NIT Bracket 2014: Handicapping the Tournament Favorites

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NIT Bracket 2014: Handicapping the Tournament Favorites
Sharon Ellman/Associated Press

As the marquee NCAA tournament marches toward the Sweet 16, the National Invitational Tournament is already down to its final 16 teams.

At this point of the NIT, there are plenty of quality teams that are vying for a trip to Madison Square Garden in New York for the semifinals and championship games.

Here's the entire upcoming schedule for the second round, which gets back underway on Friday, plus a look at three schools that have a good shot of hoisting the trophy. For an updated bracket, visit ESPN.com.

2014 NIT Round 2 Schedule
Date Time (ET) Matchup TV
Fri., 3/21 9:30 p.m. (5) Belmont vs. (8) Robert Morris ESPNU
Sat., 3/22 11 a.m. (2) Georgia vs. (3) Louisiana Tech ESPN
Sun., 3/23 11 a.m. (2) Illinois vs. (3) Clemson ESPN
Sun., 3/23 3 p.m. (1) Minnesota vs. (4) Saint Mary's ESPN2
Sun., 3/23 5 p.m. (2) Missouri vs. (3) Southern Miss. ESPNU
Mon., 3/24 7 p.m. (1) Florida State vs. (4) Georgetown ESPN
Mon., 3/24 9 p.m. (1) SMU vs. (5) LSU ESPN
Mon., 3/24 11 p.m. (2) California vs. (3) Arkansas ESPN2

ESPN.com

 

Minnesota

It was hard to stop the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first round on Tuesday, as they used a well-rounded offensive attack to claim an 88-81 win over visiting High Point.

Maverick Ahanmisi played a starring role off the bench with a career-high 21 points in 23 minutes, while Joey King (14 points, seven rebounds), Andre Hollins (13 points) and Maurice Walker (13 points) also scored in double digits for Minnesota.

Following the game, Gophers coach Richard Pitino seemed especially pleased with senior guard Ahanmisi.

St. Mary's presents a unique challenge as a well-coached team under Randy Bennett, but playing Big Ten competition all year long has to help Minnesota in this postseason tournament. The Gaels have a stout defense at times, and getting bench production from Ahanmisi is encouraging for Pitino.

Playing at home on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN2) will certainly be an advantage, and hopefully more so with students coming back from spring break. 

 

Missouri

The Missouri Tigers (23-11) suffered a couple of blowout losses at the end of the regular season to Tennessee and Florida that hurt their NCAA tournament resume, but Mizzou's offense looked sharp in the team's 85-77 win over Davidson on Tuesday.

Leading the charge was guard Jabari Brown, who dropped 30 points, while Earnest Ross added 16 points and six rebounds, and Jordan Clarkson chipped in 15 more. In all, the Tigers shot 58 percent from the field while limiting Davidson to 41.8 percent shooting.

The Tigers are dealing with a bevy of injuries right now, as detailed by Tod Palmer of The Kansas City Star, but are battle-tested after going 9-9 in the SEC this year. 

Palmer passed along postgame comments from Missouri coach Frank Haith regarding his team's intensity after missing out on the NCAA tournament. 

“It’s tremendous, because you look across (the country) and there’s a lot of teams that don’t play. I wanted our guys to really compete.”

Sunday's contest (5 p.m. ET, ESPNU) against Southern Miss should be an interesting matchup, as the Golden Eagles use a strong defensive brand of basketball to earn victories.

 

Southern Methodist

Sharon Ellman/Associated Press

SMU (24-9) was widely viewed as one of the biggest snubs of the NCAA tournament after putting together a solid regular-season resume that included two wins over UConn and others over Cincinnati and Memphis. But a three-game skid to end the season sent the Mustangs to the NIT, where they've received the No. 1 seed in the top half of the bracket.

Buoyed by 17 points from big man Cannen Cunningham off the bench, SMU rolled to a 68-54 victory over No. 8 UC Irvine on Wednesday at home. 

Irvine actually outplayed SMU to start the game and held a 30-29 lead at halftime, but the Mustangs dominated the second period with Cunningham leading the way. Leading guard duo Nic Moore and Nick Russell and the entire offense were held in check, but SMU overcame a 33.9 percent shooting night to win.

The Mustangs have talent and hang their hat on defense but need to step up the offensive production if they want to get to the Big Apple. LSU will present a nice challenge on Monday (9 p.m ET, ESPN) as a team that can put up points and rebound.

It won't be easy for SMU to advance deep in this tournament if it continues to struggle like it did to start Wednesday's contest. While the Mustangs' recent results haven't been good, they still have a body of work that suggests they can beat anyone who comes their way in the NIT.

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