NIT 2013: Stars Who Will Shine Brightest

Maxwell OgdenCorrespondent IIIMarch 18, 2013

NIT 2013: Stars Who Will Shine Brightest

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    As the NCAA tournament takes center stage, the NIT has found a way to slip in and steal some headlines. While these teams may not be competing for an NCAA championship, the National Invitation Tournament is prestigious in its own right.

    So which stars will shine the brightest under the NIT's bright lights?

    Some teams were snubbed from the NCAA tournament and are looking to make a statement while piggybacking on their star. Others were not tournament worthy, but their leader is a world-class player.

    Who should we be watching in the NIT? Let's find out.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Position: Point Guard

    Class: Freshman

    2012-13 Season Averages

    19.64 PER, 37.2 MPG, 18.3 PPG, 5.0 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.2 SPG

     

    How important is freshman Jahii Carson to the 21-12 Arizona State Sun Devils? Check the numbers.

    Carson is averaging 37.2 minutes per contest out of a possible 40. Furthermore, he also leads the team in scoring and assists

    It's no coincidence that they've gone from 10-21 without Carson to 21-12 with him.

    Expect Carson to shine during the NIT. The fact that he's in line to play two star point guards and a star-studded team could bode well for his draft stock.

    In the first round, Carson will play Ray McCallum and the Detroit Titans. If ASU wins, Carson could play Pierre Jackson of the Baylor Bears in the second round.

    That sets up a potential showdown against the Kentucky Wildcats—the perfect way for Carson to build his draft stock and shine as bright as any in the NIT.

D.J. Cooper, Ohio Bobcats

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    Position: Point Guard

    Class: Senior

    2012-13 Season Averages

    22.64 PER, 14.1 PPG, 7.2 APG, 3.2 RPG, 2.1 SPG

     

    D.J. Cooper is one of the most well-rounded players in the nation. He's a scoring machine, a facilitating maestro and a defensive menace if you're sloppy with the ball.

    All bottled into one is the player who led the Ohio Bobcats to the Sweet 16 in 2012—so why can't he push the team to another improbable run in 2013?

    Cooper is the life source for an Ohio team that finished the season at 24-9 overall and 14-2 in the MAC. That was on full display when Cooper posted 12 points and 17 assists in a 94-57 win over Marshall on Jan. 27.

    It was also on display when Cooper went scoreless in the MAC championship game and Ohio lost by 19.

    Cooper will step up in the NIT and lead the Bobcats to yet another run of postseason success. The only question is, how far can they go?

    With Cooper's leadingship, the sky is the limit for Ohio.

Dwayne Davis, Southern Miss Golden Eagles

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    Position: Guard/Forward

    Class: Senior

    2012-13 Season Averages

    22.30 PER, 16.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, 43.8% 3PT

     

    The Southern Miss Golden Eagles may just be the most underrated team in the nation. They're an elite offensive team that finished 11th in field-goal percentage and went 25-9 before losing in double-overtime during the Conference USA championship game.

    Their leader is swingman Dwayne Davis.

    Davis does it all for the team, most specifically as a scorer. Davis is averaging 16.4 points per game on the season and doing so on a slash line of .497/.438/.800.

    It doesn't hurt that Davis is also averaging 4.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.2 steals.

    This well-rounded performance sums up Davis' general quality of play. He'll find a way to contribute in every facet of the game and ultimately step up late when Southern Miss needs him most.

    A coming out party could be on the horizon for Davis and the Golden Eagles.

Joe Harris, Virginia Cavaliers

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Class: Junior

    2012-13 Season Averages

    24.49 PER, 16.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 43.2% 3PT

     

    If there is one name you need to know for the NIT, it's Joe Harris. Not only did the Virginia Cavaliers construct an NCAA tournament-caliber resume, but Harris put on a show as an individual performer.

    That's why the coaches voted him to the All-ACC first team.

    Harris has developed a reputation as one of the best shooters in the country. Not only is he potent from beyond the arc, but he can step inside and consistently knock down a mid-range jump shot.

    No matter which way you cut it, this kid can score.

    Harris will lead the top-seeded Cavaliers in a region that has no unmanageable competition. The key, however, is getting past in-state rival Norfolk State.

    If Virginia can get through the opening round, Harris' star will shine bright.

Pierre Jackson, Baylor Bears

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    Position: Point Guard

    Class: Senior

    2012-13 Season Averages

    24.67 PER, 19.8 PPG, 6.5 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.5 SPG

     

    Pierre Jackson is one of the most passionate players in the NBA. If you don't believe me, just take a glance at that photograph.

    It embodies everything the 5'10" point guard is all about.

    Jackson is a supremely efficient player who thrives both as a scorer and facilitator. He's also one of the quickest players in the nation, which enables Jackson to be a disruptive defender.

    The fact of the matter is, Baylor will only go as far as Jackson's offense enables them.

    Whether he's dishing it to Cory Jefferson or stepping back for a three, Jackson should be able to lead Baylor into the second round. The key there is for Jackson to outshine another undersized point guard in Arizona State's Jahii Carson.

    WIth the ability he possesses, the 5'10" senior can lead Baylor to an NIT title.

Alex Len, Maryland Terrapins

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    Position: Center

    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Season Averages

    24.04 PER, 26.7 MPG, 12.0 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.9 BPG

     

    Alex Len has yet to dominate on a consistent basis. This is rather disappointing, as the 7'1" center has all of the physical and basketball gifts to do just that.

    Perhaps an NCAA tournament snub will be enough to set a fire beneath the Ukrainian big.

    Len is an elite low-post presence in the sense of what he can achieve from a physical perspective. He passes well out of the post, can score with both hands and is capable of facing up for a mid-range J.

    As a second-seed, that should do just as much to fire up the Terrapins. Can Len lead them to playing well as a team?

Jordan McRae, Tennessee Volunteers

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Class: Junior

    2012-13 Season Averages

    19.60 PER, 16.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.9 BPG

     

    Jordan McRae is oen of the most dynamic wing players in the SEC. Not only can he take it inside and score in traffic, but McRae is capable of going outside for a three-point jump shot.

    Although sound in other areas, McRae's star will shine brightest when he's scoring the basketball.

    Over his past eight games, McRae is averaging 22.6 points per game. That includes two outings with at least 34 points and a 27-point outing during an upset of the Florida Gators.

    The question is, can McRae do it against Mercer during the first round of the NIT? The numbers suggest he'll need a world-class effort.

    Mercer ranks 19th in scoring defense.

Trevor Releford, Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Position: Guard

    Class: Junior

    2012-13 Season Averages

    24.80 PER, 15.4 PPG, 2.6 APG, 2.5 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 43.8% 3PT

     

    Trevor Releford is one of the most exciting players in the nation. The 6'0" guard is one of the most aggressive players in the nation, both on offense and defense.

    Most concerning for opposing defenses is the fact that Releford is also one of the most efficient scorers in the nation.

    Thus far in 2012-13, Releford is averaging 15.4 points per game on a slash line of .489/.438/.830. This forces defenses to play him tight along the perimeter, thus enabling the strong-bodied ball-handler a threat to take any opponent off of the dribble.

    As a quality facilitator, that adds a new element that most defenses cannot account for.

    On defense, Releford is a ball hawk that uses his strength and physicality to gain positioning in the passing lanes. That's a major reason the Alabama Crimson Tide rank 26th in the nation in scoring defense.

    Expect Alabama to live up to its No. 1 seeding with Releford leading the charge.

Taylor Smith, Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

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    Position: Forward

    Class: Senior

    2012-13 Season Averages

    30.60 PER, 15.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 2.9 BPG

     

    Taylor Smith and Stephen F. Austin are two relatively unknown commodities. After going 27-4, however, SFA should have a stronger following.

    Taylor Smith is a major reason why.

    Smith leads the Lumberjacks in scoring, rebounding and blocks per game. He's also second in assists and third in steals.

    Did we mention that he's shooting 69.2 percent from the floor?

    Smith has been dominant this season, averaging 15.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.9 blocks. Most impressive of all, he's done this at 6'6".

    With an opportunity to make a first-round statement against Stanford, expect Smith to step up and shine.

Michael Snaer, Florida State Seminoles

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Class: Senior

    2012-13 Season Averages

    18.37 PER, 14.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.0 SPG

     

    You could make a case that Michael Snaer is the most clutch player in the nation. For those who'd like to argue, simply take a gander at his track record.

    Watch this montage of numerous game-winners and buzzer-beaters by Snaer.

    Come the NIT, that's what it could come down to for Florida State. Louisiana Tech will be a tough out and the bracket gets no easier for the Seminoles.

    Fortunately for FSU, Snear is ready and willing to pour it in during clutch situations.