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.

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