Remember one week ago, when names like Murray State and Temple were on everybody’s lips, clamoring about their exclusion from the Field of 68? Well, they’re not actually done yet. With all of the buzz surrounding March Madness and the NCAA Tournament, it’s easy to forget that the college basketball is still going on for more than just the Sweet 16. While we have been watching the Big Dance, three subordinate postseason tournaments – the NIT, the CBI, and the CIT – have been progressing in the shadows. Here’s a look at the eight teams that are left in the little-brother bracket of the NIT. I will follow up with a look at the CBI and CIT tomorrow, as well as a Sweet 16 preview.
Temple – Fran Dunphy’s team was one of the more notable snubs from the NCAA Tournament. I certainly had them in, and pretty far above the cut line. The Owls did almost everything asked of them. They beat Connecticut at home in a must-win game. They toppled Memphis in the AAC Tournament, before falling to eventual champion SMU. Apparently that last loss, coupled with Wyoming’s bid-stealing run through the Mountain West, was enough to keep Temple out of the Big Dance. Their prize for a 23-10 season and a huge win over Kansas? A top seed in the NIT. The Owls, led by an experienced backcourt of Will Cummings and Quenton DeCosey, have made the most of their opportunity, slipping past Bucknell in their NIT opener and then beating former A-10 rival George Washington by 13. Cummings is shooting 60% from the field – not to mention a perfect 17-for-17 from the stripe – in these two games, scoring 30 and 21 respectively. The Owls will try to keep their postseason run going against Louisiana Tech.
Louisiana Tech – The Bulldogs won the C-USA regular season title, but were cast aside by UAB, who as you may have heard, won the automatic bid and beat Iowa State in the Big Dance. Tech was rewarded with an automatic berth in the NIT. In their first game, Raheem Appleby and Jacobi Boykins led the charge against Central Michigan. Despite getting outrebounded in the second round against Texas A&M, Louisiana Tech toppled the Aggies, 84-72, to reach the NIT quarterfinals. Getting beaten on the boards isn’t quite so bad when you hit over 54% of your shots. The Bulldogs are going to need to keep shooting this well if they want to beat the Owls, but Temple is holding NIT teams to under 39% shooting. Will offense or defense prevail when Tech heads to the Palestra?
Richmond – The Spiders tried to claw their way into the Tournament field, putting together a six-game winning streak heading into the A10 tournament, but couldn’t get past a determined VCU squad. Richmond did put together a pretty good season, though, going 19-13 overall and winning 12 games in the Atlantic 10. Their first-round draw in the NIT was NEC champions St. Francis Brooklyn, whom they downed 84-74. Despite a big disparity on paper in terms rebounding – the Terriers ranked 14th in rebounds per game, while the Spiders came in 343rd – Richmond held their own on the boards and shot nearly 54%. Six of eight players that saw the floor for the Spiders scored in double figures, including Terry Allen and his 21-point, 11-rebound performance. In the second round, Richmond’s inability to rebound was an issue, as Arizona State outrebounded them 46-30. It almost cost the Spiders, too, but ASU’s Savon Goodman couldn’t convert on a second-chance opportunity late in the game that may have ended the game in regulation. Instead, Allen, who had another double-double against the Devils, hit four crucial free throws for Richmond that sealed the deal and sent them to the quarterfinals to face Miami.
Miami – The Canes were another team that I had in the tournament, but alas, they were not selected. I was actually pretty surprised that Richmond was ahead of them. Miami will have the chance to beat those Spiders today in the NIT quarterfinals. Miami finished the regular season with a 21-12 record and a 10-8 mark in the ACC. Not too shabby. Losses to Green Bay, Eastern Kentucky, and Wake Forest are what sealed the Hurricane’s fate. In the first round of the NIT, they drew NC Central, who won the MEAC title outright after a 16-0 conference campaign, before falling to Delaware State in their league tournament. The Eagles proved a difficult matchup for Miami, but the Canes prevailed 75-71, despite letting Central cut an eight-point lead to two in the last two minutes of the game. Miami hit their free throws and moved on. In the second round, they trailed Alabama at the half, but used a 33-12 run in the second half to turn a seven-point deficit into a 14-point advantage. From there, the Canes held on for a 73-66 victory over the Crimson Tide. Miami won the battle of the boards in their first two games, while also knocking down 17 threes. If they can keep it up on the glass, they might have a big advantage against the Spiders.
Vanderbilt – Kevin Stallings’ team may not be the best in the nation, but they are still fighting to keep their season alive. The Commodores never really sniffed an NCAA Tournament bid, but they have made the most of their invite to the NIT. They’ve also had a little luck along the way. After holding Saint Mary’s to under 40% from the field and under 20% from beyond the arc, Vandy moved on to the second round of the NIT. Rather than top-seeded Colorado State, the Commodores faced South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits pulled off the upset of CSU in the first round, sending the Rams – yes, the same Rams that I had safely in the Field of 68 – tumbling out of the bracket early. Vanderbilt had no such problems against South Dakota State, shooting nearly 60% from the field and from the arc. Wade Baldwin IV missed a triple-double by one assist. The Commodores, one of two SEC teams still playing (you may have heard some things about the other one over past couple months), head to Palo Alto today to face Stanford in the NIT quarterfinals. Will two SEC teams be hoisting crowns this year?
Stanford – Chasson Randle and the Cardinal played their way out of the Big Dance, but they are still a pretty good team. Stanford knocked out Big West champions UC Davis in the first round of the NIT. The Cardinal gave Corey Hawkins, the Aggies’ sharpshooter, everything he wanted, but they shut down the rest of their team. Hawkins shot 12-for-22, while the other eight Aggies went 10-for-37. Stanford rolled, 77-64, behind Randle and Marcus Allen. This win sent them to play Rhode Island, where Randle went nuts. He scored a career-high 35 points against the Rams, getting to the line for an absurd 19 free throw attempts. The Cardinal only shot 34% from the field against URI, and only assisted on three of their 18 baskets, but shot a ridiculous 49 free throws. Stanford won’t be able to rely on getting fouled 35 times against Vanderbilt, who foul quite a bit less than Rhode Island (four fewer per game). Without the benefit of a million trips to the line, will the Cardinal be able to get back on track on the offensive side of the ball?
Old Dominion – The Monarchs were one of the more interesting bubble teams this season. After a 24-win campaign, ODU still found itself tied for second-place behind Louisiana Tech in the C-USA. Then, the Monarchs ended all doubt by losing to Middle Tennessee in their conference tournament. But this team is pretty good. They are around the Top 100 in rebounding and assists. In the first round, Old Dominion moved past Big South champions Charleston Southern. Then, they took on Missouri Valley upstart Illinois State, who were coming off the upset over Wichita State. In a hotly-contested matchup, the Monarchs prevailed 50-49 behind a late Jonathan Alredge layup. The Monarchs have won both games, but they are shooting roughly 37% from the field, under 30% from downtown, and just over 50% from the free throw line. Will they find their shooting touch against Murray State in the NIT quarterfinals?
Murray State – The Racers were a really hard team to keep out of the tournament. The 27-5 (16-0) regular-season mark just looks so good on paper. But with that resume? It’s not that hard to fathom leaving Murray State out of the Field of 68. Cam Payne and the rest of the Racers score nearly 80 points per game, while holding opponents to under 70. Murray State ran past UTEP in the first round of the NIT, 81-66. Behind Payne’s near-triple-double, Jarvis Williams’ 25 and 14, and 21 points from T.J. Sapp, the Racers dominated the Miners. In the second round, Murray State took on AAC foes Tulsa. Payne again helped lead the way for the Racers to blow out the Hurricanes. His 20 points and seven assists paced Murray to an 83-62 victory and a date with Old Dominion in the NIT quarterfinals. This team is playing with a big chip on its shoulder after missing out on a ticket to the Big Dance. Could an NIT championship change the perception of small-conference teams everywhere?
Temple over Louisiana Tech
Miami over Richmond
Vanderbilt over Stanford
Murray State over Old Dominion
Temple over Miami
Murray State over Vanderbilt
Murray State over Temple