Some things running through my mind...
Keith Dambrot called a postseason appearance imperative. He's actually said it a few times this year. I wonder what repercussions he foresaw if Akron got snubbed again.
Clearly, it would have demoralized the players who worked so hard to win 23 games. Next season, once it appears Akron won't win 27 or 28 games, the coaches would find it harder to motivate the team. In essence, the season would come down to the MAC Tournament. Everything before the tournament only serves the purpose of getting a first-round bye in that tournament.
It probably would have affected recruiting, too. Zeke Marshall has the attention of the nation's heaviest hitters. Rivals.com featured the 7-footer as one of the 2009 class' most intriguing players. He has visited Rhodes Arena at least once. A second-straight snub, and you can bet Pitt's Jamie Dixon would be whispering in his ear, "Zeke, why waste your time with Akron? You have no shot to do anything special there."
As for Florida State, this won't be a team that overlooks the NIT. The Seminoles are frequent participants in the tournament. They typically play well. Last year, they dispatched Toledo and Michigan before losing in the quarterfinals to Mississippi State. I will break down the opponent tomorrow.
Akron's program is still building to the level of elite mid-major (which I think we all can agree Kent State has reached with 20 wins in the past 10 seasons). That will make the Zips extra pumped to advance to Madison Square Garden for the quarterfinals. [Click here for the bracket.] There is an even earlier light in the tunnel because a win Tuesday gives the Zips a potential home game against Stephen F. Austin. (I promise to limit myself to three "Stone Cold" references if that happens.)
That said, the NIT is a little anticlimactic. The Zips reached the MAC Championship and lost. Usually, that's where your movie or novel concludes.
Some people are calling Dambrot a bad coach. I can't think of a greater fiction without popping in a Michael Moore documentary. If that's the case, there must be only one good coach in the conference -- Jim Christian. Charlie Coles? No. Tim O'Shea? No. Steve Hawkins? No.
Everyone in MAC Land thought Dambrot struck dumb luck by finding Romeo Travis and Dru Joyce. But once those two players were gone, Akron would return to the tank. That didn't happen. They will predict the same thing next fall, too.
Zips fans are faulting Dambrot for not having a good gameplan for beating Kent State. Well, Christian must not have had a good gameplan last year for beating Akron. The more plausible reality is that KENT STATE WAS A BETTER TEAM. Akron had a good strategy for Al Fisher, but Haminn Quaintance, Jordan Mincy and Mike Scott are talented, athletic, smart basketball players. (Yes, despite his demeanor, I believe "Q" has tons of basketball IQ.)
As a fan, it's easy to overreact when unreasonable expectations don't come to fruition. Akron is like any other school in that sense. Just remember, only one team from the conference goes to the NCAA Tournament. It doesn't make you a bad coach or bad player to be part of one of the other 11. If Dambrot swings and misses at the Dance floor for an entire decade, then you start to question his methods.
Dambrot is a gracious winner and an even better loser. For example, an arrogant reporter asked Dambrot a leading trap question during the postgame press conference Sunday. Everyone would have understood if Dambrot unleashed on the young man. Rather, he showed incredible temperance, and he even apologized for asking a rhetorical question in response.
Before you criticize, understand that Dambrot is winning A LOT of games and improving the program every year. He is a superb ambassador for the university. The bottom line is, this program isn't worth a CBI bid without Keith Dambrot.