The 2013 NIT Season Tip-Off tournament is down to four teams in the semifinals, and some big storylines are coming out of Madison Square Garden with the championship round scheduled for November 29.
Duke and Arizona, two of the top six teams in the nation, headlined the bracket for the tournament. Both teams are still in the tournament, as Arizona faces off against Drexel and Duke takes on Alabama in the semis.
It's early in the college basketball season, but there are some big-time players and stories to watch.
Alabama's "Great Opportunity" Against No. 6 Duke
Andrew Gribble of AL.com spoke to Alabama head coach Anthony Grant about the chance to play No. 6 Duke in the semifinals, and Grant claimed that it would be a "great opportunity" for his squad.
Great opportunity or not, Alabama's fifth game of the season will not be an easy one. Duke is scoring at an unbelievable rate, averaging 92.7 points per game through six games on the season.
Freshman Jabari Parker and Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood are leading the charge. Parker is dropping 23 points per contest, and Hood is chipping in 21.8 points of his own. The duo has been difficult for the opposition to stop (or even slow down), and Alabama will need to focus its defensive efforts on those two players.
Playing Duke in the semis is a great opportunity for the Crimson Tide, even if the chances of an upset are slim. Even competing in a close game with Duke on the big stage at Madison Square Garden would be considered a mini-victory for Alabama, as the two programs are clearly in different leagues in terms of talent.
Drexel Takes Down Rutgers, Awaits No. 4 Arizona
The Drexel Dragons are 3-1 through four games, and their most recent victory against Rutgers represented their biggest one of the season. Rutgers was one of four schools given the opportunity to play the initial rounds of the NIT Season Tip-Off at home, joining Duke, Arizona and Alabama—all of which are still in the tournament.
Drexel's lone loss came against nationally ranked UNLV, 72-67. It's clear that the Dragons have the potential to be a quality team, given how closely that game ended. Their victory against Rutgers showed their potential.
Arizona, on the other hand, is ranked No. 4 in the nation and has won each of its first five games. The Wildcats are incredibly efficient, shooting 54.4 percent from the floor so far this season. Drexel will be a tough opponent, though, as opponents have yet to top 72 points against them.
Arizona is a powerhouse, but Drexel has a strong chance of pulling off the upset. The Wildcats should be favored, but nobody would be surprised if Drexel moves on to the championship.
Preview of Potential Championship Game
We're only a few games into the season at this point, but the fact that Duke and Arizona might play each other in the finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off is significant. Each team is one of the tops in the nation, and the possibility exists that they could also meet in the NCAA tournament.
Should Duke and Arizona dispose of their semifinal opponents, the championship match would be fun to watch. The top players from each squad (Parker and Hood for Duke; Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon for Arizona) would make for exciting basketball in the early-season tournament.
The implications of the game aren't necessarily huge in terms of national rankings, but the confidence that the winning team would gain would be invaluable. Should the two teams meet again in the NCAA Championship Game, the winner of this matchup would already have the upper hand.
That being said, a lot of things will change from now to March. Who knows what kinds of injuries or cold streaks these teams might endure?
For now, this matchup is a NCAA Championship Game preview—and it's worth the watch.