’s Final 4 is NOT being played at Indianapolis and that UCLA is NOT one of the four teams, meaning the Bruins can’t be the loser in this year’s national championship game. As an 11-seed, VCU matches LSU (1986) and fellow CAA rival George Masson (2006), as the lowest-seeded schools to have ever advanced to a Final 4. While those two years saw the seeds up to 21 (in 1986) and 20 (in 2006), the Final 4 of 2000 featured Michigan St (1), Florida (5) and two 8-seeds (North Carolina and Wisconsin) for a total of 22. This year’s group, tops that with a total of 26. I’ll have much more on this year’s Final 4 come Thursday.

Much like the Nationwide Tour plays each week in the shadow of the PGA Tour the CBI, CIT and NIT tournaments have been playing in the shadow of the “Big Dance” these last two weeks. All three will crown champions this week, before this year’s NCAA Final 4 teams even take the court at Reliant Stadium in Houston on Saturday. The College Basketball Invitational’s inaugural tournament occurred after the conclusion of the 2007–08 regular season. It’s a 16-team field, single elimination tourney with games on the home court of the higher seeded team until the championship, which is determined by a best two-out-of-three format. Tulsa won in 2008, Oregon State in 2009 and VCU (ever heard of them?) won in 2010. This year’s best-of-three championship opens Monday night with Oregon playing at Creighton. Game 2 will be played in Eugene on Wednesday and if necessary, Game 3 will be back in Omaha on Friday.

My favorite line is “you can’t make it up” and it surely applies here. Dana Altman spent 16 years as Creighton’s head coach, leading the Blue Jays to 11 consecutive 20-win seasons from 1999 through 2009 which included seven NCAA bids. He left Creighton after an 18-16 season in 2009-10 and took the job at Oregon. The Ducks struggled all season finishing tied for 7th in the Pac 10 at 7-11. However, Oregon won twice in the Pac 10 tourney, including a 76-59 upset of UCLA. The Ducks lost 69-51 to Washington in the Pac 10 semifinals to finish 16-17 this year but have won three straight home games in the CBI to advance to the championship round. It’s reminiscent of Oregon State’s 2009 run when the Beavers also finished 7-11 in the Pac 10 but got a CBI bid despite their 13-17 record. Those Beavers won three straight home games (two in OT) to reach the championship round and then won Games 1 and 3 of the championship series to take the CBI title.

So of all schools, which one does Altman meet in this year’s CBI championship round? Naturally, Creighton. Greg McDermott took over for Altman at Creighton this season. After five years as Northern Iowa’s head coach (2002-06), the last three resulting in NCAA appearances, McDermott got the job at Iowa St (2007-10) but didn’t produce a single winning season (59-68, overall). However, he brought along his 6-7 son with him to Omaha and the freshman has averaged 15.0 PPG and 7.6 RPG (24.3-7.3 in CBI tourney games). Creighton owns a pretty fair history with 16 NCAA appearances as well as 10 NITs. However, the Blue Jays don’t own a single postseason title and now have a chance at one in the CBI, taking a 22-14 record into Monday’s first game. Oregon won the first-ever NCAA tourney back in 1939 but has never made it back to the NCAA’s Final 4, since. The Ducks have made nine NIT appearances, twice making that tourney’s Final 4 (1975 & 1999) but a win in this championship series would be the school’s first postseason tournament title since winning the first-ever NCAA championship back in 1939.

The NIT started in 1938 and pre-dates the NCAA tournament by one year. The first National Invitation Tournament was won by the Temple, besting Colorado, one of four schools in this year’s Final 4. The tournament originally consisted of only six teams, later expanding to eight teams in 1941, 12 teams in 1949, 14 teams in 1965, 16 teams in 1968, 24 teams in 1979, 32 teams in 1980, 40 teams from 2002 through 2005 and 64 teams in 2006. The tournament reverted to 32 teams in 2007. The tournament was originally played entirely at Madison Square Garden in New York. The opening rounds of the tournament were moved from New York to campus sites in 1977 with MSG reserved for only the semifinals and the finals.

St John’s owns six all-time NIT titles, Bradley has won four times and last year’s champs (Dayton), owns three wins. This year’s Final 4 consists of two No. 1 seeds, Alabama and Colorado plus Wichita State (a 4-seed) and Washington State (a 2-seed). Both Alabama (24-11) and Colorado (24-13) were schools which many felt got snubbed by the NCAA selection committee but because both are on the same side of the brackets, will meet in Tuesday’s semis with Wichita St (27-8) and Washington St (22-12) meeting in the other semifinal game. Alabama is making its 11th NIT appearance and has reached the tourney’s Final 4 for the sixth time, still searching for its first title. The Crimson Tide have made the championship game just one previous time, losing in 2001 to Tulsa. As I mentioned earlier, Colorado lost in the first-ever NIT championship game to Temple but then won this tourney in 1940, beating Duquesne, 51-40. The Buffs have made six NIT appearances since 1940 but own just one previous Final 4 appearance, losing in the semis in 1991. Alabama completed its season with a school-best 19-0 home record while Colorado was 18-2 in Boulder this year. A neutral-site contest will be interesting.

Wichita St is the lowest seed to make it to MSG in this year’s NIT. The Shockers have made eight all-time NCAA appearances, reaching the 1965 Final 4 led by Dave Stallworth (NY Knick fans will remember him). This marks the school’s 11th NIT appearance but this year is the first time the Shockers have made the final-four. Awaiting Wichita St is another school which goes by WSU, the Washington St Cougars. The Cougars are led by Klay Thompson (22.0-5.3-3.8), son of former NBA player Mychal Thompson. The Cougars hardly own a rich basketball history with just six previous NCAA appearances, although the Cougars were the runners-up to Wisconsin in the 1941 championship game. Washington State is playing in just its fifth NIT and this year is its first-ever Final 4. The NIT championship game will be played on Thursday with the winner of Alabama/Colorado taking on the winner of Washington St/Wichita St.

The 2010-11 season features the third annual postseason tournament. It was originally a 16-team tourney like the CBI but this year’s event invited 24 teams. The CIT handed out bids this year before the NCAA tournament bids were announced, as the tourney looks to compete with the CBI and NIT for teams. Teams were seeded and games played on campus sites of the higher seed with a single-elimination format. In a new ‘twist’ this year, four of the 12 first-round winners were given byes into the quarterfinals while the other eight teams met with the four winners joining the teams with byes. Old Dominion won the inaugural tourney in 2009 with a 66-62 win at Bradley and Missouri St won 78-65 at home in 2010 over Pacific. The CIT championship game is set for Wednesday with Iona (25-11), the highest seed remaining, hosting Santa Clara (23-14). Iona’s made quite a turnaround in a short time. In Jeff Ruland’s final season (2006-07), the Gaels were 2-28 (1-17 in MAAC play). However, Kevin Willard, after back-to-back 12-win seasons, went 21-10 last year and now is a home win away from the school’s first-ever postseason title. As for Santa Clara, the Broncos went 11-21 last year but have more than doubled their win total this season. Like the Gaels, the Broncos are looking for the school’s first-ever postseason title.

Good luck...Larry