The NIT quarterfinals are already underway, kicking off with Texas Tech playing Ole Miss. Tech would probably be the story of the NIT if they made the Final Four. In some ways they’re a little like Northern Iowa, but different. Tech already proved they were good by beating a fringe at-large contender, Seton Hall, in the first round, and becoming the beneficiaries of Arizona State falling to Jacksonville. Still, Jacksonville was determined to prove they weren’t a fluke, leading by 11 in the first half and not relinquishing the lead until a quarter of the way through the second. Now Texas Tech faces another at-large contender in Ole Miss, who proved their supremacy over Memphis. (Yes, I know that game is already over.)
Here’s something that can’t be explained by popularity alone: North Carolina is still alive. I questioned their 4 seed as a result of a desire to have them host a game, but they upended a legit at-large contender in Mississippi State. (Not a good round if you wanted vindication for the state of Mississippi.) The finish was rather exciting, with Larry Drew II hitting a buzzer-beating layup over one of the country’s leading shot-blockers in Jarvis Varnado. The Tar Heels will face UAB, who had no problems taking care of North Carolina’s in-state rivals NC State.
North Carolina is still alive; Connecticut is not. They made a game of it – leading before Dorenzo Hudson made a 17-footer with 14 seconds remaining, then seeing Kemba Walker blocked, a made free throw, and unable to hit the buzzer-beater – but Virginia Tech is still playing with a chip on their shoulder from missing the NCAAs. Rhode Island had more trouble than they anticipated against 6-seed Nevada, who had already beaten fringe at-large candidate Wichita State. The Rams led by 10, but Nevada came roaring back to cut the lead to one with five seconds left, only to throw the ball away for their 16th turnover. Illinois breezed by Kent State, while Dayton shockingly had little trouble with Cincinnati, admittedly teams with similar at-large profiles. Now Illinois and Dayton – and V-Tech and Rhode Island – play tomorrow for a spot in New York and to prove the committee had them wrong and the other team right.
Also playing tomorrow will be all four semifinals of the CBI and CIT. After a slow start in the first round, the CBI nearly became as exciting as the NCAAs, as all but one quarterfinal went to overtime. Virginia Commonwealth handled Charleston, beating both teams I expected to make its quarterfinal, and may now be the favorite with how everyone else struggled. But Saint Louis is still alive, despite needing two overtimes to knock off Green Bay. Down two late in regulation, the Billikens had a potential game-winning layup waved off because the player that put it up grabbed the net with the ball still going through, but Kwamain Mitchell stole the ensuing inbounds and tossed it to Willie Reed (no relation… I think) for the game-tying layup, with Green Bay unable to hit a buzzer-beater. The teams scored only three points apiece in the first extra session and nothing at all in the final minute, and Green Bay kept it close late in the second overtime, but not close enough. Who wants to see a VCU-Saint Louis final?
Boston University led by as many as 11 over Morehead State, but the Eagles were able to come back and tie it with 28 seconds left, and the Terriers were unable to convert on three opportunities to break the tie in the final 10, but led for all of OT, though prevailed in the final tally by only two. They play Virginia Commonwealth. Princeton will play Saint Louis as part of a run as impressive as their Ivy-mates Cornell but not as easy. IUPUI actually led by two with 29 seconds left in regulation but John Ashworth missed two free throws that could have all but iced the game, and Ian Hummer grabbed the rebound and sprinted down the court for the game-tying layup. The first overtime went similarly to that in the other game in that half of the bracket, while the second was all Princeton, as IUPUI could only manage two free throws and no field goals.
It was the CIT’s turn to lack excitement. Only Pacific had any trouble at all in the “western bracket” final against Northern Colorado. The Bears got within three with six seconds left but Demetrece Young made one of two to ice the victory. Pacific will play Appalachian State, winner of the only other game in single digits. The Missouri Valley representatives had no trouble at all with Fairfield and Louisiana Tech. (Apparently the CIT doesn’t have a problem with matching teams in the same conference in the semifinals, even when the other two teams are on opposite sides of that conference.)
My pick for CIT final: Appalachian State def. Missouri State. But it’s gonna be close.