As March draws to an end, we are preparing for the end of one of basketball's greatest and most enjoyable tournaments.
That's right, the championship final for the NIT is tonight and excitement is everywhere. This game will, after all, determine the best of the mediocre.
The No. 3 seeded Stanford will face the No. 6 seeded Minnesota for the NIT title. Joke about it as much as you want, but any team that gets into the NIT takes it very seriously. In a lot of ways, it is a chance to show the selection committee how wrong they really were.
Before the next NIT champion is crowned, let's take a look at some of the highlights from this year's tourney. There have been some impressive outcomes, wire-to-wire overtime finishes, and some dominating performances. Here are my picks for the most impressive game of each NIT round.
No. 5 Massachusetts 101, No. 4 Mississippi State 96 (2 OT)
This double overtime game became an instant NIT classic. It was a back and forth matchup between two evenly matched teams. The Minutemen prevailed after outscoring the Bulldogs 11-6 in the second overtime.
Sophomore guard Chaz Williams led the Minutemen with 28 points and senior Sean Carter poured in 20. Williams' standout night was even more impressive given the fact that he suffered an injury to his left knee yet somehow gutted through the rest of the game without coming off the court.
But the best player of the game might actually have been on the losing side. Junior Arnett Moultrie led Mississippi State with 34 points, six rebounds, and three assists.
Massachusetts' tourney run went all the way to the semifinals, where they were beaten 74-64 by Stanford.
No. 1 Washington 76, No. 4 Northwestern 55
This game featured two teams that were possible bracket busters all the way till Selection Sunday. This game made it clear who was the better team. Washington's 21 point win was one of the few blowouts in this year's NIT.
Huskies sophomore, Terrence Ross led Washington with a career-high 32 points as Northwestern had no answer for the young guard.
Ross put the game out of reach at the start of the second half, leading a 13-4 run where he poured in three of his six three-pointers.
Washington played with a chip on their shoulders throughout the NIT, as they were the first team to win a regular season title in a power conference and still get left out of the NCAA tournament. Their motivation carried them to the semifinals where it was not enough to get past Minnesota, as the Huskies fell short by one point.
No. 3 Stanford 84, No. 5. Nevada 56
Stanford has been as good as any team during the NIT. With the exception of an overtime thriller against Illinois State, Stanford has easily taken care of business on their run to the NIT Championship. There was perhaps no win that was more impressive than Stanford's 84-56 trouncing of Nevada in the quarterfinals.
No. 6 Minnesota 68, No. 1 Washington 67 (OT)
Minnesota proved yet again that they know how to close out tight games, winning their third overtime game of the season. This time freshman guard, Andre Hollins was the hero as he scored 20 points including five of Minnesota's seven in overtime.
Their NIT run has been a bittersweet end to a disappointing 2011 campaign. The Golden Gophers failed to make the NCAA tournament after they dropped six straight games late in the regular season.
Minnesota managed to put away the number one seeded Huskies despite turning the ball over 21 times and failing to contain Terrence Ross who again paced Washington with 21 points.
The NIT Championship will tip-off at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
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