As it turned out, the game of the NIT quarterfinals was the game that was already over by the time I posted my last look at the lesser tournaments. Texas Tech missed game-winning shots at the end of regulation and the first overtime, and Ole Miss…didn’t, driving the length of the floor in five seconds en route to a Murphy Holloway layup and-one. That’s the most trouble the Rebels have had for the tournament, against something of a Cinderella run by the 5 seed. All the other quarterfinals were in single digits but didn’t provide the same kind of last-second drama. No A-10 teams may remain in the NCAA Tournament, but two tourney snubs are going to Madison Square Garden. Rhode Island held off a late run for a 5-point victory over Virginia Tech, while Dayton knocked off another 1 seed, Illinois, by seven. No 1 seeds will make the NIT final four.
But the George Mason story of the NIT has to be North Carolina. Look at how disappointing the Tar Heels’ season has been! Forget the NCAA Tournament, they’re on the NIT bubble! The only reason they’re a 4 seed in the NIT is because people want them to host a game and get the biggest fan base to fill the seats! And yet the Tar Heels have been playing like the team everyone thought they would be, the defending national champions who have now taken out three teams with better NCAA bubble credentials than them. First it was William and Mary, then Mississippi State, and now UAB has found out that the Bulldogs were not the only team they should fear in their bracket. Now UNC gets the NCAA Tournament experience and one more team that missed out on the NCAAs in Rhode Island. For the Rams, Dayton, and Ole Miss, proving the NCAA committee wrong is the motivation in MSG. For North Carolina, it’s proving everyone in March wrong, and everyone in November right.
What may have been a dream matchup will happen in the CBI’s best-of-three Championship Series: Virginia Commonwealth vs. Saint Louis. Both teams won their semifinal games by double digits, although VCU didn’t shake Boston University until late. VCU was the 5 seed in the CAA tournament, but only two of their losses came outside of conference, and they beat a George Mason team that had a very short trip to the CIT, and forced overtime against eventual tourney champion Old Dominion. Saint Louis became a spoiler for A-10 at-large contenders late in the season, briefly becoming a borderline at-large contender themselves. Both teams now get a chance at the spotlight, however small, and bragging rights heading into next season.
In the CollegeInsider tournament, the semis were split over two days, with Missouri State and Creighton playing an all-Valley matchup on Wednesday. Missouri State won after going on a 10-0 run once Creighton tied the game with over six minutes to play. The following day, Pacific knocked off an Appalachian State team that had made it all the way to the SoCon finals in hostile territory, and will now play their fourth straight road game. The perennial Big West powers were the 2 seed in the conference tournament but were upended by Long Beach State, and in some sense are the North Carolina of the CIT, winning despite constant disrespect.
So if you’re not interested in the Women’s Elite Eight and you’ll miss March Madness over the course of the next week, fret not. If you know where to look, there’s basketball every day of the next week.
Lesser Tournament Championship Week:
CBI Game 1: Saint Louis @ VCU, Monday 7 ET, HDNet
NIT Semifinal: Dayton v. Mississippi, Tuesday 7 ET, ESPN2
CIT Final: Pacific @ Missouri State, Tuesday 8 ET, FCS
NIT Semifinal: Rhode Island v. North Carolina, Tuesday 9 ET (after Dayton-Mississippi), ESPN2
CBI Game 2: VCU @ Saint Louis, Wednesday 8 ET, HDNet
NIT Final: DAY/MISS winner v. URI/UNC winner, Thursday 7 ET, ESPN
CBI Game 3 (if necessary): VCU @ Saint Louis, Friday 8 ET, HDNet