Always the bridesmaids, never the bride. That isn't the slogan for the NIT, but it probably feels like it for many of the teams hoping they would be playing for a national championship but instead ended up in the consolation prize tournament.
But don't let that fool you; there is still good basketball to be played at the NIT, and some truly tasty matchups in Round 2. Let's break down the most enticing contests.
|Friday, March 21||(8) Robert Morris vs. (5) Belmont||9:30 p.m.||ESPNU|
|Saturday, March 22||(3) Louisiana Tech vs. (2) Georgia||11 a.m.||ESPN|
|Sunday, March 23||(2) Illinois vs. (3) Clemson||11 a.m.||ESPN|
|Sunday, March 23||(4) Saint Mary's vs. (1) Minnesota||3 p.m.||ESPN2|
|Sunday, March 23||(3) Southern Miss. vs. (2) Missouri||5 p.m.||ESPNU|
|Monday, March 24||(4) Georgetown vs. (1) Florida State||7 p.m.||ESPN|
|Monday, March 24||(6) LSU vs. (1) SMU||9 p.m.||ESPN|
|Monday, March 24||(3) Arkansas vs. (2) California||11 p.m.||ESPN2|
Georgetown vs. Florida State
If you are going to watch one NIT Round 2 game, be sure to catch this one between two of the "final four out" when the NCAA tournament bracket was announced.
Sure, Georgetown is just 18-14 on the year, but they also played a brutal schedule and have wins over Kansas State, VCU, Michigan State, Xavier and Creighton, all tournament teams. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (17.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.7 APG) and Markel Starks (17.0 PPG, 4.1 APG) give the Hoyas a nasty one-two punch.
Give the Hoyas this—despite an incredibly disappointing season, they still had a great attitude in the lead-up to the NIT. From Liz Clarke of The Washington Post:
The Hoyas’ were picked to finish second in the newly reconstituted Big East. Instead, they ended up seventh (17-14, 8-10), torpedoing what slim chance remained of an NCAA tournament berth by losing to DePaul in the opening game of the conference tournament.
And while there is no shortage of factors and failings to point to in analyzing what went wrong, the Hoyas, at least for the moment, have their sights set on the second chance that the NIT represents.
“The guys still want to play more basketball games,” said Jabril Trawick, the Hoyas’ tough-nosed defender. “It’s a good thing for the seniors; they still get to play basketball. And for the guys coming back next year, it helps us out in the long run, as well.”
Added Coach John Thompson III: “You’re upset, mad, frustrated—that whole gamut of emotions. That’s the bus ride home. Then you get re-energized when you realize, ‘Okay, we’re still going to be able to play,’ and when you take a look around the country at how many good teams weren’t invited—how many good teams aren’t playing.”
Florida State didn't have a cake schedule itself, but its best ACC win was over Syracuse. Had it knocked out Virginia in the ACC tournament, Florida State almost assuredly would have earned an NCAA tournament bid.
Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
This won't exactly be a high-scoring affair, but expect a knock-down, drag-out battle between two teams just outside of the NCAA field. Should be fun.
LSU vs. SMU
You are watching this one for one very simple reason—SMU is the best team in the field, led by living legend Larry Brown, and many folks thought they were good enough to be an NCAA team.
Heck, they were ranked to end the season. From Seth Davis of CBS Sports:
SMU is first ranked team since Utah State in 2004 not to make the tourney. Surprised but not shocked.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 16, 2014
The committee basically said SMU is not one of the top 46 teams in the country.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 16, 2014
SMU plays team basketball (15.2 assists per game, 35th in the country) and shoots well from the field (.487, 16th in the field), perhaps eliminating the huge advantage LSU will have on the boards (39.7 rebounds per game, 10th in the nation).
LSU did knock off Kentucky this year and is paced by junior Johnny O'Bryant III, averaging 15.4 points and 7.77 rebounds per game, so it won't go down without a fight. Whether or not LSU can knock off an SMU team trying to prove it was snubbed is another thing altogether.
Clemson vs. Illinois
Clemson beat Duke. Illinois knocked off Michigan State and Iowa. The former didn't do enough in the ACC tournament to justify a bid to the Big Dance. The latter went 7-11 in the Big Ten, squashing their tournament hopes.
In a matchup between teams surely disappointed by their seasons, there is plenty to be excited about in this matchup. Illinois' Rayvonte Rice (15.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG) is coming off a 28-point performance against Boston. Clemson's K.J. McDaniels (17.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG) just put up 30 against Georgia State.
Finding out which of these studs will triumph when they face off in the NIT is plenty reason to watch.