Flying very much under the radar, the 2014 edition of the NIT tournament has provided thrilling action for college basketball fans around the globe thanks to shocking upsets, last-second finishes and star performances sure to continue.
Many of the teams relegated to the bracket after missing out on the Big Dance have a chip on their shoulder for that very reason, which means each team is in hot pursuit of the consolation prize in order to end the season on a high note.
With Round 2 on the horizon, let's take a moment to look back on what has so far been a classic tournament.
|No. 8 Robert Morris||No. 1 St. John's||89-78|
|No. 1 Florida State||No. 8 Florida Gulf Coast||58-53|
|No. 4 Georgetown||No. 5 West Virginia||77-65|
|No. 5 Belmont||No. 4 Green Bay||80-65|
|No. 1 Minnesota||No. 8 High Point||88-81|
|No. 3 Arkansas||No. 6 Indiana State||91-71|
|No. 3 Clemson||No. 6 Georgia State||78-66|
|No. 2 Missouri||No. 7 Davidson||85-77|
|No. 4 Saint Mary's||No. 5 Utah||70-58|
|No. 2 Illinois||No. 7 Boston University||66-62|
|No. 3 Louisiana Tech||No. 6 Iona||89-88|
|No. 2 Georgia||No. 7 Vermont||63-56|
|No. 3 Southern Miss||No. 6 Toledo||66-59|
|No. 1 SMU||No. 8 UC Irvine||68-54|
|No. 5 LSU||No. 4 San Francisco||71-63|
|No. 2 California||No. 7 Utah Valley||77-64|
An updated NIT bracket can be found here.
Kenneth "Speedy" Smith's Heroics Down Iona
Quietly one of the nation's best point guards thanks to his 7.6 points and 7.9 assists per game, Kenneth "Speedy" Smith used the national spotlight of the NIT tournament in Round 1 to cement his status in the collective minds of fans around the globe.
Sometimes the general population just needs help with these things, although his all-time numbers suggest it shouldn't:
Alas, Smith stole the show in Round 1 by leading Louisiana Tech to a last-second victory over Iona thanks to his putback layup. The Bulldogs won 89-88, but only because coach Mike White elected to not call a timeout with only a few moments left.
Instead, White put the fate of his team's season in the hands of Smith, according to the Associated Press (via the Boston Herald):
La. Tech coach Mike White opted not to call timeout after Iona (22-11) took the 88-87 lead with 13.2 seconds on David Laury's two free throws. Instead, White allowed Smith to set up the final play on the floor himself.
"I am not smart enough to be more productive than Speedy on the open floor," White said of his junior point guard.
While true that six players scored in double figures on the night, Smith alone was responsible for the setup and execution of the game-winning play. No matter the stage, that's impressive.
Robert Morris Downs a No. 1 Seed
CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello hits the nail on the head:
Robert Morris is the giant killer of the NIT.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 19, 2014
While it is no easy feat to down a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament—it has been unsuccessfully attempted more than 110 times—the same cannot be said about the NIT.
Still, it's worth an eyebrow raise whenever it happens to occur. This year, Robert Morris shocked the nation and sliced through St. John's with relative ease en route to a 89-78 victory.
The Colonials jumped out to a 49-27 halftime advantage. By the end of the game, Karvel Anderson dropped 38 points on the Red Storm, while his partner in crime, Lucky Jones, posted 25.
As expected, Red Storm coach Steve Lavin was none too pleased with his team's lackluster effort, as captured by ESPN's Kieran Darcy:
I thought Robert Morris came out and beat us to the punch in every phase of the game. Tonight was disappointing because we didn’t bring forth the effort or purposeful play that would have allowed us to be competitive.
Coming off the disappointment -- naturally our goal was to play in the NCAA tournament. With a quick turnaround from Sunday to Tuesday, we just didn’t have the verve, the purpose, the pluck, the energy that’s necessary to win at this stage of the season.
In a tournament where effort and a desire to win oftentimes prevails, it is an absolute shock to witness the Red Storm simply lay down, and a nice surprise to see Robert Morris seize the moment.
Belmont Destroys Green Bay
Go ahead and do a time-specific Google search and plenty of results under the "sleeper" category will pop up—mostly naming Green Bay Phoenix as a team to watch that could take down numerous high seeds.
So much for that.
After getting dropped in a bad way by Milwaukee in the Horizon League tournament semifinals, Green Bay went out and was simply non-responsive in the first round of the NIT against Belmont, getting upset by the No. 5 seed, 80-65.
To be fair, the Phoenix did not stand a chance without leading scorer (20.3 points per game) and Horizon League Player of the Year Keifer Sykes, who hurt his ankle in the aforementioned semifinal loss.
Still, that doesn't excuse the fact the Phoenix were bullied on the boards 33-28, allowed 12 offensive rebounds and turned the ball over 21 times.
But plenty of credit should go to the Bruins, as they splashed home 10-of-27 shots from long range and had three players in double figures, including Craig Bradshaw and his 25 points.
Interestingly enough, Belmont advances to take on another team that knows a thing or two about upsets...Robert Morris.