Wednesday, March 30, 2022

NIT Semifinals Recap

Xavier and Texas A&M will play for the NIT title on Thursday at 7 pm. The Musketeers had to hold off St. Bonaventure 84-77, while the Aggies crushed Washington St. 72-56.

The win probability graphs suggest that Tuesday was not a particularly exciting night at Madison Square Garden.

Player of the Round: Dominick Welch of St. Bonaventure once again played all 40 minutes, as the SBU starting five tended to do this season, and scored 25 points, including 7-10 from three. He also added seven rebounds. A special shoutout goes out to Welch's teammate Kyle Lofton who had 15 points and 11 assists before fouling out.

Weird News of the Round: St. Bonaventure sent a bunch of busses to Madison Square Garden and they had a heck of a time getting there. One caught fire. Another was pulled over. A third lost a safety hatch. That meant that some of the students never made it to MSG. What a bummer!

What I'm looking for in the final: 
  • Can Buzz Williams finish off this run? It sure helps his case that Texas A&M was wrongly left out of the NCAA Tournament.
  • What does Jonas Hayes do next? Hayes has done an excellent job of getting Xavier ready to play in this tournament. He should have options for next season. He deserves them.

Prediction: KenPom has the Aggies as a 2-point favorite tomorrow night, 74-72.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

NIT Quarterfinals Recap

The NIT had an exciting Tuesday night and a not exciting (unless you are a Washington St. or Texas A&M fan) Wednesday session. The tournament now concedes the spotlight back to the NCAA Tournament for the long weekend before Tuesday's semifinals at Madison Square Garden, but let's take a look back at the round.

Game of the Round:

St. Bonaventure used two clutch free throws from Kyle Lofton with 5 seconds remaining to take home a 52-51 victory at Virginia. Osun Osunniyi's block of Kihei Clark's last-second layup attempt ultimately sealed the win. The Bonnies won three straight road games at Colorado, Oklahoma, and Virginia to advance to the semifinals. Now the school is talking about sending busses full of students to MSG. (It's a 5.5-hour drive from Olean, NY to MSG.) 

Upset of the Round:

Despite the fact that St. Bonaventure was playing on the road, the only seed upset of the quarterfinals was Washington St. going into Provo, UT and smashing BYU, 77-58. The Cougars have been healthy for their entire NIT run and it has shown. Kyle Smith's team is now up to 33rd in KenPom (one spot below Providence which is playing in the Sweet 16). This was only a seed upset because the resume rankings didn't really matchup to the power rankings before the NIT due to close losses and injuries.

Player of the Round:

Michael Flowers set the Washington St. single-season record for three-pointers during the game against BYU, eclipsing the mark set by Klay Thompson. Flowers scored 27 points and made four three-pointers. He also had five assists and three steals. Flowers, who transferred into WSU after stops at South Alabama and Western Michigan, has made an even 100 threes this season.

News of the Round:

Things have slowed a bit on the news front, but one thing worth noting is that Madison Square Garden will apparently not be hosting the NIT semifinals and finals the next two seasons. ESPN's Pete Thamel had some reporting about it last night, and The Barking Crow reacted to the news earlier yesterday, while generously citing me even though I just managed to read the tea leaves that had been slowly leaking all week.

I don't know where the NIT will end up, but it'd be great if the NCAA decided to put it in a venue that has a history—think more Hinkle Fieldhouse or The Palestra—instead of some new arena in like Las Vegas. I'll always remember when Cal State University Bakersfield made its NIT run in 2017. The players looked so happy when they made it to MSG. You want an arena that inspires that type of awe as the carrot at the end of a long tournament and season.

How are my predictions doing?

Well, I had a chance to get two semifinalists, but Texas A&M blew out Wake Forest in the early game Wednesday night, 67-52. Washington St. was the only team I correctly predicted would make it to MSG and that's where I had their run ending, so my points are kaput. (The fourth team heading to New York City next week is Xavier, which beat Vanderbilt 75-73 on Tuesday.)

What am I looking forward to in the Semifinals?
  • Texas A&M vs. Washington St. is a fun matchup between two coaches that don't seem similar, but actually are when you really think about it. While Buzz Williams has always projected a down-to-earth image, he's actually one of the most analytically forward coaches in college basketball (see this for example). These are two coaches who know how to get the most out of their programs, which is why they're facing off in the NIT. It should make for a fun game. (KenPom expects Washington St. to win by a point, 59-58.)
  • Xavier vs. St. Bonaventure is a chance to get the old A-10 back together. The Musketeers lost 8 of their final 10 games to fall into the NIT—and not even get a No. 1 seed—but they've rebounded to make it all the way to MSG. It's impressive work by Jonas Hayes and the rest of the staff. As previously discussed, the Bonnies had a difficult road to get here, but now they'll face an old friend of sorts. Fun fact, it only takes an hour longer to drive to Xavier from St. Bonaventure as it does to drive to MSG. KenPom sees this one as close too (they all are at this point) with the Musketeers holding a slight edge 74-72.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

NIT Second Round Recap

Game of the Round:

There were two overtime games in the second round. Vanderbilt took out Dayton, 70-68, thanks to a Liam Robbins layup with 39 seconds remaining in overtime. Scotty Pippen Jr. scored 32 points, the only Commodore in double figures. After two home victories, Vanderbilt now heads to Xavier for the quarterfinals.

In the other overtime game, Virginia and North Texas, the two slowest teams in the country, combined to score 30 points in the extra session. The Cavaliers eventually pulled out the victory, 71-69. Reece Beekman had 13 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds for UVA. Mardrez McBride scored 21 points in the loss.

Upset of the Round:

The first No. 1 seeds of the NIT fell in the second round as Dayton (see above), Oklahoma, and SMU all lost. Washington St. went to SMU and took out the Mustangs 75-63 after leading by 19 at halftime. The Cougars are playing with a full complement of healthy players now and Kyle Smith appears to be hitting all the right buttons. WSU will head on the road again to BYU for the quarterfinals. St. Bonaventure continued its time as NIT vagabonds with a victory at Oklahoma. It appears that Bonnies' odyssey will lead them back in Olean, NY where they'll host Virginia in matchup of "unseeded" (but really No. 5 and No. 6 seed) teams. [UPDATE (3/21/2022): Virginia will be hosting St. Bonaventure in the quarterfinals, so the Bonnies will continue NIT odyssey.]

Strange News of the First Round:

Both Xavier and Florida hired coaches before they played a second round game at the Cintas Center on Sunday afternoon. The Musketeers, who hired back Sean Miller, ended up winning 72-56, over the Gators, who hired former San Francisco coach Todd Golden.

Oklahoma had to work hard to keep its home game against St. Bonaventure. The Sooners needed to squeeze the game in despite the women’s team (which takes on Notre Dame tomorrow) hosting an NCAA Tournament pod in Norman, OK this weekend. Too bad it didn't end up mattering.

Player of the Second Round:

Pippen Jr. deserves the honors this round. The Vanderbilt junior star, who ranks 10th nationally in usage rate and first in fouls drawn, showed off both skills in the win over Dayton. He shot 9-24 from the field and 11-13 from the free throw line, while using 38% of Vanderbilt’s possessions, on his way to those 32 points.

How are my predictions doing?

It's over. I had Oklahoma winning the whole thing and the St. Bonaventure victory blew up my bracket. I have gotten 100% of the games in the SMU region correct. I also had Texas A&M-Wake Forest in the quarterfinals. But the entire left side of the bracket is now finished.

What are you looking forward to in the Quarterfinals?
  • Can Kyle Smith keep Washington State rolling at BYU?
  • Will Xavier continue to slay SEC teams?
  • Does Buzz Williams (Texas A&M) or Steve Forbes (Wake Forest) make it to MSG?
  • How does St. Bonaventure do playing at home?
The quarterfinal games are on Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

NIT First Round Recap

I was hoping to do this earlier in the week, but the first round of the NIT is in the books. Let’s take a look back at what happened. 

Game of the Round: 

The 67-63 double-overtime thriller between North Texas and Texas State had everything you could want from a basketball game (except maybe more points). As the win probability graph shows (thanks to ncaahoopR) the Bobcats had a serious chance to win at the end of the first extra session, but couldn’t hold on.

Upset of the Round: 

There weren’t any humongous upsets, but St. Bonaventure took one of the longest trips of the first round all the way out to Colorado and came home to upstate New York with a 76-68 victory. Northern Iowa didn’t have to as far to get to Saint Louis, but the Panthers also scored an impressive upset. 

Strange News of the Round:

Xavier announced that Travis Steele would not be returning after beating Cleveland St. by four points in the first round. The Musketeers are still playing in the NIT, but assistant Jonas Hayes will coach against Florida.

Player of the First Round: 

Tosan Evbuomwan had a great game for Princeton despite the Tigers suffering a disappointing loss against VCU. The unanimous Ivy League Player of the Year nearly had a triple-double with 22 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. He also added two steals but did end up fouling out and committee five turnovers. Still, it was an impressive performance from the junior from Newcastle, England. (If you haven’t read this story about Evbuomwan, I’d highly recommend it.)

How are my predictions doing?

My Madison Square Garden four is still intact, which is about all you can hope for at this point. I was surprised that Toledo played so poorly given the chance to play at home against Dayton.

What are you looking forward to in Rd. 2?
  • Will the winner of Virginia-North Texas crack 60? KenPom has the Mean Green winning 58-53. 
  • What big upset will change the round? I'm personally hoping Washington St. can win at SMU.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Final Thoughts on the NIT Selection Process

The NIT bracket was announced last night at 9 pm on ESPNU, ending weeks (or months) of speculation of which teams were going to be in the field. Ultimately, the committee was left with 17 at-large spots to select once the First Four Out and automatic bids were handed out by the NCAA.

What they did with those spots was a bit of surprise, but maybe it shouldn't have been.

It appears that the committee relied heavily on the NCAA's own internal formula, the NET rankings, to select the top four seeds. The two biggest surprises (at least to me): Utah St. and Washington St. received No. 4 seeds and home games after being ranked 60th and 61st in NET respectively. Three other at-larges (Vanderbilt, Santa Clara, Missouri St.) ranked between 66 and 68. You can see where those selections ranked versus the three teams I had instead in a number of metrics in the table below.

TeamSelectedSeed (Implied)NETKPISORBPIKenPomSagarinQ1/Q2 Ws
Utah St.Yes460831328644665
Washington St.Yes461811096255594
Santa ClaraYes56777877768783
Missouri St.Yes86888948163775
St. John'sNo6982804961464
South CarolinaNo9372558797907

The most surprising outcome when looking at these metrics is that St. John's was left out of the NIT. The Red Storm had a strong NET. Every eligible team ranked above them is playing in either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT. St. John's also had the strongest predictive metrics in BPI and Sagarin and a KenPom ranking right in range with the other contenders. Honestly, I'm not sure why they were left out.

The other surprise for me was that South Carolina was left out of the NIT in favor of Virginia or Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks had the best Strength of Record and second best KPI of all the teams in the table above. Those metrics are generally referred to as "Resume" metrics because they judge outcomes, how you played against the schedule you were given. South Carolina also tied Oregon for the most Q1/Q2 wins and swept Vanderbilt.

So what held South Carolina out? It appears to be its low "Predictive" metrics. South Carolina had by far the lowest KenPom and Sagarin of any team being considered. Theoretically these metrics explain how well a team will do in the future. I'm fine with using these as a seeding tool, but using them for selection seems to set a dangerous precedent. It encourages blowouts and undervalues a team's ultimate won/loss record. If the low predictive metrics are why South Carolina wasn't selected despite otherwise strong credentials that would be an important piece of information to understand moving forward. (It's worth noting though that selection and seeding seemed to follow general past principles except for this outlier case.)

Personally — if this is how selection was going to go — I would've taken St. John's and South Carolina over Missouri St. and a slumping Oregon.

The other interesting trend was the NIT's explicit move towards regionalization. I completely understand why this was done as we continue to come out of a global pandemic. The NIT has always tried to create more regional matchups, for television interest or just in the name of easy travel. (The first round starts only two days after the Selection Show.) This bracket leaned heavily into that idea, so much so that they removed the "seeds" from the visiting teams. That's great, I just wish I knew it was happening sooner. (Also, the implied seeds were pretty "reasonable" even without the lines.)

The regionalization probably favored teams like Utah St. and Washington St., where they needed a few more West Coast teams to fill out a bracket (though the fact that they received home games implies the committee was selecting them anyways). What's also interesting is the distinct lack of a Northeast presence. St. Bonaventure (at Colorado), Iona (at Florida) and Princeton (at VCU) are going to be taking some of the longest trips in the bracket because of a lack of regional competitors. (This seems to be another argument for the inclusion of St. John's.) Also, Rutgers being selected for the NCAA Tournament's First Four robbed us of either Rutgers/Iona or Rutgers/Princeton, which would've been a lot of fun. (Congrats though to the Scarlet Knights!)

Ultimately though this is the bracket. Enjoy the games! I can't wait to do this again next season.

My NIT Picks

 I'm better at projecting than predicting the NIT, but here's my guess at what's going to happen.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

The Consensus NIT Bracket on the Penultimate Day

I've had a lot of requests on Twitter for a Bracket Matrix like experience for the NIT. While I don't plan on programming that at the moment, I thought it might be useful to at least take a look at where things stand on this penultimate day of games. To make this consensus bracket I combined these NIT prognosticators:

If you take the average of those three brackets a consensus of sorts starts to emerge. Here's the combined NIT bracket by seed line:

1OklahomaXavierTexas A&MWake Forest
3FloridaSaint LouisColoradoBelmont
4St. BonaventureMississippi St.VanderbiltOregon
5VirginiaIONASouth CarolinaMissouri St.
6RichmondSanta ClaraDrakeTOLEDO
7TOWSONSt. John'sWashington St.NORTHERN IOWA

The biggest note here is that Vanderbilt and Washington St. only appear in two NIT brackets respectively, so their seed lines are maybe a bit more up in the air (every other team appears in at least three).

The other things that were interesting to me is that consensus appears to be that Wyoming is in the NCAA Tournament over Texas A&M at the moment, which I understand but don't agree with, and that other bracketologists like Missouri St.'s resume way more than I do. (My bracket is the one holding the Bears down as the last 5 seed here.) Also, everyone has already put poor Alcorn St. in the NIT. (They're still alive in the SWAC Tournament though definitely an underdog.)

Hopefully this is helpful as we move forward!

Monday, March 7, 2022

Crucial NIT Games In Major Conference Tournaments

While No. 1 seeds losing in their conference tournaments creates automatic bids to the NIT, the at-large bids that are earned during the second week of Championship Fortnight are typically found in major conference tournaments. The opening rounds offer some intriguing games. Here's a look at all the ones I'll be keeping my eye on.

(Want to see where these teams stand? Check out my current NIT bracket.)

Big Ten Tournament

Northwestern needs to beat Nebraska and Iowa in order to have any chance at making the NIT, considering the Wildcats are currently 14-15 overall. The chances of that seem slim. Maryland is in a similar situation of needing to go at least 2-1, but the Terrapins made it even harder on themselves by finishing 10th in the league standings. The Terrapins would have to beat Michigan St. and Wisconsin to start thinking about the NIT.

The big game though is on Thursday at 11:30 am ET. Indiana and Michigan will play a contest that will likely decide IU's NCAA Tournament fate. A win there and the Hoosiers will have a chance. A loss and they're destined for the NIT. Michigan has a little more breathing room, especially after beating Ohio St. to close the regular season, but the Wolverines would feel much safer with a win.

That's about it from the Big Ten unless Rutgers ends up having to play Nebraska. (Or what people in the New Jersey area are calling the "nightmare scenario".)

Pac-12 Tournament

The 8-9 game to open the tournament on Wednesday is a huge one for the NIT bubble, as Stanford needs a win against Arizona St. in order to stay in consideration for a spot in the tournament. The next game features Oregon, which is likely playing for NIT seeding unless the Ducks make a deep tournament run. If Oregon was to beat Oregon St. in the 5-12 game the Ducks would advance to take on Colorado in a game with all sorts of NIT seeding implications (though I think Colorado would be safe even with a loss).

On the other side of the bracket, Washington St. has to beat Cal in order to have any chance of making the NIT. The Cougars just can't afford another bad loss and the Golden Bears are 143rd in the current NET rankings. A win means WSU gets to play UCLA and a win there would be a huge boost to any NIT hopes.

SEC Tournament

Vanderbilt opens the SEC tournament against Georgia. The Commodores have to win in order to finish the season with an above .500 record, which still appears to be a baseline requirement for NIT consideration. Vandy would then get to play Alabama on Thursday, which would be another chance for a statement win.

Thursday's noon opener is the 8-9 game between Texas A&M and Florida. That game is essentially an NCAA bubble buster game. Neither team can likely play their way into the Big Dance with just that win, but they can definitely play their way out of the NCAA Tournament and into the NIT. South Carolina takes on Mississippi St. in the 7-10 game at 6 pm that same day. While I think both of those teams are most likely safe even with a loss, the winner could lock up a home game in the NIT.

Big 12 Tournament

Even going 2-1 to get to .500 is probably not going to be enough for West Virginia to make the NIT after going 4-14 in the Big 12, but it's their best shot. The opportunity starts with the 8-9 game on Wednesday night against Kansas State. The only other game of relevance to the NIT bracket is Oklahoma's opener against Baylor on Thursday at 6 pm. If the Sooners win that they could be a serious NCAA at-large contender. If OU loses they'll probably get a nice NIT seed for their efforts.

Big East Tournament

Xavier probably can't afford a loss to Butler in the tournament opener at 4:30 pm on Wednesday afternoon. Otherwise the Musketeers, and their rather uninspiring profile, will most likely be dancing. St. John's follows in the 7-10 game against DePaul. The Red Storm have to win that game in order to stay in NIT contention. Theoretically the Blue Demons — who are 101st in NET — could also try and get into the NIT picture, but it would likely take a deep-ish run at Madison Square Garden. The only other real game of note is Creighton's opener against Marquette. But are the Blue Jays really going to get left out of the NCAA Tournament because they lost to the Golden Eagles?

Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament

First off, the ACC Tournament starts on Tuesday! Just a reminder. The biggest game on the first day? Clemson versus N.C. State. The Tigers are 16-15 and 86th in the NET, but have as many Q3/4 losses as Q1/2 wins (4 each). A loss to the Wolfpack and there's no chance. A win though sets up an intriguing matchup against a Virginia Tech team that the Tigers just beat to close the regular season. The Hokies need to win that game on Wednesday and the next one against Notre Dame to have any hope of making the NCAA Tournament. Of course, the Irish have a sneakily light profile for being the No. 2 seed in the ACC, and should probably win that game as well. The other team to watch at the bottom of the bracket is Virginia. The Cavaliers will get a useless game against either Louisville or Georgia Tech before taking on North Carolina. Beating Duke probably sealed UNC's NCAA fate, while UVA needs a big run in Brooklyn to get into the NCAA picture.

The top of the bracket holds a bit less intrigue. The Syracuse-Florida St. 8-9 game at noon on Wednesday is the biggest one. Both teams are hanging around the NIT bubble. Though Syracuse needs to go 2-1 in the tournament, which would mean beating Duke, in order to get to .500 overall. The Seminoles are in a much safer position at 17-13, but a loss would come at a time when they don't have much margin for error. Wake Forest's NCAA profile can't afford a loss to either Boston College or Georgia Tech, but the next game against Miami FL would only offer upside.

Friday, March 4, 2022

March 4 NIT Bracketology

This bracket is likely the last one before an automatic bid is added to the NIT field. While I haven't done an entire seed scrub, this bracket is at least explanatory of where teams stand heading into a key weekend for the NIT.

Want to follow the changes? Checkout out the Current NIT Bracket. They're the same as of publishing on Friday night, but they'll diverge as the games are played out this weekend and I dive deeper into some of the NIT resumes.

Last NCAA Teams (In Order Safest to Least): Rutgers, VCU, Miami FL, Wake Forest, North Carolina, SMU, Memphis, Notre Dame

NIT Bracket (bubble teams in italics):

1. Wyoming
8. Wichita St.
4. Colorado
5. New Mexico St.
3. Oregon
6. St. John's
2. BYU
7. Utah St.

1. Indiana
8. Washington St.
4. South Carolina
5. Florida St.
3. Virginia
6. UCF
2. Texas A&M

1. Loyola IL
8. Fresno St.
4. St. Bonaventure
5. Mississippi St.
3. Belmont
6. Santa Clara
2. Dayton
7. Missouri St.

1. Florida
8. Syracuse
4. Oklahoma
5. Saint Louis
3. UAB
6. Richmond
2. Virginia Tech
7. Drake

Also considered: Furman (I guess?)

How ESPN Might Save The NIT

ESPN’s relationships with the NCAA, SEC and ACC might end up saving the NIT. At least that is my initial takeaway after reading a memo that ...