Maryland and Iowa both missed out on an NCAA tournament bid, but a trip to Madison Square Garden, the mecca of basketball, should help quell those disappointments.
The second-seeded Terrapins, who weren't able to ride the momentum of two massive victories over Duke into the Big Dance, easily handled Niagara, put together an impressive comeback against Denver and outlasted top seed Alabama to earn a spot in the semifinals.
Iowa, meanwhile, was given a No. 3 seed after failing to survive the rigors of Big Ten play, but it's evident playing in the best conference in college hoops has its benefits. To get here, the Hawkeyes beat Indiana State by 16, Stony Brook by 12 and No. 1 seed Virginia by 11.
Let's take a closer look at this NIT Final Four matchup.
When: Tuesday, April 2, at 9 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Watch: ESPN 2
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Maryland Injury Report (via USA Today)
Iowa Injury Report (via USA Today)
What They're Saying
USA Today's Patrick Stevens notes that the rivalry between Maryland and Iowa isn't what you would call heated:
Maryland-Iowa is not exactly a storied rivalry. Met on Christmas Day in 1984 in the Rainbow Classic. Also in first ACC/B1G Challenge in 1999— Patrick Stevens (@D1scourse) March 28, 2013
Of course, with the Terrapins set to join the Big Ten, this will serve as a preview for the soon-to-be annual showdown.
While the NIT facetiously stands for "Not In Tournament," Jeff from Basketball Predictions points out that the Hawkeyes, at least according to the tempo-free statistical models, aren't your average non-dancing team:
With their win last night, Iowa slides up to 20th in KenPom & 21st in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. That's higher than, among others, Marquette.— Jeff (BPredict) (@BPredict) March 28, 2013
Maryland Player to Watch: Dez Wells
While potential lottery pick Alex Len will draw much of the attention, it's Dez Wells who is crucial in powering Maryland's sometimes stagnant offense.
As of late, that strategy has gone swimmingly.
In his last 10 games, the sophomore transfer from Xavier is averaging 17.8 points per game, up from his season average of 13.2. Moreover, he is doing it efficiently, shooting over 50 percent from the field and a red-hot 47.4 percent from beyond the arc.
The 6'5" guard has the impressive ability to get pretty much whatever he wants on the offensive end. Not only is he a dangerous outside shooter, but he can penetrate and either get to the line or distribute to an open teammate.
Wells, who has completely kicked the inconsistency that was plaguing him for the first half of the season, is Maryland's workhorse. The Terps have no chance to advance if he isn't producing.
Iowa Player to Watch: Roy-Devyn Marble
You'd be hard pressed to find a more scorching player in college basketball right now, regardless of the tournament.
In Iowa's three NIT wins, Marble is averaging 25.3 points per game on 49.0 percent shooting. He has knocked down a staggering 19 of his 33 three-point attempts (57.6 percent) and managed to still get to the free-throw line 28 times.
Marble can score in bunches, and the Terps are going to have to find a way to slow him down.
Of course, if Mark Turgeon's squad finds a way to do that, the 6'6" junior also leads the Hawkeyes in assists during the tournament at 5.3 per contest and has no problem distributing and making plays for others.
This is an intriguing matchup.
Who ya got?
Both teams have made it this far mostly on their defensive prowess. Iowa is 34th in the country in points allowed per possession, while Maryland ranks 43rd. Their offenses, meanwhile, are tied for 94th.
Both teams have a dynamic playmaker at the guard spot, capable of lighting up the scoreboard and impacting the game in multiple ways.
Maryland has a skilled seven-footer in Alex Len, but Iowa counters with 7'1" freshman Adam Woodbury, who is coming off encouraging 26-minute performance against Virginia.
This one figures to be close the entire way, so I'll keep it simple and go with the team that has been playing better overall basketball for the past week.
Iowa 66, Maryland 62