NIT 2013: Contenders That Will Be Dancing Come 2014

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVMarch 18, 2013

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 16:  Alex Len #25 of the Maryland Terrapins goes up for a dunk against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the semifinals of the Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 16, 2013 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Many college basketball fans will scoff at the National Invitational Tournament and its second-place status behind the NCAA tournament, but there are plenty of teams in the NIT field who'll make the jump to the Big Dance come next season.

With a select number of at-large bids, only so many teams can get into the NCAA tournament. This always results in a handful of very formidable teams featuring in the NIT field. 

This year is no different, with even the defending NCAA tournament champion in the field of 32. 

Let's take a look at teams who'll be dancing in 2013-14 after a disappointing NIT placement this season. 


Kentucky Wildcats

No, really? 

Nobody could have predicted John Calipari's squad of top-rated recruits would finish outside the tournament's field of 68, but it happened. Although, I wouldn't count on a repeat anytime soon.

If Nerlens Noel doesn't tear his ACL, the Cats are an obvious tournament team and one that many pick as a sleeper. In most Calipari seasons, his team would overcome such an injury, but for whatever reason this year's squad hasn't jelled the way we all expected.

Don't think for a second that this is the fall of an empire, though. 247Sports says that the Wildcats have already secured five of the nation's top 20 recruits as well as the 64th-ranked player in the nation.

Not time nor bad fortune can keep the mighty Kentucky Wildcats down for long. They'll be one of the nation's elite teams in 2013-14.


Maryland Terrapins

The Terps were one of the teams that I thought got snubbed on Selection Sunday, and they'll take out their anger on the NIT field. 

Maryland possesses a strong offense, averaging 71 points per game, and has been hot lately. The Terps took down Duke in the ACC conference tournament and nearly did the same to North Carolina.

They also have a lot to look forward to for next season. Wing man Dez Wells has emerged as the team's go-to guy, averaging 19 points per game in March. 

Plus, 7'1" center Alex Len joins Wells as a sophomore, meaning this team is only getting better as its best two players continue to develop.

Put down the Terrapins as a surprise team in the ACC next year and a sure-fire bet to make the Big Dance.


Tennessee Volunteers

The Vols got hot late in the season, but it wasn't enough to erase a slow start and offensive problems. But to say this team will be much-improved in 2013-14 would be an understatement.

Senior-to-be Jordan McRae, who garnered first-team All-SEC honors and nearly notched the conference player of the year award, gives Tennessee a unique talent that can put the ball in the hoop.

Next year, he'll have company. Consensus top-15 recruit Robert Hubbs (second-rated shooting guard by 247Sports) is heading to Knoxville and will have an immediate impact as one of the team's marquee players. 

Former top-recruit Jarnell Stokes hasn't done enough to earn a first-round NBA draft status, so he'll likely stay for his junior season. Stokes was the only SEC player to average a double-double in conference play, and his ability to clean up the boards will allow the Vols to emerge as one of the conference's best teams.

If Cuonzo Martin's team can avoid starting out slow and keep from losing to average teams on the road, the Vols should have no problem securing a solid tournament bid next season. 


As you follow the NIT in the coming days and weeks, don't forget about the NCAA tournament!

- Fill out your brackets by hand with our Printable PDF

- Keep up to date with our always-fresh Live Bracket

- Make your picks for the 2013 NCAA tournament here with the Bracket Challenge Game