The National Invitation Tournament – better known to most sports fans as the NIT – was once the biggest college basketball tournament of the year, more prestigious than even the NCAA tournament itself. Today, the event has become more of a consolation prize for those who didn’t quite make it into March Madness, providing a venue for second-tier teams to prove themselves against quality competition.
This year’s NIT is highlighted by some fairly strong teams that had legitimate reasons to think they would be playing in the NCAA Tournament heading into Selection Sunday. The “first four out” from the big dance took the top seeds in the NIT instead, and each took care of business in their first round games on Tuesday.
Early Success for Top Seeds
For Notre Dame, Baylor, and Saint Mary’s, that meant easy wins into the second round. But USC faced a stiff challenge from No. 8 seed UNC Asheville, playing a double-overtime thriller before the Trojans eventually emerged victorious by a 103-98 score.
USC is playing in the NIT without leading scorer Chimezie Metu, who is sitting out to avoid potential injury ahead of the NBA draft. The rest of the team seemed unfocused at time, something that even UNC Asheville coach Nick McDevitt acknowledged after the game.
“The shock factor, not playing the NCAA Tournament, just hit them recently,” McDevitt said. “That’s a tough thing.”
The varying levels of motivation and interest between different teams can make following the NIT difficult for fans and bettors alike, especially in the early rounds. But the first set of games on Tuesday saw all nine higher seeds walk away with wins, perhaps showing that the stronger squads have come to play this year.
The remaining first round games will take place on Wednesday night, with a number of competitive regional rivalries on the schedule.
Fans in Pennsylvania will be able to see two local squads face off, with No. 5 seed Temple (17-15) traveling to State College to take on fourth-seeded Penn State (21-13). The Nittany Lions are a heavy favorite to move on into the second round, with bwin listing the home team as a 9.5 point favorite.
Tighter contests are expected in a couple of West Coast contests. Stanford (18-15) will host BYU (24-10), but the game is almost considered a toss-up, with Stanford only giving 2.5 points to the Cougars. Meanwhile, Boise State (23-8) will travel to Seattle to take on Washington (20-12) despite the fact that the Broncos are the higher seed in the tournament. Even with the home court advantage, however, Washington has still been made a 1.5-point underdog by oddsmakers.
In other NIT action on Wednesday, Marquette (-12.5) is heavily favored over Ivy League runner-up Harvard, LSU (-4.5) is favored over in-state rival Louisiana Lafayette, and Mississippi State (-4.5) will take on a Nebraska team that felt it deserved more consideration for the NCAA Tournament than the committee gave it.