The History of the Preseason NIT:
Every season in college basketball, the strongest early season non-conference match-ups typically seem to be generated by the emergence of the preseason tournament system. Preseason tournaments have played an integral part of college basketball's non-conference schedule for decades now but has truly ballooned in the past decade or so with the addition of tournaments like the Old Spice and CBE Classics, as well as many others.
One of the premier preseason tournaments in college basketball is always the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off, otherwise known as, the Preseason NIT.
This tournament was founded in 1985 and currently features a 16-team field, which is usually one of the more loaded fields of all the preseason tournaments. The first two rounds are played at four regional host sites, determined to be the home court of the top seed in each region. The semi-finals and championship games are played in historic Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.
This season's field could undoubtedly be viewed as weak near the top of the bracket, but at second glance there is a quality of depth to the tournament that I believe will provide for exciting basketball well before the tournament relocates to the Garden.
Who do you think will win the 2010 Dick's Sporting Good's NIT Season Tip-Off?
There is no question that Villanova appears to be the cream of the crop of this year's participants. George Washington will be sure to give them everything they have, but I have Villanova easily handling the North bracket. However after that there are no guaranteed routes to MSG.
In the South, second seed and host Tennessee will ultimately be tested on its way to NYC. Missouri State and Belmont are both extremely experienced and may be the favorites in their respected conferences and Missouri State would love a shot at the nationally-ranked Vols.
Some pundits believe the Bears, who return all five starters, may even have enough to push for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and Tennessee has already shown this preseason that they are prone to mental lapses and upset losses. However, in one man's opinion Tennessee has too much firepower and advances on from the South.
The East side of the bracket is hosted by the third-seeded Wake Forest Demon Deacons. However, the Deacons will face a steep test if they can endure an opening round match-up with Hampton, because VCU will likely be waiting for them in the East championship.
Wake Forest may be the favorites at home, but I look for a VCU team that returns four starters from a 27-win campaign in 09-10 to move on to the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
It's weird to think that UCLA can ever be under the radar, but following a sub .500 season, it appears the Bruins may be sneaking into the 2010-11 season. UCLA hosts the West regional as the 4th overall seed. UCLA will definitely be challenged in a region that also features Nevada, Pepperdine, and Pacific, but in the end I think this traditional power has too much, and pushes onward from the West.
On to the Garden:
So, that leaves us with Villanova vs. UCLA in the first semi-final match-up. There is little doubt that UCLA will be improved after a disappointing season in Westwood, however the Corey Fisher led Villanova Wildcats appear to be just too powerful here. I like UCLA to return to the NCAA Tournament this season, but I like 'Nova here.
In the second semi-final match-up we are left with potential Cinderella VCU, and the Tennessee Volunteers. I think there is little question that the talent edge goes to Tennessee in this one. However, the Vols are reeling from some serious off-season troubles and look as if they lack leadership following an exhibition loss to D-II Indianapolis.
I think that in the end VCU's back-court experience is too much, and the Rams upset the Rocky Toppers (as much as it pains me to say it) on their way to the Championship game.
There is not much room for argument that in my hypothetical championship match-up, Villanova would be heavy favorites. But do not sleep on VCU, because stylistically these two teams are strikingly similar in the fact that they are both heavily dependent on great guard play.
The potential match up of Senior VCU PG Joey Rodriguez and Villanova Senior PG Corey Fisher is one of the more intriguing one-on-one match-ups that this tournament may have to offer.
Look for VCU to give Villanova everything it can handle and then some, but Villanova has too much talent and Corey Fisher is not likely to be denied in front of his hometown crowd.
In the end, this tournament is flush with experienced mid-majors capable of knocking off any of the tournament's more traditional basketball powers. Inevitably, Villanova is in a class of their own when compared on paper to the rest of the field.
Luckily, they don't play the games with a keyboard, so I look forward to seeing how it all plays out once again as this solid field battles towards NYC and a Preseason NIT title.