NIT Tournament 2013: Highlighting Biggest X-Factors in Championship Game

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NIT Tournament 2013: Highlighting Biggest X-Factors in Championship Game
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

No, it's not the NCAA Tournament, but winning the National Invitation Tournament is one of few ways to end the college basketball season on a high note.

The NIT will conclude on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden as Baylor and Iowa go head to head for the tournament championship. Neither program has ever won the NIT postseason tournament, but the Bears have come the closest, finishing runners-up to Penn State in 2009.

Below we'll highlight the biggest X-factors in Thursday's championship game at MSG.

 

Eric May, Iowa

Eric May is the only senior in Iowa's starting lineup, and that makes him one of Thursday's top X-factors. The 6'5" shooting guard is only averaging 5.1 points per game this season, but poured in 12 in Tuesday's semifinal win over Maryland, going 5-for-6 at the foul line and adding five assists. 

May can create off the dribble and knock down long-range shots for Iowa. He's 5-of-7 from beyond the arc in four NIT games, and has 11 assists over that time as well.

Perhaps more important than May's scoring or dishing on Thursday, though, will be his leadership throughout the game and during Iowa's team huddles.

This is a guy who went from averaging 31 minutes and nine points per game in his freshman year to averaging 21 minutes and five points as a senior. May is the type of unselfish player teams rarely win without, and his presence on the floor marks a huge X-factor for the Hawkeyes.

 

Brady Heslip, Baylor

Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Junior sharpshooter Brady Heslip will be Baylor's biggest X-factor on Thursday night. The 6'2" shooting guard is one of the most lethal outside shooters in all of college basketball, and his ability to stretch the floor and hurt Iowa from beyond the arc will be huge in a game of this magnitude.

It remains to be seen which version of Heslip Baylor will get on Thursday, however, as his scoring and shooting percentages are way down from a year ago and even since the start of the NIT back in mid-March.

After hitting 8-of-11 three-pointers and scoring 26 points against Long Beach State in the first round, Heslip recorded 14 points in a second-round win over Arizona State, followed by an eight-point effort against Providence in the quarterfinals and zero in Tuesday's semifinal win over BYU.

The Bears can't afford to have Heslip go 0-for-5 from the field again on Thursday.

Yet, despite his recent struggles, he's still shooting 48 percent from downtown for the tournament, meaning that he could be in store for an offensive explosion against Iowa.

 

Adam Woodbury, Iowa

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Freshman center Adam Woodbury has played solid basketball for the Hawkeyes in their last two wins over Virginia and Maryland, averaging 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game over the course of those two victories. 

Which X-factor will deliver the most on Thursday?

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At 7'1", Woodbury is always a threat to score in the paint, and is huge for Iowa on the boards as well.

His presence on the defensive end, though, is what will be most important for Iowa. With Baylor's Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin wreaking havoc on the interior, Woodbury will need to hold his own around the rim and body up Baylor's bigs without fouling too often.

Although that task is easier said than done, it's critical for Iowa to have success at this stage of the tournament. Like the Hawkeyes, Baylor is a legitimate NCAA Tournament team, and one with great post players. 

Woodbury doesn't need to score a ton of points, but he does need to rebound well and discourage the Bears from dumping the ball inside early on if Iowa is to win the NIT title this April.

 

More on March Madness:

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