ACC Snubs Fill Up the NITPosted by KCarpenter on March 19th, 2013
The cases for Virginia and Maryland were always tough to make. Both teams were able to hang their hats on seriously good wins, yet both also had some of the ugliest losses on the bubble. That these two teams found themselves on the wrong side looking in Sunday evening isn’t all too surprising. Yet, they move on. Along with Florida State, these ACC teams are set to play in that other national tournament, starting this evening. So if the First Four match-ups aren’t to your taste, there is some fine basketball scheduled for the NIT involving ACC teams tonight.
Niagara at Maryland at 7:00 PM
Maryland got a # 2 seed in the NIT and drew a team that won its conference regular season but flopped in the conference tournament. The MAAC’s Niagara is a run-and-gun team that makes up for it’s relatively pedestrian team three-point shooting with skilled ball-handlers who rarely turn the ball over. T.J. Cline is usually the biggest man on the court for Niagara, and he measures out at only 6’8″. However, like the rest of the team, he is a gleeful participant in the perimeter-based attack and has attempted 112 threes this season (leading his team with a 33.9% mark). On the defensive end, the team is effective at forcing turnovers, critical considering Maryland’s difficulty in hanging on to the ball. Of course where Niagara has a fast, agile attack, Maryland has size. No one on the roster can match up with 7’1″ Alex Len, and the trouble that Niagara has in terms of rebounding is a serious problem against an elite offensive rebounding team like Maryland. If the Purple Eagles can scramble and keep forcing turnovers on the defensive end while getting open perimeter looks (Maryland has done a good job contesting threes all season), Niagara has a shot at the upset. Without this, however, Alex Len is well-equipped to dominate this game on both ends.
Louisiana Tech at Florida State at 7:15 PM
Unsurprisingly, the closest match-up tonight comes when the #4 seed Seminoles take on their #5 seed opponent. Louisiana Tech looked like it was a team that would be dancing just a few weeks ago. The Bulldogs had won 18 straight games and were ranked in the AP poll (#25) for the first time in school history. Then the wheels came off. Louisiana Tech closed out the season by losing its last two regular season games and then dropped its conference tournament opener to Texas-San Antonio. This effectively ended the Bulldogs chances at making the Big Dance, but it set up an interesting game here against the Seminoles.
The Bulldogs are a consistent and well-rounded defensive team that features one of the best shot-blockers in the nation. Michael Kyser blocks 14.6% of all opponent field goals attempted (second best in the nation). This season, he has averaged 2.8 BPG… in just under 20 MPG. Still Kyser is only an element of a team that put together its impressive win streak by virtue of stingy defense, something that Florida State would appreciate most seasons. Even as the season ended, the coalescing of team identity that ACC fans have come to expect of coach Leonard Hamilton’s squad simply never emerged. Florida State is a bad defensive team and a maddeningly inconsistent offensive one. If this game was being played in Ruston, Louisiana, it would be easy to pick the Bulldogs. In Tallahassee, however, the outcome becomes more uncertain. If “good” FSU shows up, a win is quite likely; of course if “bad” FSU shows up, it will be hard to call the loss an upset.
Norfolk State at Virginia at 9:00 PM
Virginia is one of the top seeds in this tournament (along with Kentucky, Alabama and Southern Mississippi), but Norfolk State probably feels like it belongs in the NCAAs more than the Cavaliers. They made the Big Dance last year and pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year, taking down #2 seed Missouri. They followed up that performance by sweeping the MEAC, going an impressive 16-0, only to lose in the first round of the MEAC Tournament to Bethune-Cookman in an overtime shocker. It was a disappointing anti-climax for a team that probably felt ready to try to one-up its performance from last year. Unfortunately for Norfolk State, Virginia is a rough match-up for this squad. NSU made it’s living on tough perimeter defense coupled with a fierce up-tempo (though often ineffective) attack. Virginia is capable of smothering the speed of the Spartans with its own tenacious defense, and a methodical and devastating offense that is less dependent on the three-point shot than many would believe. The Cavaliers have lost to worse teams (see: Old Dominion), but Virginia is the highest-ranked team on KenPom that isn’t in the NCAA Tournament for a reason (#27!).