Checking In On The ‘Other’ Tournaments – NIT, CBI, and CIT Championships Get Decided This WeekPosted by EJacoby on March 27th, 2012
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
Only four teams out of 345 are truly happy with how their seasons have turned out, and they’re the four headed to New Orleans this weekend for the Final Four. But there are hundreds of other schools that didn’t even get a chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament that need to work that much harder to get their shot next season. That’s what the NIT, CBI, and CIT tournaments are for – not all teams are motivated to compete (see: Seton Hall’s second round NIT loss as a #1-seed), and these tourneys may not draw many casual fans, but they’re important for players, coaches, and fans who want to see their teams finish strong and work on reaching the Big Dance next season. The beauty of March Madness is that a CBI team this season could be in the Sweet Sixteen next year. You never know who that’s going to be. Let’s take a look at who’s left in the ‘other’ postseason tournaments, which all come to a conclusion this week before the Final Four…
The 32-team NIT tournament draws intrigue as the best teams that got ‘snubbed’ by the NCAA Tournament with a chance to validate their seasons with a championship in Madison Square Garden. We’re down to four teams and the semifinals begin tonight (Tuesday).
#1 Washington vs. #6 Minnesota. Call the Pac-12 the kings of mediocrity this season. The conference only sent two teams to the Big Dance (who combined to go 1-2) but it has two teams remaining in the NIT semis and one of the two teams competing in the CBI finals. Washington might be the single most talented team in the country that didn’t get a chance to play in the Big Dance, and the Huskies are proving it in the NIT. Led by several talented athletes looking to build towards next season or perhaps even boost their NBA stocks, UW is the favorite here. Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross are two of those players with NBA thoughts and both are playing exceptional basketball right now, with Ross being the NIT’s leading scorer at 26.3 points per game. Minnesota, meanwhile, has had to play all three games on the road to get here, grinding out victories in typical Big Ten fashion. The Golden Gophers have been motivated by the news that their leader Trevor Mbakwe (injured all season) has been granted a sixth year of eligibility to play next season, so there is plenty of hope for the future. Explosive forward Rodney Williams has been leading this team and will also be back next season. Tubby Smith’s team has been playing hard but will be underdogs against this loaded UW squad.
#3 Stanford vs. #5 Massachusetts. In the other semifinal, another Pac-12 team coasted to the semis by playing at home and again showing its dominance over other mediocre squads. This Stanford team is young and has much to look forward to next season, but so does its opponent in UMass. This will actually be an exciting game to watch as there are no ulterior motives in place, just two young teams that are looking to improve and give their fans something to be excited for next season. Both teams have exciting young guards – Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright for Stanford, and Chaz Williams for UMass, a player who is averaging 22.6 points per game in this tournament.
It’s down to two teams from power conferences that are playing in a best-of-three series to determine the champion of this 16-team tournament.
Pittsburgh vs. Washington State. What do you know? Another Pac-12 team here. Washington State had a mediocre year but is led by one of the conference’s top players in junior forward Brock Motum (18.0 points, 6.4 rebounds per game). Of course, Motum now has an injured ankle and was unable to play in Game 1 of this three-game series to determine the champion. Wazzu still won that game by one point at home. The next game will be played in Pittsburgh on Wednesday in front of the Oakland Zoo crowd that’s annually one of the very best in college basketball. Pitt had a very disappointing season, but the Panthers have continued to play out this year in typical Jamie Dixon fashion. Ashton Gibbs would like a championship before he leaves as a senior, and expect Pitt to handle business on Wednesday with Motum questionable to play for Washington State. This will likely come down to a decisive Game 3 Friday for the CBI title.
The CIT is comprised of 32 mid-major teams that didn’t get invited to any of the first three tourneys, and we’re down to the final two teams here as well. The championship game will be played on Wednesday night.
Utah State vs. Mercer. These two teams were popular underdog picks to win their conference tournaments – Mercer in the Atlantic Sun and Utah State in the WAC – but both were unable to earn an automatic NCAA Tournament bid in that fashion. They kept playing hard and will determine the CIT championship at Utah State, a tough place to play that will no doubt give the Aggies the edge. Preston Medlin is averaging 23.3 points per game in the tournament and will be the man to watch for Utah State in this one.