A No. 1 seed has fallen and individual performances have trumped that of team efforts on the path to an NIT title so far this March.
Of course, that title is the biggest consolation prize in the land as some of the nation's best teams that just missed the cut to the NCAA tournament duke it out in the 2014 edition of the NIT.
Each team would obviously prefer to play in the Big Dance, but the smaller tournament is a great way for programs of various sizes to build toward something better in the coming years.
For fans, the NIT is another great option for quality basketball—and some of the hottest storylines the collegiate landscape has to offer.
|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|
Can Bulldogs Mann Up Again?
The Georgia Bulldogs escaped with a 63-56 win over Vermont in the first round despite being stuck in a quagmire of a game that featured major runs and plenty of turnovers.
Bulldogs coach Mark Fox put it best after the win, according to the Associated Press, via The Washington Post:
Our ball-handling was terrible. We talked about it at the half and did our best to correct it. It took us a while. The bus had to run over us before we decided to get back to who we really were all year, and I was concerned about that.
The saving grace? Sophomore Charles Mann, one of college basketball's rising stars. Mann managed 13.9 points per game in the regular season, but exploded for 29 on an 8-of-11 shooting and tallied 12 of his points from the charity stripe.
Now safely into Round 2, the Bulldogs may not be able to reverse the sloppy play that landed them in the NIT in the first place, but Mann has what it takes to single-handedly lift his team past Louisiana Tech. If he can do that Georgia has a potential showdown looming with either Georgetown or Florida State.
Keep a close eye on No. 4, as the Bulldogs' season depends on him.
SMU's Quest for Redemption
The biggest snub of all in regards to the Big Dance, the Mustangs are out to show the selection committee the error of its ways.
Coach Larry Brown publicly expressed his disappointment after Selection Sunday, via NBA.com's Adam Zagoria:
'I felt bad for the fans and the people that supported us.' Larry Brown on SMU snub— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) March 17, 2014
Even athletic director Rick Hart got in on the action through his blog on the team's athletics website:
Looking back, I believe our schedule did appropriately challenge our team. We collected 23 wins, 12 in the conference, and were competitive in every game we played - within "striking distance" at the last media timeout of our nine losses. Our team ranked in the top-15 nationally in offensive FG% and defensive FG%. We played nine teams in the NCAA tournament field (with a 4-5 record in those games), collected four victories against ranked opponents - the most since the 1955-56 campaign, and finished tied for third in the conference.
Brown and his team have translated the disappointment into productivity on the court thus far. Round 1 was a 68-54 win over UC Irvine, with LSU next up. The team's offensive prowess that probably should have landed it in the Big Dance isn't going anywhere; the Mustangs rank in the top 20 in field goal percentage and dish more than 15 assists per game.
Watch for SMU to continue to roll the opposition, as an NIT crown would only further reinforce the notion that the Mustangs should have gone dancing.
The Karvel Anderson Show
Mann posted quite the performance, but it pales in comparison to what Robert Morris' Karvel Anderson did as the No. 8 seed shocked the No. 1 seed St. John's, 89-78.
Anderson, who as a senior averaged a stellar 19.6 points per game, dropped 38 on the Red Storm to lead all scorers. He had quite the shot chart as a result:
Karvel Anderson of Robert Morris with the "around the world" shot chart. He had a career-high 38 points in NIT win pic.twitter.com/j2bsQg3Cyn— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 19, 2014
Yes, the graphic says Anderson posted a 9-of-15 mark from downtown. He'll have to keep that pace in order for the Colonials to keep upsetting higher-ranked opposition. First up is Belmont, before a date with either Clemson or Illinois.
Anderson's performance had a ripple effect on the bracket in more ways than one, as ESPN's Fran Fraschilla details:
Saint John's loss a reminder for @LarryBrownSMU and Ponies about mental approach needed in NIT. A good lesson he will point out today.— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) March 19, 2014
Since the NIT is a hotbed for show-stealing individual performances rather than the slower, team-based Big Dance, Anderson is the one to watch as things progress in Round 2.