After a down year for conference basketball, SEC fans might be paying more attention to the NIT than the Big Dance this week. That’s because two of its most traditionally successful teams, Kentucky and Tennessee, are stuck playing in March’s second-biggest tournament. They’ll be joined by Alabama, another high-profile program that ended up on the wrong side of the bubble. While mid-major darlings like Middle Tennessee State, Saint Mary’s, Boise State, and La Salle earned at-large invitations, the SEC’s weak profile helped separate these former powerhouses from the NCAA Tournament.
Instead of kicking off the second-season on Thursday and Friday’s glorious start to March Madness, half of the SEC’s postseason teams will get to work on Tuesday and Wednesday in the opening round of the NIT. However, just because they aren’t playing on the big stage doesn’t mean that all of the must-watch games in the conference are confined to Florida, Ole Miss, and Missouri. A deep NIT field means that there are plenty of high-level match-ups waiting to fill in the gaps between NCAA Tourney play. Three different SEC teams will look to redeem their seasons with a deep run in the country’s second-most-prestigious basketball tournament. Here are the potential games to keep an eye out for once NIT play begins, assuming that the basketball gods pair up these teams in the best possible manner:
- Kentucky vs. Providence (NIT Second Round): Two teams that were forsaken by Rick Pitino in the past three decades will try to build their case for 2014 in a second round match-up built for basketball purists. Providence will be playing its last games in the Vincent Council era, but a young core led by Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts has Ed Cooley’s Friars trending upward. Of course, no team may have more unrealized potential in the NCAA right now than Kentucky. The Wildcats missed out on the NCAA Tournament thanks to a late-season fade brought on by Nerlens Noel’s season ending knee injury. If Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin decide to jump to the NBA this summer, this could be their last chance to make an impact as Blue Bloods. Despite playing in the NIT, each program has a ton to prove in this potential second round game. Read the rest of this entry »