It may not get the national attention that the NCAA tournament does, but the 2014 NIT is loaded with formidable teams that could probably beat many of the squads in the Big Dance.
Just ask Illinois coach John Groce, via Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune:
Will Illinois reach the Final Four of the NIT?
"There are teams in the NIT that are plenty good enough to win NCAA tournament games. That's reality."
Minnesota, Clemson, Illinois, Missouri, SMU and California have all proved throughout the season that they are capable of knocking off ranked teams, so there should be plenty of intriguing matchups in the later rounds of the NIT.
Here is a look at all of the scores from Day 2 of the first round.
|Wednesday, March 19||66-62||No. 2 Illinois||No. 7 Boston University|
|Wednesday, March 19||89-88||No. 3 Louisiana Tech||No. 6 Iona|
|Wednesday, March 19||63-56||No. 2 Georgia||No. 7 Vermont|
|Wednesday, March 19||66-59||No. 3 Southern Miss||No. 6 Toledo|
|Wednesday, March 19||68-54||No. 1 SMU||No. 8 UC Irvine|
|Wednesday, March 19||71-63||No. 5 LSU||No. 4 San Francisco|
|Wednesday, March 19||77-64||No. 2 California||No. 7 Utah Valley|
An updated NIT bracket can be found here.
There are eight second-round games in the NIT, but only one of them occurs on Friday. That contest will be between No. 5 Belmont and No. 8 Robert Morris at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
No. 2 Illinois 66, No. 7 Boston University 62
On Jan. 4, Illinois was 13-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten and appeared well on its way to the NCAA tournament.
Unfortunately for the Fighting Illini, they lost their next eight games and 10 of their next 11. It was a basketball free fall in every sense of the word.
However, there was still something at stake for Illinois against Boston University in the NIT, as Big Ten Men’s Hoops pointed out before the game:
The #Illini will take the court in search of its 20th victory of the season, its 2nd straight 20-win season under Coach John Groce.— Big Ten Men's Hoops (@B1GMBBall) March 19, 2014
It was a less-than-ideal start for the Illini. They found themselves down 33-24 at intermission and struggled to stop Boston from hitting three-pointers all game. In fact, the Terriers finished with 11 makes from downtown and probably would have won the game if they didn’t shoot 45.5 percent from the free-throw stripe.
Illinois came back to win 66-62 behind an incredible performance from Rayvonte Rice. Rice finished with 28 points and eight rebounds and shot a blistering 11-of-14 from the free-throw line.
No. 3 Louisiana Tech 89, No. 6 Iona 88
Who says all the excitement in March is limited to the NCAA tournament?
Chris Farrow of ESPN and Patrick Magee of the Sun Herald set the scene:
Wow, what a finish - La. Tech 89, Iona 88 - Iona dude almost hit a shot past halfcourt to win it— Patrick Magee (@Patrick_Magee) March 20, 2014
Down by a point with less than 10 seconds remaining, Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Smith banked in the game-winning shot off an offensive rebound. While the fans celebrated, Iona almost answered with a full-court heave of its own, but it just fell off the rim.
Jaron Johnson and Kenyon McNeail of the Bulldogs led their team in scoring with 15 points, while Smith added 14 points, six assists and five rebounds.
On the losing side, A.J. English and David Laury both scored 21 points for the Gaels. Laury's performance was particularly notable because it came off the bench.
No. 2 Georgia 63, No. 7 Vermont 56
March is usually known as the start of spring football around Athens, Georgia, but the Bulldogs fans were ready for some postseason basketball, as Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald pointed out:
Georgia should outdraw the Missouri NIT crowd (2,403) tonight. Vermont's mascot is in that pic somewhere. pic.twitter.com/9XnQjLkFa6— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) March 19, 2014
Georgia did not send its fans home unhappy, beating Vermont to the tune of 63-56.
It seemed to be a tale of two halves for the Bulldogs after jumping out to a 29-20 lead by intermission. The Catamounts climbed back in the game in the second half and even seized a 52-46 lead late in the game.
However, Charles Mann was not going to let his team lose.
Mann finished with 29 points, five rebounds, three assists and one steal and made the critical plays the Bulldogs needed down the stretch. Georgia went on a 13-2 run late in the game to take a 59-54 lead with just more than a minute remaining and never looked back.
No. 3 Southern Miss 66, No. 6 Toledo 59
While the Georgia game was a solid atmosphere, the Southern Miss crowd brought its A game to the NIT.
Cory Gunkel of Rivals pointed out the crowd was as loud as it has been since Memphis came to town:
Eagles are flying all over the place. 59-51 Southern Miss with 3:24 to go. I haven't heard Reed Green this loud since Memphis came to town.— Cory Gunkel (@CoryGunkel) March 20, 2014
The Golden Eagles came out on fire and seized a 34-19 lead by intermission. However, Toledo came storming back to capture a 43-40 lead with just more than 11 minutes remaining, which set up a back-and-forth finish.
Southern Miss was able to eventually pull away in the final minutes behind Michael Craig’s 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists and timely baskets, despite some issues on the free-throw line (13-of-26 as a team). Craig stuffed the stat sheet all game long and was the go-to guy down the stretch of the tightly contested showdown.
No. 1 SMU 68, No. 8 UC Irvine 54
SMU was one of the biggest snubs when it came to the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday, but it didn’t let any lingering disappointment influence its opening NIT game against UC Irvine.
The Mustangs dominated the second half to the tune of 39-24, eliminating a one-point halftime deficit and winning 68-54 in the process. Cannen Cunningham came off the bench for SMU and led the team in scoring with 17 points behind 9-of-12 shooting from the free-throw line.
Looking forward, the Mustangs will be going up against history if they plan on winning the entire NIT, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:
No. 1 seed SMU in action tonight (9 ET, ESPN2) in NIT. SMU on 3-game losing streak - no team's ever won NIT after entering on such a streak— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 19, 2014
SMU was dominant at home this year, but things will become more tenuous if it reaches the semifinals in Madison Square Garden. The vast majority of the team’s losses came away from home, so it will have to prove it is capable of winning on the big stage against quality competition if it advances this far.
No. 5 LSU 71, No. 4 San Francisco 63
The SEC was ridiculed for much of the college basketball season, but it impressed on Wednesday.
As mentioned, Georgia won its NIT game, Tennessee outlasted Iowa in the NCAA tournament in overtime and LSU picked up a road win against San Francisco in the NIT as well.
The Tigers were led by Jarell Martin’s 16 points, six rebounds and two blocks, while Johnny O’Bryant III and Shavon Coleman each added 13 points. Cole Dickerson turned in an impressive performance for San Francisco with 24 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair, and the Tigers took a 33-30 lead into intermission. However, LSU dominated in the early going in the second half and eventually stretched its lead to 61-45 with just more than eight minutes remaining.
The Dons made a run though and cut the lead to 68-62, but LSU was able to ice it away with three free throws in the final 1:03.
No. 2 California 77, No. 7 Utah Valley 64
Despite Holton Hunsaker’s best efforts, California was simply too much for Utah Valley to handle, especially in Berkley.
Hunsaker led the way for the Wolverines with 22 points, and Ben Aird added 19 points and nine rebounds off the bench. However, not a single other Utah Valley player finished in double-figures in the scoring department.
California had a balanced attack Wednesday. Five players scored at least 10 points, with David Kravish leading the way with 14 and also grabbed nine rebounds. The Golden Bears got 52 points from their bench, which was ultimately the difference in the game.
We saw how talented California is during the regular season when it beat Arizona. If it plays like it did Wednesday, it may find itself in Madison Square Garden for the NIT semifinals.