Following a tough win over Alabama in the quarterfinals, the Maryland Terrapins are playing like title contenders in the NIT tournament.
The Terps booked their tickets to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night by shooting 50 percent from the floor in what turned out to be a 58-57 nail-biter against the Crimson Tide, despite a late-game comeback by Alabama.
Center Alex Len led Maryland's charge, scoring 15 points, hauling in 13 boards and providing a defensive presence in the paint with his five blocked shots. It was a breakout game for the 7'1" big man, as he had yet to score in double figures in Maryland's previous two tournament games.
With Len coming off a big game and Dez Wells having been the leader of the Terps all season, Maryland should be the favorite to win the NIT this year.
For one, it has a few key wins on its resume this season, highlighted by two wins over the rival Duke Blue Devils and a victory against then No. 14 N.C. State. Secondly, the Terrapins are one of the best rebounding teams in the country, ranking fourth in all of college basketball, with an average of 40.8 boards per game.
Maryland dominated the boards against Alabama on Tuesday night, out-rebounding the Crimson Tide 32-23. The Terps' presence on the glass is led by Len, who averages better than seven boards per game, but it doesn't stop there, as six Maryland players average at least three rebounds a game.
Of the remaining teams left in the NIT bracket (view the full bracket here) Virginia and Southern Mississippi will pose the biggest threat to Maryland. If Virginia wins its quarterfinal matchup with Iowa, it'll meet Maryland in the semifinals with a trip to the championship on the line.
While the Terps did lose to Virginia twice this season, it was only a three-point overtime win for the Cavs that saw Maryland shoot just 33 percent from the field in the last meeting. On top of that, the Terrapins led 32-19 at half before blowing the lead and losing 61-58 in OT.
Not to take anything away from the Cavaliers' effort, but Maryland is playing a lot better of late and showed in that last meeting that it definitely has the talent to overtake this Virginia team.
Which of the remaining teams poses the biggest threat to Maryland's title hopes?
Southern Miss would be an intriguing matchup for the Terps, but the Golden Eagles don't have a signature win this season, as they didn't beat a team that ranked in the top 50 in terms of RPI. In fact, their most impressive win came in the form of a 61-50 victory over Denver.
With Wells rolling of late and shooting the ball extremely well, I don't think any of the remaining teams in the NIT have the firepower or talent on the boards to compete with the Terrapins.
All season long, Maryland has shown the ability to win close games against tough opponents, and I expect nothing less than the same performance throughout the rest of the tournament.
The end result?
An NIT championship for the Maryland Terrapins.
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