SMU vs. Minnesota: Key Players in NIT Championship Showdown

Richard LangfordCorrespondent IApril 2, 2014

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) celebrates as time expires in an NCAA college basketball game against California in the quarterfinals of the NIT, Wednesday, March 26, 2014, in Dallas. SMU won 67-65 and Moorw hit the game-winning basket. (AP Photo/Sharon Ellman)
Sharon Ellman

SMU and Minnesota advanced to the championship of the NIT in thrilling fashion, and now both will attempt to wrap up the consolation-prize tournament in championship style. 

In Tuesday's semifinals, SMU battled back from a 12-point deficit to to score a 65-59 win over Clemson. Meanwhile, Minnesota needed overtime to beat Florida State, 67-64. 

The championship game will be played in Madison Square Garden, on April 3, at 7 p.m. ET. Here are the three players who will have the biggest hand in determining the winner.  


Key Players 

Nic Moore, G, SMU

Sharon Ellman

Nic Moore is not going to make his impression in the championship game by dominating in scoring. The 5'9" guard is his team's leading scorer, but it is his heady and clutch play that really shine.

For the season, he averaged 13.5 points and 4.9 assists per game. 

What you need to know about Moore, though, can best be found in SMU's quarterfinal victory over Cal. Moore finished with a pedestrian 11 points, but three of those came from the game-winner. With just over six seconds left, Moore came off a screen and hit a three to give his team a 67-65 win. 

SMU did not need a three, but it was a good look, and Moore had the guts to take it and the poise to drill it. Dwain Price, the Star-Telegram's Dallas Mavericks beat writer, could see this kind of poise in Moore before he hit that game-winner:

Having a poised floor leader is vital in the madness of a tournament setting game. If Moore handles this test with poise, SMU will be in a great position to win the championship. 


Markus Kennedy, F, SMU  

John F. Rhodes

Part of the reason the Mustangs need Moore to have a good game is so they have someone to get Markus Kennedy rolling. Kennedy is a load in the interior. He averages 12.5 points and seven rebounds for the season. He is also surging to the finish line.

Over the last two games, Kennedy is averaging 20 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. He's combined to make 16 of 23 shots from the field in that span. 

He was the key player in SMU's comeback win over Clemson, but don't tell him that. PonyPride Staff tweeted this comment from the 6'9" sophomore: 

Kennedy got off to a bit of a slow start this season, but he got better as the season rolled along. He is the Mustangs' primary scorer, and if he has a cold night from the floor, it will be tough for his team to overcome. 


Austin Hollins, G, Minnesota

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 22:  Austin Hollins #20 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers gets away from David Wear #12 of the UCLA Bruins during the second round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at The Frank Erwin Center on March 22, 2013 in Austin, Texas.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

If Minnesota's Austin Hollins gets hot, the performances of Moore and Kennedy aren't going to matter all that much.  

When his shot is falling, he can put up points in a hurry, and he will enter the championship game with his confidence soaring. Against Florida State on Tuesday, he scored 17 points, and he did so while making seven of 11 shots from the floor. 

That performance came on the heels of his scintillating showing against Southern Miss when he went for a career-high 32 on 8-of-14 shooting. 

Hollins has plenty of range. In his last two games, he's combined to go 9-of-15 from beyond the arc.

Although it is with his offense that he could really take over the game, he certainly isn't all about scoring. 

Check out this block from Tuesday's game in this GIF provided by CJZero

GIF Credit: CJZero

The Golden Gophers would love to ride Hollins' hot hand. I'm sure they will do everything in their power to get him going early.