NIT Tournament 2013: Ranking Top Contenders in Postseason Tourney
While the NIT doesn't receive the same type of attention as the NCAA Tournament, there's plenty of star power in the event this season. The NIT will benefit from down seasons at some big-name programs, with the most notable being Kentucky.
Also, the secondary tournament actually benefits from having fewer teams because the matchups are good across the board right away. Since there should only be a few, if any, blowouts in the opening round, the intrigue level should be high.
It's an exciting time around college basketball regardless of what tournament you look at. So let's examine the top contenders heading into the NIT. To get a complete look at the bracket, visit the NCAA's official site.
How far will the Wildcats advance?
1. Kentucky Wildcats
Just when it looked like the Wildcats were getting hot at the right time to earn an NCAA berth, they dropped three of their last four games to fall out of contention. Now the defending national champions must regroup quickly to prepare for the NIT instead.
If they can get over that disappointment, they definitely have the talent necessary to win it. Even without Nerlens Noel, the Wildcats have plenty of scoring depth led by Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress, who will team up with Willie Cauley-Stein to protect the paint without Noel.
The biggest key is the motivation factor. For a team that entered the season with plenty of hype, getting mentally prepared for the NIT won't be easy. But winning it is the only way to salvage an otherwise forgettable season, and that's the message John Calipari should send to his young group.
2. Tennessee Volunteers
The Volunteers weren't even on the NCAA Tournament radar in early February; then they won nine of their next 10 to get back into contention. A loss to Alabama in the SEC Tournament brought an end to that momentum, though.
Still, they enter the NIT as one of the hottest teams. That run should also give them confidence, even though it didn't help them reach the ultimate goal. It starts with Jordan McRae, who's scored 30 points twice in his last eight games, and continues throughout the roster.
In order to run the table, the Volunteers must have a second scorer emerge. Whether it's Trae Golden or Jarnell Stokes, somebody needs to help McRae carry the offensive load. If that happens, Tennessee should be good enough defensively to make a deep run.
3. Virginia Cavaliers
There are two things working in Virginia's favor. Most important is the dynamic duo of Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, who combined to average over 30 points per game. Having two players who can take over offensively is key in postseason tourneys.
The other factor favoring the Cavaliers is their combination of pace and defense. Since they prefer to play extremely slow and can lock down teams on the defensive end, every opponent who enters the game knows it's going to be a grind. That's a mental advantage.
The only reason Virginia isn't atop the list is concern about its depth. Harris and Mitchell are a strong top two, but if one of them gets into foul trouble, it's tough to pinpoint anybody who would be able to fill the scoring void. If the Cavaliers can avoid that pitfall, they will be in great shape.
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