NIT Tournament Bracket 2013: Underrated Teams That Have Best Path to Title Run

John RozumCorrespondent IMarch 18, 2013

Mar 12, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Providence Friars guard Bryce Cotton (11) shoots the ball as Cincinnati Bearcats forward Jermaine Sanders (15) defends during the second half at the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Don't lose sight of the talent residing in the NIT tournament bracket, because fairing well here in 2013 only adds confidence for a team next season.

The ultimate result of a sleeper winning this tournament makes for a strong lead into recruiting and builds experience. In short, qualifying for the Big Dance next spring.

To that end, let's check out underrated teams with a favorable path to winning this years' NIT.



Providence, Region 1

Going 9-9 in the Big East this year, Providence collected some nice wins over Notre Dame, Cincinnati and Villanova (twice).

These games, and competing in the Big East, make the Friars a tough contender for the NIT championship. Round 1 opponent Charlotte played a weak schedule by comparison and will be out-rebounded.

Kentucky is the next likely opponent, but the Wildcats underachieved in a shallow SEC and haven't won away from home since early February. With the ability to dish the rock around and generate some turnovers, the Friars have the talent to bring home the NIT title.



Louisiana Tech, Region 2

Easily one of the best teams to not make the NCAA tournament, Louisiana Tech finished 26-6 and tied for first in the WAC for conference record.

Unfortunately, the Bulldogs dropped their final three regular season contests and couldn't win the conference tournament. Nevertheless, this team has the offensive prowess to push the pace and at the same time, force many turnovers.

Squaring off versus Florida State in Round 1, the Seminoles are uncharacteristically suspect defensively and struggle with a consistent offense. Despite facing a strong regular season schedule, the 'Noles don't match up well against Tech's scoring.

Elsewhere No. 1 seed Southern Miss is also a winnable game. The Bulldogs are just as solid defensively and are capable of matching the Golden Eagles offensively.



Stephen F. Austin, Region 3

Stephen F. Austin possessed one of the best defenses in college basketball this season. Ranking No. 1 in points allowed (51.8), the Lumberjacks also ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency.

Finishing with a 27-4 record, Austin won the Southland conference regular season but was upset in the tournament. So, the Lumberjacks get Stanford of the Pac-12 in the NIT and a win likely pits them vs. No. 1 seeded Alabama.

The Cardinal can definitely score to up the tempo, but Austin's defense and efficient offense will capitalize on Stanford's inability to pass consistently and create open shots.

As for the Tide, Alabama has the defense to equal the Lumberjacks. Unfortunately, Stephen F. Austin is also much better at generating turnovers and connecting on buckets when needed.

Saint Joseph's, Region 4

Saint Joseph's finished 18-13 in a sneaky tough Atlantic 10 conference that sported seven schools with 20-plus victories.

The Hawks even scored wins over Notre Dame and Harvard, while also playing tough against Butler and VCU. Presenting a solid defense, Saint Joe's has the advantage over a St. John's team that isn't technically sound on offense.

As a result, the Hawks will slow down the Red Storm and drop shots more efficiently. Elsewhere in their bracket, No. 1 seed Virginia looks difficult. The Cavaliers are strong defensively, but weaker offensively and that plays to Saint Joesph's favor.

The matchup will allow the Hawks to find scoring opportunities via turnovers and control the clock. The record may not show it, but the Hawks have the battle-tested schedule to win the NIT.