NIT Tournament 2013: Power Ranking the Early Contenders for the Title
Getting into the NCAA Tournament may be the measuring stick for Division I teams, but for those that don't earn or receive bids, a deep run at the National Invitational Tournament certainly isn't the worst consolation prize.
The NIT, which features many storied basketball teams each year, is a final chance for many NBA hopefuls to showcase their skills in game situations prior to June's draft.
It's an event designed for a handful of schools to salvage their seasons, and, so far, a number of teams are in contention.
With the 2013 NIT well underway, here's a look at which programs appear to have the best chances at taking home the title.
Assuming the Cavaliers beat St. John's to move on to play Iowa in the tournament quarterfinals, Virginia should be in good shape to make it to the Final Four because it has just as much talent as anyone remaining in the field and has something to prove after being passed over for March Madness.
Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell will lead the way offensively, and the Cavs' balanced and effective shooting will carry UVA to the next round to take on Maryland for a berth in the finals.
Recent history is on their side if they do indeed take on the UMD, as the Cavs own a pair of wins over their ACC rivals to the north.
Baylor's explosive offense has been on display in the early rounds of the NIT, as the Bears have put up points like few in the nation can. They blew out Long Beach State 112-66 in their opening game and followed that up with a 89-86 win over Arizona State.
Lead by Pierre Jackson, who put up 26 points and 16 boards against ASU, the Bears' offensive juggernaut, which also features Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Brady Heslip, has been devastating thus far in the tournament.
If the Bears keep shooting and attacking the basket like they have, it's tough to see how any team remaining in the field could keep up with them offensively.
With wins over both Niagara and Denver, the Terps look like real contenders and should be a tough matchup for the winner of Alabama-Stanford in the tournament quarterfinals.
Maryland already has a pair of solid wins over Duke, including one in last week's ACC Tournament. It's clear that when they're on, the Terps are capable of playing with or beating anyone in the country.
Led by Dez Wells and Nick Faust, the Terps have managed to score, but projected first-rounder Alex Len has to be better down the stretch if Maryland's going to have a legitimate shot at the title.
4. Southern Mississippi
As a No. 1 seed, Southern Mississippi has a relatively easy run through to the tournament quarterfinals, with BYU being its toughest test along the way.
Once they get there, the Golden Eagles have enough offense to give Baylor a very good run. But whether they win could depend on if they're able to shut down the Bears' perimeter game, which has been dangerous thus far at the NIT.
With Jonathan Mills and Dwayne Davis leading the way offensively, the Golden Eagles are certainly still in the mix for the title. If they can get past BYU and Baylor, they're a co-favorite to win the title.
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