Although Baylor and Iowa would prefer to be squaring off in Atlanta this weekend, the Bears and Hawkeyes will be more than willing to leave it all out on the floor for the National Invitation Tournament title on Thursday night inside the Mecca of basketball.
No. 2-seeded Baylor knocked off Long Beach State, Arizona State, Providence and BYU on its way to the tournament final, while No. 3-seeded Iowa has survived Indiana State, Stony Brook, Virginia and Maryland.
Baylor last reached the NIT final in 2009, losing to Penn State. But neither program has ever won this tournament, setting the stage for a high-stakes clash on Thursday night.
Here we'll get you set with everything you need to know for this championship matchup at MSG.
Where: Madison Square Garden in New York
When: Thursday, April 4 at 9 p.m. ET
Live Streaming: ESPN3.com
Betting Line: Iowa (-2), according to Covers.com.
Key Injuries (according to USA Today)
Baylor: No significant injuries.
Iowa: No significant injuries.
Player to Watch for Baylor: Pierre Jackson
Expect another big-time performance from Baylor senior Pierre Jackson, who'll be playing in the last game of his college career on Thursday.
The Big 12's leading scorer this season, Jackson is averaging over 20 points per game in the NIT. But even more impressive, the 5'10" guard is posting over 11 assists per game during this spring's postseason tournament.
Jackson's ability to create his own shot and to find easy opportunities for the Bears' big men will be huge against Iowa on Thursday as the Hawkeyes play sensational team defense.
Player to Watch for Iowa: Roy Devyn Marble
One of the best guards in the country, Iowa junior Roy Devyn Marble, has been putting himself and the Hawkeyes on the college basketball map this postseason with some exceptional play. He's averaging over 24 points per game on 49 percent shooting from the field through four NIT games.
At 6'6", Marble is nearly unstoppable with the ball in his hands. He can drive to the basket, create for a teammate or step back and nail a shot from well beyond the arc.
Keep an eye out for No. 4 in black on Thursday, as his ability to provide a scoring threat on each and every possession will keep Baylor on its toes defensively.
Key Matchup: Front Court Battle
The key matchup in Thursday's showdown will take place in the frontcourt, where Baylor boasts two exceptional talents in forward Cory Jefferson and NBA draft prospect Isaiah Austin. The two bigs combined for 35 points and 15 rebounds in Tuesday's win over BYU, and will need to leave a similar impact on Thursday's game if Baylor is to end its season on a high note.
On the other side, if Iowa can contain those bigs and make Baylor one-dimensional offensively by forcing Pierre Jackson to shoulder the load on that end of the floor, the Hawkeyes will be in the driver's seat to win the title.
Although Aaron White, Adam Woodbury and company bring a lot to the table on the interior, I don't like their chances of shutting down a seven-footer like Austin or being able to keep him off the foul line. Add in Jefferson's strong 6'9" frame and his ability to shoot a high percentage around the basket, and Baylor boasts a mighty advantage in this key area.
This is a tough matchup to predict, considering both teams do so many things well. However, if there's an edge to be given, it has to go to Baylor—a team that made a deep run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament a year ago.
The Bears have an elite point guard leading the way in Jackson, a knockdown shooter on the wing who's hitting over 48 percent from beyond the arc in Brady Heslip and two dependable frontcourt players in Jefferson and Austin.
Marble and the Hawkeyes will be in this game until the very end. They're too talented defensively and too scrappy to get blown out at this stage, but I look for Jackson's senior leadership and will to win to make the difference late for Baylor.
Baylor 78, Iowa 72
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