The Washington Huskies may have been snubbed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, but they will be favorites to advance to the final four of the NIT.
College basketball's second-tier tournament gets underway way today, with the finals set for March 27th at Madison Square Garden.
Much like the Big Dance, the NIT regularly pits sharks against minnows, producing the potential for upsets and making it worthwhile to watch. Here are some bold predictions of who we can expect to see in the final four.
The Huskies (21-10, 14-4 Pac-12) were the Pac-12 regular-season champions, but a loss to Oregon State in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament knocked them out of the NCAA tourney.
In a year when the Pac-12 was down, the Huskies succeeded by playing hard off the glass. Their 40.3 rebounds per game was fifth best in the country. Aziz N’Diaye led the way with 7.6 per game.
Washington must feel it has something to prove after being left out of the NCAA Tournament and figures to be looking to exact revenge on their NIT opponents.
Miami (19-12, 9-7 ACC) has been on the NCAA bubble all season, but eventually it burst on Selection Sunday.
The football-first school had an impressive season under new head coach Jim Larranaga. The man who led George Mason to an improbable Final Four appearance in 2006 was not able to muster the same kind of magic in South Florida.
With a victory at Duke, he did have a notable win on his resume. But too many poor losses and being eliminated in the second round of the conference tournament was not impressive enough for the committee.
Larranaga has spent his career playing NIT-caliber teams and knows what it takes to not only beat them, but get his side up for the challenge.
Drexel (27-6, 16-2 CAA) was one of Joe Lunardi’s first four teams out and perhaps the biggest surprise not to make the tournament.
The CAA champions won a conference that is competitive in the NCAAs every year and is always primed to produce an upset or two.
The Dragons walked through their conference, suffering only two losses (both on the road) in the regular season. However, losing to last year’s NCAA darlings VCU in the final of the conference tournament sealed their fate.
No Dragon is happy that he will be spending his March in the NIT, and finding motivation may be difficult. But not even getting a No. 1 seed in this tournament may invigorate them.
Stanford (21-11, 10-8 Pac-12) was an OK team in a weak Pac-12, but the Cardinal impressed enough with a win over Arizona State in the conference tournament to earn a spot in the NIT.
Unlike the other teams I mentioned, Stanford probably had the NIT in its sights from early on. A very poor showing in the latter half of the Pac-12 schedule gave them little hope of making the NCAA Tournament.
Stanford will likely face Arizona on the way to the NIT final four, a team it lost to during the regular season. But you can expect the Wildcats to feel a bit less enthused about the matchup, giving Stanford the edge they need to prevail.
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