NIT 2011: Breakdowns and Predictions

Peter HillCorrespondent IIMarch 14, 2011

NIT 2011: Breakdowns and Predictions

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    The NCAA tournament isn't the only tournament from March. The NIT this season has one of the strongest fields in years, and will have plenty of story lines.

    From seniors looking to play their last career games to guys hoping to boost their draft stock one last time, the NIT has it all.

    Even though the NIT is often overshadowed and given unfair nicknames, the level of play is very underrated. With players like Alec Burks, Norris Cole, Malcolm Delaney, Reggie Jackson and Chris Warren, the NIT is nowhere near short on talent.

    Plenty of NBA scouts will attend these games, and for good reason.

    With some of the strongest snubs in recent years, the quality of teams are on the rise. Fortunately for the people who run the NIT, more games should be watched this year.

    Let's get down to it. Here are some previews and predictions for this year's NIT.

10. Can the Big 12 Have a Good Showing?

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    Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Colorado are the three Big 12 teams that qualified for the NIT. All three need to represent the conference in a big way.

    Colorado has stud Alec Burks, Nebraska has the balanced team play behind Doc Sadler and Oklahoma State has the senior leadership behind Marshall Moses.

    The conference is well-represented in the NCAA tournament, as well as the NIT. Anticipate at least one Big 12 team to go deep in this tourney, possibly winning it all.

    Oklahoma State has a solid resume, starting off the season at 15-2. They upset Missouri and Kansas State, and lost to Kansas by just one point.

    Nebraska has had a good year by their standards. They finished the season 19-12 topping Texas, Texas A&M and Missouri.

    Colorado is the definition of a snub team. Basketball experts didn't even anticipate Colorado being on the bubble, and were shocked when they weren't announced in the field.

    Colorado is led by stud junior Alec Burks. Don't be shocked if the Buffaloes come out with a vengeance in the NIT, dominating anyone in their way.

9. Which Coaches Could Be Fired After the NIT?

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    Several college coaches have already been fired, and many more are to come.

    Even though it might not happen, Frank Haith of Miami needs to go. He has been at Miami since 2004 and hasn't made on NCAA tournament.

    There is plenty of talent in Florida, so Haith has no room to complain.

    Even Florida State is on it's third straight NCAA bid, and they are by no means an ACC powerhouse.

    If Miami becomes victim to an early round exit, don't be surprised if Haith is let go from his coaching duties.

8. Which Top Seed Will Give Up Early?

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    Since several of these teams were hopeful to make the NCAA tournament, a lot of them are disappointed on the tournament they are playing in. As a result, their performance and desire suffers.

    Just last year, No.1 seed Arizona State fell to Jacksonville in the first round, and it certainly wasn't because Jacksonville was the better team.

    Arizona State had given up on the year, as a couple teams will do every year in the tournament.

    Virginia Tech and Alabama are all in that dangerous position.

    The coaches of these schools will have to motivate the team to go all out every game, since it can only help their draft stock and the schools' program.

7. Can the Mid-Majors out Duel the Power Conferences?

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    A whole variety of teams represent this NIT field.

    Power conference schools like Colorado and Virginia Tech to the smallest of mid-majors like Missouri State and Milwaukee.

    The NCAA tournament has its own debate about mid-majors versus powers, and it's clear their committee favors the powers. However, the NIT is much different.

    Since these teams are usually more smart than athletic, they can out-duel the power conference teams pretty easily.

    Teams like Dayton, St. Joes and Massachusetts have all finished in the top two slots over the past several years and will look to continue the trend.

    This year Dayton, Cleveland State, Saint Mary's, Missouri State and Harvard make up the best mid-major teams, and will not be scared of the big boy schools.

    Expect one of those five teams to go deep in the tourney, with Dayton looking for a second straight title.

6. Can the ACC Prove They Are Better Than Perceived?

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    For what seems like the 10th year in a row, the Virginia Tech Hokies were left out of the field. Not only Virginia Tech, but Boston College as well as Miami were not invited to the big dance.

    The ACC only got four teams invited to the NCAA tourney, and they need to prove the committee wrong by good showings in the NIT.

    At least one of the teams will bow out early, leaving the other two to pick up the leftover slack.

    Boston College plays a smart brand of basketball, and should be a good pick to advance at least a couple rounds.

    Virginia Tech and Miami are very unpredictable, leaving their fates solely up to themselves.

    Expect these ACC schools to do well in this tournament strictly for pride.

5. What No. 1 Seed Will Lose First?

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    Every year in the NIT, it happens. A No. 1 seed loses in the first round, if not then immediately in the second.

    This year is no different.

    The four number one seeds are Alabama, Colorado, Boston College and Virginia Tech.

    This year anticipate the Alabama Crimson Tide to bow out early.

    The team was just snubbed out of the NCAA tournament bad. They beat Georgia twice within the past couple weeks, and almost seemed to get no recognition for it.

    They have a freshman point guard in Trevor Releford, who is all but guaranteed to be exploited on.

    Not only that, but Alabama plays 28-5 Coastal Carolina in the first round. Coastal went on a 22-game winning streak this year, and have more than enough experience to complete this upset.

4. Norris Cole's Pro Stock

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    Now we are in the big time talk. What can a player like Norris Cole do for his draft stock? The answer is quite a bit, depending on how long Cleveland State stays alive.

    Cole is currently projected as an early second-round pick and needs to have a good NIT tournament to land himself in the guaranteed money.

    Expect Cole to do as much as he can with the ball, possibly forcing the issue a bit too much.

    Cole does play in the Horizon league, which really hurts how scouts can judge his potential. Going up against power conference competition will surely give Norris a serious chance to prove to the scouts he's first round material.

    Nobody has more to prove in the NIT, and Norris Cole knows it.

3. Who Will Win the NIT?

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    Here's a big question, which team will cut down the nets in the NIT this year?

    Well there are a few choices, but one team stands above the rest.

    Teams like Virginia Tech, Nebraska, Dayton, St. Mary's, Cleveland State and Alabama all have solid chances.

    However, none of these teams have the firepower that Colorado does.

    The Buffaloes were perhaps the biggest tournament snub in the last 15 years, and will come out with fire in their eyes for this tournament.

    Plus, they have lottery pick player Alec Burks to lead them along the way.

    If you're filling out an NIT bracket this year, the obvious choice is Alec Burks and Colorado.

2. Can Dayton Repeat as NIT Champions

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    Like South Carolina in 2005 and 2006, Dayton is looking to become the next team that repeats as champions in the NIT. Now, we know it's not the tournament you want to repeat in, but if you're going to be in it, you might as well compete.

    Dayton returns their top two players from last year, and know exactly what it takes to win this tourney.

    Veteran players Chris Wright and Chris Johnson lead the way for Dayton. Between the two, they average over 23 points and 14 rebounds per game.

    Dayton also sees quality minutes from the bench players.

    The Flyers pay nine guys over 10 minutes per game, and will continue to do so in the NIT.

    Watch out for these Flyers; they came back for more this year.

1. Alec Burks Pro Stock

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    By far the biggest story line of this tournament will be the play of Alec Burks. Currently projected as a top 10 pick, Burks has a chance to boost himself into the top five.

    Now the NIT is certainly not the tournament scouts wanted to see Burks play in, but they will have to take what they get. After all, it certainly isn't Burks' fault that the Buffaloes didn't make the tourney.

    Burks has all the potential and intangibles that scouts drool over. His ability to shoot the ball, leap into the air, blow by defenders and create for others make him a top-notch prospect.

    The one major fault to Burks is his body. His has a slender body type and needs to bulk up before the draft. However, the great part about that is how easy that can be fixed. Burks will spend countless hours working out and gaining weight this summer in anticipation of the draft.

    Burks has been carrying Colorado all year and should have no problem continuing to do so.

    If you have a chance to catch an NIT game, make sure watch Alec Burks in what will be his last few college games.