Madison Square Garden plays host to the reluctant title contenders, the last four remaining in the NIT.
Aptly considered a consolation tournament, some (St. Bonaventure) showed up flat and lost to an eighth seed, some (LSU) didn't show up at all and the rest put everything on the line to end the season on a high note and win a championship.
The four left standing personify the last point, and it's a hodgepodge of names featuring only one No. 1 seed and a couple of defenses that rank among the best in the nation.
Like this year's Big Dance Cinderella Syracuse, don't sleep on the remainder of the NIT.
NIT Bracket and Schedule
|Mar. 29||7 p.m.||ESPN||No. 1 Valparaiso vs. No. 2 BYU|
|Mar. 29||9 p.m.||ESPN||No. 4 George Washington vs. No. 2 San Diego State|
Proving the Snub
Valparaiso doesn't seem too thrilled to suit up for the NIT, nor should it be.
The Crusaders watched iffy tournament selections like Michigan stumble early, meanwhile touting a 49th slotting in ESPN's RPI rankings and tallying a rank of eighth in adjusted defensive efficiency at KenPom.com.
Not that the Crusaders should only be known for their defense, but holding bracket opponents to 73, 69 and 44 points—the last number coming against No. 2 Saint Mary's—certainly helps the focus go there.
Forward Alec Peters paces an elite offense, though, his 18.5 points per game average barely seems relevant after outings of 28, 26 and 20 points.
Peters and Valparaiso have something to prove, though nothing will come easy against another No. 2 seed in the form of an encounter with the BYU Cougars.
The Pick: Valparaiso
BYU isn't a slouch by any means, but this one looks like a mismatch any way it is sliced.
The Cougars sit 76th in RPI and don't rank better than 43rd in offensive or defensive efficiency. The so-so numbers have translated to the tournament, where the Cougars have taken care of business, but not in overly impressive fashion. BYU trounced seventh-seeded UAB before slipping past No. 3 Virginia Tech and No. 4 Creighton by a combined nine points.
Chase Fischer (18.3 points per game) and the Cougars have a reputation as a team with a run-and-gun attack, but an impressive average of 84 points per game came against a strength of schedule ranked 133rd.
Intent on proving the selection committee wrong, Valparaiso's strength will shine on the way to another win.
Prediction: Valparaiso 77, BYU 72
Backing Up the Numbers
It's impossible not to look at the at NIT and wonder what sort of damage San Diego State could have inflicted on the Big Dance.
Ranked 42nd in RPI with a slotting of second in adjusted defensive efficiency, it's fair to wonder. The Aztecs simply shut down any and all comers, hence only one team has scored more than 56 points against them in the tournament thus far.
It's a total team effort on the offensive end of the court, too, with three players scoring 11 or more points per game and Winston Shepard leading the way in assists (3.1) and rebounds (6.5).
After a 72-56 dismissal of fourth-seeded Georgia Tech, Shepard spoke with Mark Zeigler of U-T San Diego and summarized the Aztecs well:
It appears the Aztecs find themselves charted for an encounter with the Crusaders for the right not only to hoist a trophy, but to beat their chest as the best snub of all.
No. 4 George Washington, of course, has something to say about the matter.
The Pick: San Diego State
George Washington is a lot like BYU in that it ranks well in adjusted offensive efficiency (34th), but leaves much to be desired on the opposite end of the spectrum (144th).
The Colonials took advantage of a 123rd-ranked strength of schedule to amass 23 wins and beat No. 1 Monmouth 87-71 and No. 2 Florida 82-77.
Taking down a pair of No. 2 seeds just doesn't seem in the cards.
Shutting down Monmouth looked good, but it's a different animal when dancing with the Aztecs' defense. An offense only averaging 76 points per game against such a schedule won't hold up against the balanced, pace-controlling San Diego State rotation.
Look for the Aztecs to clamp down and help form what is quite the defensive-minded NIT title game.
Prediction: San Diego State 79, George Washington 68