Would you rather win the NIT or lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament?
Like any good Political Science major, I reject the premise of the question. Obviously, making the Tournament (and having a shot, albeit a long one, to win the National Championship) is preferable to playing in the NIT. Regardless of your situation, however, the objective is to win basketball games.
I completely agree with some of Bryan's comments in the previous posts. This season has been disappointing and I find it unacceptable to be playing in the NIT this year. However, we've been over this already. Failing to meet your expectations is no reason to quit on the season while there is still basketball to be played.
While I certainly would rather be in the NCAA Tournament, I'll take a trip to the NIT Final Four over the kind of effort we saw in 2005. That team embarrassed itself and the University by mailing it in against the regular season champ of a terrible conference. Holy Cross' best prior victory? Boston University in the first game of the year. Led by Chris Thomas, that squad underachieved and then just threw in the towel. I'm definitely glad we have not seen that.
Instead, this team is attempting to turn a very negative campaign into something somewhat worthwhile. While an NIT championship would not make up for a seven game losing streak, a 26 point drubbing to UCLA, or having to watch a top ten team play itself out of the Tournament, it would provide a soft landing for a program that keeps trying to take off to an elite status. Whereas 2005 threatened to set the program back a step or two (Chris Quinn's leadership in 2006 really kept things from spiraling downward), 2009 has the opportunity to make sure that the current disappointment does not turn into an extra year or two of underachieving.
No one's happy with playing in this tournament, but while the players keep competing they deserve our support. No matter the outcome, big demands should be made to ensure that the Irish move forward next season and do not face this kind of year again. However, the players (and yes, even Coach Brey) should be given some credit for the dedication they have shown and willingness to compete, even in the face of such disappointment.
It's a long-winded answer to a seemingly simple question, but my conclusion is this: making the NCAA Tournament is always preferable to the NIT, but once you're there 3-0 is a hell of a lot better than 0-1.