March Madness is not a sporting event, it's a cultural staple of Western civilization.
It's no surprise, then, that the NIT is often forgotten amongst the squalor of the NCAA tournament. The NIT is still March tournament play, however and it still offers bragging rights for the winning team.
On Monday, 2nd-round play commenced with 14 teams squaring off in various arenas across the country.
If you were hoping for a batch of close, grind-it-out affairs, then the NIT on Monday was not for you, as four of the seven games were decided by at least 18 points.
In Pittsburgh, the hometown Pitt Panthers laid waste to the Princeton Tigers, 82-61. Pitt might have been the most underachieving team in the Big East this season, but on Monday, Lamar Patterson and Nasir Robinson led the Panthers en route to shooting an amazing 52.30% from the field.
The biggest difference might have been the team effort put forth by the Panthers, who had five players in double digits compared to Princeton's two.
The Ivy leaguers simply got shot out of the gym.
It was a similar scene out West in Corvallis, Oregon as Oregon State took care of TCU 101-81. The Beavers shot absolutely lights out from the field and were just as good from long range, landing 53.80% of their three-pointers.
Guard Jared Cunningham, obviously not feeling the love for the state of Texas, scorched the Horned Frogs for 27 points and hit 10-12 shots from the field. He also had help from 6'8" forward Devin Collier who seemed to have a little bit of fun running the floor.
Of course, the celebration should be short lived as Oregon State now goes on to face Washington State in the semi-finals. Washington State split with the Beavers in the regular season, and it doesn't appear as if they'll let off the gas after beating Wyoming by 20 on Monday.
6'10" Forward Brock Motum simply owned the game by chipping in a game-high 25 points and seven rebounds. He was simply dominant in the front court, proving that Australians truly do know how to play down under.
Coral Gables was the sight of the last blowout of the day as Tubby Smith's Minnesota squad took care of business against Jim Larranaga and Miami, winning 78-60.
Miami did itself no favors by going scoreless for the first 6:15 of the game. It was a lethargic jump off the block that the U could never quite recover from. Credit horrible shooting too as Rich Brown and the 'Canes shot a dreadful 34% from the floor.
Minnesota was led by junior forward Rodney Williams, who scored well above his season average for points by leading all scorers with 21 while pulling down five boards.
It's certainly a quality win for Minnesota, a team who only managed six wins in a loaded Big 10 conference this season.
Remember I mentioned a few of the other games were closer?
Stanford took its home court against Illinois State in the NIT quarterfinals in what would turn into an overtime affair.
Illinois State went punch-for-punch with the Cardinal led by Nic Moore's career-high 25 points. It was the Redbirds third consecutive overtime game, and if there were an NIT award for "most pesky 2012" it would certainly go to Illinois State.
For Stanford, though, the difference was sophomore guard Aaron Bright, who shot lights out on a career day punctuated by 29 points and 6-7 shooting from behind the arc.
It's a sign of big things to come from Bright, who only averaged 10 points all season. For Illinois, it was a dagger to a season defined by close wins.
Back East, recent tournament darlings Butler held off Penn 63-53 in front of a crowd of just over 3,000.
While Stanford and Illinois State was a nail-biter, the crowd in Philly was treated a slop-fest between members of the Horizon and Ivy leagues.
Neither team shot above 37% from the floor, and the only real deciding factor was the disparity in rebounding, which fell in Butler's favor as they out-boarded Penn 58-34.
It will be interesting to see how Butler fares against Pittsburgh tomorrow night, as the Panthers have a distinct edge in depth and athleticism.
Hopefully for Butler, its shooting woes were only temporary and won't follow them on the court against Ashton Gibbs and the Panthers.
Last and certainly not least, we have Middle Tennessee State tallying the upset over top-seeded Tennessee on the Vols' home court in Knoxville.
It's been tough times in Rocky Top over the last several years, and improvement is still hard to come by under new head coach Cuonzo Martin.
Guard Bruce Massey posted a double-double on a career day against a Volunteers squad who shot a laughable 7% from behind the arc.
When Tennessee did finally decide to work the front court with big-man Jeronne Maymon, they were able to build to an eight-point lead.
It wasn't to be, though, as MTSU was relentless in keeping Tennessee away from the basket and forced them back outside where they weren't able to get anything to land.
MTSU ended the game on a 15-0 run that had the folks in Murfreesboro reveling in the fact that "big brother" Tennessee had to head back to Knoxville on a low note.
The NIT, for those of you who are suffering through bracket-induced paralysis, has been fun to watch this year.
There has been a good balance of blow outs and hard-fought contests.
It may play second fiddle to March Madness in many respects, but it's tournament basketball nonetheless and, for the teams competing in it, it's every bit as big as the NCAA's.
Either way, we can all agree that March is a great time of year.
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