While the NIT tournament is seen now as a curse for teams that didn't receive a bid to the NCAA tournament, that's not the way the 32 teams that will compete for a shot to play in Madison Square Garden see it.
A tournament bid is a tournament bid, and fortunately these teams have more games to play instead of having to sit home and watch the 68-teams that will participate in the bigger grouping all over the United States.
The field is littered with talent, from freshman-laden No. 1 Kentucky to clutch performer Michael Snaer and No. 4 Florida State, back around to No. 2 Maryland and future NBA center Alex Len.
It might not be the tournament these teams wanted to play in, but it's time to make the best of it.
Not only do these squads have a chance to take a trophy back to their respective cases, they also have a chance to get to Madison Square Garden and the NIT Final Four—a stadium widely regarded as the basketball Mecca of the entire world.
When the action in March Madness and the NCAA tournament slows down, don't hesitate to flip over to ESPN's family of networks and check in on the teams that just missed the cut for the Big Dance. The tournament might not hold as much luster, but the kind of talent that could be gracing New York City in early April is enough to keep you engaged and interested in the potential 2013 champion.
Print out your PDF of the 2013 NIT bracket right here to check out which teams and matchups you like in the NIT tournament.
No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 1 Virginia
Virginia got a No. 1 seed in the lower right half of the NIT bracket, and Maryland drew a No. 2 seed in the upper right portion of this year's draw. The two ACC rivals played twice this season in conference play—both Virginia wins.
However, Mark Turgeon's Terps are playing their best basketball of the season after faltering (8-10) in ACC conference play. Maryland lost some key games that kept it out of March Madness (Boston College, Georgia Tech) but also beat NCAA tournament No. 2 seed Duke twice, including an ACC tournament upset over the weekend.
Virginia also just missed out on the other tournament, as a first-round loss in the ACC tournament sealed their fate in the NIT pool. However, the Cavaliers also boast a win over Duke this season and have a scorer (junior guard Joe Harris) that is really turning some heads around the country with his 43 percent shooting from three-point land.
The last time these two teams met, the game went into overtime. Virginia pulled it out, 61-58, in a thrilling game that saw the Cavs storm back from as much as a 17-point deficit to force OT. Akil Mitchell and Harris led the way for the Cavs, while Dez Wells had 12 points in that game and missed a game-tying three at the end of the game.
If you like seeing rivals square off in a heated contest, this could be a matchup you root for. Wells and Len lead a talented yet inconsistent squad into battle, while Harris (6'6", 223 pounds) could very well make a case for NBA scouts with another strong performance in a big moment.
No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 2 Tennessee
Call this the "underachiever" game.
Baylor and Tennessee both had a chance to win their conference tournament (Big 12 and SEC). Baylor came in riding a wave of emotion after beating Kansas to close out the regular season, but five losses in six games before that sealed its fate of having to win in Kansas City to make the Big Dance.
The Bears are also overflowing with talent. Guard Pierre Jackson (19.8 points per game) is in his senior season in Waco, and doing everything he can to help younger talent Deuce Bello, Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin pick up the learning curve enough to put a four-game winning streak together this month.
Don't sleep on Brady Heslip, either, the Canadian three-point ace that shoots the ball with no hesitation.
Like Baylor, Tennessee has explosive talent at both the guard and post positions. Jordan McRae had a 35-point game earlier this season against Georgia, and eclipsed the 20-point mark in five-straight games down the stretch as Tennessee made a serious push at an NCAA tournament at-large berth.
McRae leads the Vols in scoring at over 16 points per game, and his running mate—stud post-man Jarnell Stokes—is a double-double machine that can take over a game on the low block. Between the two, teams in the NIT are going to have their hands full.
If these two teams can survive the opening rounds and make it to MSG, get ready for a slug fest. Poor shot selection and not being able to close out games cost both of these groups an NCAA tournament bid. The talent that each brings to the table would make for an exciting game in New York City, though, and one that would remind us how disappointing it was that neither reached their true potential this season.
No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 1 Southern Mississippi
Kentucky sealed its fate with a disappointing showing against Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament. When only one of your starters hits more than two shots from the field, it isn't going to be a fun day on the court.
However, from a talent perspective, no one has more of it than Kentucky. The Wildcats boast stud guard Archie Griffin, forward Alex Poythress and center Willie Cauley-Stein—three guys that could be taken in the first round of the 2013 NBA draft.
Unlike the 2012 title team, Kentucky was plagued by inexperience and an an inability to be efficient on offense all year long. Studs Poythress and Griffin have had up-and-down years, and the loss of center Nerlens Noel on the inside hurt the defense enough to cost this team a Big Dance bid.
If Kentucky does make it to MSG, standing in its way could be a fellow No. 1 seed—Southern Mississippi. It's a name that John Calipari and company would be dreading to hear, largely in part because the Golden Eagles can score with any team in the nation.
Led by Dwayne Davis (16.4 points, 43.8 percent shooting from three) the Eagles have six guys that average at least eight points. Davis and Neil Watson both shoot over 43 percent from the outside, and Southern Miss has put up at least 85 points eight times this season.
It has hit the century mark (135 and 102) twice, while beating NCAA tournament team Western Kentucky and playing three others (Arizona, Wichita State and Memphis thrice) to close games.
Simply put, Kentucky would have to dig in against Southern Miss, which is susceptible to the close game. However, if Davis and the boys get loose at MSG—look out. A matchup between these two No. 1 seeds isn't exactly what fans have been dying to see all season, but upon a closer look it's easy to see that Southern Miss has the talent and pedigree to get to the Final Four.
We'll see how this tournament shakes out over the next three weeks, but don't be surprised if any of these six teams make it to New York City. All 32 squads have a chip on their shoulder, and will be itching to prove that the NCAA snub wasn't warranted with an NIT championship.
NCAA Tournament fans: Stay up-to-date with March Madness by following along with the live tournament bracket, and by printing out a PDF of this year's draw. Make your picks for the 2013 NCAA Tournament here with the Bracket Challenge Game.
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