2014 NIT Tournament: Odds and Predictions of Opening-Round Games

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent IMarch 18, 2014

2014 NIT Tournament: Odds and Predictions of Opening-Round Games

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    The 2014 National Invitational Tournament kicks off its opening-round games on Tuesday.

    Thirty-two teams will square off this week with the goal of getting to play in the championship game in New York City at Madison Square Garden on April 3.

    Here is a look at predictions and odds from the NIT's opening-round games. We will identify if the game should be considered a lock, a close call or an upset alert.

    Stats and player information provided by ESPN.com

Lock: (1) SMU over (8) UC Irvine

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    John F. Rhodes/Associated Press

    Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown has done a fantastic job of revitalizing the SMU basketball program in a short amount of time.

    In two short seasons, he has led the program from irrelevance to competing for the American Athletic Conference title in its first year of existence.

    The Mustangs were ranked in the AP Top 25 at the end of the regular season before being upset by Houston in the AAC tournament.

    SMU has too much on both ends of the court for UC Irvine to be very competitive in this one.

    The Mustangs' defensive pressure will be more than the Anteaters can handle.

    Southern Methodist guard Nic Moore will make sure that there are no more surprises in Dallas.

Close Call: (5) LSU over (4) San Francisco

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    James Crisp/Associated Press

    This could be one of the best opening-round games, with LSU from the SEC pitted against San Francisco from the West Coast Conference.

    In beating Kentucky earlier this season, the Tigers proved that they can play with some very talented teams. They also demonstrated inconsistency throughout the year that prevented them from being a serious challenger in the conference race. 

    USF was right in the thick of the WCC race, but was unable to knock off either Gonzaga or BYU in order to get things done.

    In the end, LSU's strong inside play, featuring Johnny O'Bryant III, will be the difference in this nail-biter. 

Lock: (3) Arkansas over (6) Indiana State

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    Jim Lytle/Associated Press

    Mike Anderson is slowly rebuilding the Arkansas program. He has taken the Razorbacks from finishing in ninth place in the SEC his first year (2011-12) to winning over 20 games and a fifth-place finish this year. 

    Beating Kentucky twice this year signaled that the Hogs are making significant strides in challenging for the upper tier of the conference race.

    Indiana State made a good showing in the Missouri Valley Conference this year, finishing as the runner-up to Wichita State.

    The Sycamores are a determined team that does not back down. They were one of the few teams this year that out-rebounded the Shockers.

    Arkansas junior Rashad Madden's three-point shooting will be the difference in this competitively close game.

Upset Alert: (7) Utah Valley over (2) Cal

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    Cal was the first team to beat Arizona this season. The Bears also picked up quality wins over NCAA selectees Oregon, Stanford and Colorado.

    Utah Valley won the Western Athletic Conference regular-season title by controlling the tempo of games and taking care of the ball.

    If the Wolverines pulled off this huge upset, it would definitely be one of the biggest wins in school history.

Lock: (1) St. John's over (8) Robert Morris

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Steve Lavin's Red Storm did not make it easy on themselves when they lost the first five games of their Big East Conference schedule.

    But, since mid-January, St. John's went 11-4 and climbed into a three-way tie with Providence and Xavier for third place in the league.

    Robert Morris won the Northeast Conference regular-season title by two games, but was bumped off by Mount St. Mary's in the league tournament.

    SJU will come out on top in this one. Lavin puts too much talent and athleticism for the Colonials to compete. 

Close Call: (4) Green Bay over (5) Belmont

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    Matthew Ludtke/Associated Press

    Green Bay received a lot of support leading up to Selection Sunday about their chances of receiving an at-large bid to the 2014 NCAA tournament.

    The Phoenix not only won the Horizon League regular-season title, but they also beat ACC champs Virginia earlier in their nonconference schedule.

    The NCAA selection committee did not invite UWGB to the Dance, so the Phoenix will go to work in the first round of the NIT against Belmont.

    The Bruins are a well-coached team that have a high-profile win of their own against North Carolina in a November game that saw them hit 15 shots from beyond the arc in Chapel Hill.

    This match up will be a contrast between Green Bay's interior strength and Belmont's perimeter performance.

    Green Bay will win in a game that will come down to the wire.

Lock: (3) Clemson over (6) Georgia State

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Clemson tries hard to work its way out of the middle tier of the ACC. Almost every year, the Tigers pull off a major win or even a huge upset.

    This year, they beat Duke in early January, and the possibilities looked bright.

    However, as the calendar turned to February, Clemson lost five of seven, putting it, once again, in the middle.

    Georgia State went 17-1 as the Sun Belt champs, but failed to seal the deal by winning their conference tourney.

    Clemson will attempt to slow the game way down and control the pace.

    If it can get the Panthers out of their uptempo game, the Tigers will move on to the second round.

Lock: (2) Illinois over (7) Boston University

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Stop me if you have heard this before: Illinois starts off the season red-hot, winning almost every game it plays in November and December.

    Once the Fighting Illini start the regular season, they immediately drop several games in a row. Then, sometime in the middle of the Big Ten season, they shake themselves and make a run that puts them on the bubble.

    This seems to be an annual pattern that, this time, landed Illinois in the NIT.

    Even if they simply go through the motions against Boston University, they should have no problem taming the Terriers.

Lock: (1) Minnesota over (8) High Point

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Minnesota puts lots of guards on the floor all at once and attempts to create matchup problems with its speed and scoring potential.

    By doing so, Golden Gophers had quality Big Ten wins this year against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa.

    The problem they experienced is that, sometimes, they are the team that is struggling with how their lineup sizes up against their opponents.

    High Point will actually have a pretty significant size advantage in this game, but the Panthers actually do not fully leverage their size for the purpose of rebounding and interior defense.

    Minnesota should not have much trouble against the Big South regular-season champs.  

Close Call: (5) Utah over (4) St. Mary's

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak has come in and revived the Utah program in a short time.

    The Utes have gone from six wins in 2011-12 to 15 victories a year ago to a 21-11 record as they enter the 2014 NIT.

    They are a hard-playing, tough-minded team that is definitely on the rise.

    St. Mary's had a down year...in relation to the huge success they have had over the last several seasons. The Gaels' 22-11 record and fourth-place finish in the WCC is a step down from competing with Gonzaga for the league title.

    Utah's athleticism and sharp shooting (48.9 percent as a team) should be enough to secure the W in this closely contested battle.

Upset Alert: (6) Toledo over (3) Southern Miss

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    Tom Olmscheid/Associated Press

    Toledo has already set a school record for wins this season as it has already posted a 27-6 record (14-4 MAC).

    Unfortunately for the Rockets, they slipped up in the Mid-American Conference championship game and failed to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

    Southern Miss brings an identical 27-6 record (13-3 Conference USA) into this opening-round NIT matchup.

    Donnie Tyndall's troops were manhandled by Louisiana Tech in the conference semifinals. Though they may have had decent support, like Toledo, to still get a ticket to the Dance, the Golden Eagles have something to prove in this year's postseason.

    Both of these teams play hard. They are both capable of putting up points on one end of the court and shutting down their opponents on the other end.

    While this game could go either way, the Rockets should win a game that could be decided on the final possession.  

Upset Alert: (7) Davidson over (2) Missouri

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Through the end of January, Missouri was looking like a solid Selection Sunday candidate. It was 16-4 and optimistic about the remainder of the 2013-14 season.

    But then February hit, and the Tigers went 3-5 and the skies over Columbia did not look so sunny. A 3-2 March was not enough to get the NCAA selection committee's attention and approval.

    Davidson had a rough patch in December, losing five straight games. But, the Wildcats reeled off 13 wins at the end of the season before being upset by Western Carolina in the Southern Conference semifinals.

    Because head coach Bob McKillop has prepared Davidson in the past to knock off more than a few power conference schools, look for Davidson to take on the "David" role again in this opening-round clash.  

Lock: (1) Florida State over (8) Florida Gulf Coast

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Most of us were amazed last year about this time when we were introduced to Florida Gulf Coast in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

    The unknown school from the Atlantic Sun Conference made a miracle run as a No. 15 seed, beating Georgetown and San Diego State before losing to Florida in the Sweet 16.

    Last year's Eagles coach, Andy Enfield, left to lead USC, and the magic of Dunk City seems to have departed also.

    Although FGCU tied with Mercer for the regular-season league title, it was Mercer who won the league tournament this year and the 2014 automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

    Florida State's defense will be too much for the Eagles.

    Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles will use their athleticism and length to control the game from the onset.

    FSU's smothering defensive pressure will keep Florida Gulf Coast from being able to get rolling.  

Lock: (4) Georgetown over (5) West Virginia

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Location, location, location.

    West Virginia played like world-beaters at home this season, beating Kansas, Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State in Morgantown. On the road, the Mountaineers were 3-8.

    These two teams are evenly matched, but because of WVU's struggles away from home, I am picking Georgetown in a not-so-close game.

Close Call: (3) Louisiana Tech over (6) Iona

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Louisiana Tech has not received the recognition that it has deserved this season. The Bulldogs put up a 27-6 record that included a road win against Oklahoma.

    Iona won the MAAC, but fell to Manhattan in the conference title game.

    Both teams like getting up and down the court and scoring lots of points.

    Usually, this is an advantage for Iona.

    But, since the Bulldogs love to run too, they should be able to come out with a win in a high-scoring affair.

Lock: (2) Georgia over (7) Vermont

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    If Georgia coach Mark Fox could hit rewind and get a November do-over, he would.

    The Bulldogs went 2-4 in the opening month of the season and have been trying to play catch-up ever since that early, rough stretch.

    Under most circumstances, their 12-6 SEC record would have been enough to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

    Vermont is a solid ballclub with a 22-10 record and an America East regular-season title. However, they lost to Albany in the semifinals, ending their chances of going to the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in school history.

    Georgia is too athletic for the Catamounts to match up well here. Could be close, but the Bulldogs should win and move on.  

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