A busy championship weekend for college basketball gets an early start on Thursday night when the SMU Mustangs and Minnesota Golden Gophers battle it out for the right to be called NIT champions.
Unlike the NCAA tournament, which features just one No. 1 seed (Florida) in the Final Four, the NIT has played out according to plan. SMU and Minnesota were the top two seeds when the brackets were announced.
Both the Mustangs and Gophers were tested in the Final Four. SMU had to rally from a 13-point deficit against Clemson, while Minnesota needed overtime to get by a pesky Florida State team that wouldn't go away.
Now, with just one game left to play, Minnesota and SMU will take the floor at Madison Square Garden. Here is all the information you need to know about the championship clash.
When: April 3 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden
Live Stream: ESPN3.com
No team got more sympathy for being left out of the NCAA tournament than Larry Brown's SMU Mustangs.
Which team will win the 2014 NIT championship?
It made sense on the surface, as SMU was a borderline top-25 team in the AP poll at the end of the year, finished the year with a 23-9 record and ranked 53rd overall in the RPI rankings.
Unfortunately, the Mustangs were challenged enough in non-conference games, ranking 303rd in that category, and had losses to teams like South Florida and Temple. As a result, the school was denied its first NCAA tournament bid since 1993.
Brown, to his credit, used the snub and the NIT as a learning experience for his program, telling Tom Pedulla of The New York Times that this whole season has been "a steppingstone" so the rest of the country knows what SMU is capable of doing.
Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas also had a quote from Brown that followed along those same lines.
"I feel bad for our team and you fans. I feel like we let you all down. ... When things don't go exactly how you planned, you can either pack it in or you can find a way to do better. We need to use this as a way to get better."
In the NIT, SMU has been very effective on the defensive side of the ball. Only LSU has scored more than 65 points against the Mustangs, who are allowing just 62.2 points per game this season.
Brown's offense hasn't been stellar in the tournament, scoring just 132 points the last two games, but it's an efficient group shooting 45.6 percent from the floor.
Minnesota didn't endure the same heartbreak SMU did on Selection Sunday after finishing with an 8-10 record in conference play and 20-13 overall.
That doesn't mean the Gophers entered the NIT with doubts about their ability. This is a team that defeated Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa during the regular season.
Richard Pitino's team has been all over the map in the tournament, scoring over 80 points twice and under 70 twice. Despite the inconsistent play, the Gophers have done what it takes to win the games.
Note: Stats courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.
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