No. 1 seed
All three ACC teams in the National Invitation Tournament will open play Tuesday. Virginia, holding a top seed in the tournament, will host Norfolk State. The Spartans were the regular season champions of the MEAC, which earned them an automatic bid into the NIT since they failed to win their conference tournament. Norfolk State wasn’t just the regular season champions: They won every single conference game they played before losing to Bethune-Cookman in the MEAC quarterfinals. With that said, the Spartans were easily defeated by NC State, as well as every other team they faced in the RPI Top 100.
The winner of Virginia-Norfolk State will face either St. Joseph’s or St. John’s. St. Joseph’s boasts four players averaging double-digit scoring despite being one of the slower paced teams in college basketball. Experienced guards Carl Jones (senior) and Langston Galloway (junior) are good three-point shooters which will stretch defenses. St. John’s is one of the best shot-blocking teams in the nation, thanks to 6’6″ sophomore Marco Bourgault’s 4.1 blocks per game. However, they lost their last five games, and eight of their last ten. They aren’t very good offensively, so this would undoubtedly be a defensive grind if it comes to pass.
The second seed in Virginia’s bracket is Massachusetts. The Minutemen were as high as 28th in RPI before losing junior Jesse Morgan to a torn ACL in a loss to St. Louis in January. As a result, UMass has needed contributions from other players after losing their primary three-point shooter. 5’9″ Chaz Williams has averaged 20.5 points per game for Massachusetts over the last four games, and they will need him to stay hot to make a run. Iowa is the third seed in the region. The Hawkeyes shot just 30% beyond the arc as a team, but held teams to 29% from distance. They may not have the shot blockers that St. John’s has, but they are probably better defensively and would also provide a stiff test.
No. 2 seed
The Terrapins’ first opponent is Niagara. Between Miami/Pacific in the NCAA Tournament and this game, it’s the year of the postseason games against schools named for watery things. The Purple Eagles, like Norfolk State, earned an NIT berth by winning their conference regular season championship, going 13-5 in the MAAC. Niagara’s opponents make nearly half of their shots from two-point range, and they have only one player taller than 6’6″ that averages at least 20 minutes per game, so Alex Len could have a big game.
The winner of Maryland-Niagara will face either Denver or Ohio. Denver has one of the best offenses in the nation, shooting 38% from three-point range and 56.1% inside the arc. The Pioneers defense also forces an average of 15.9 turnovers per game. Ohio isn’t quite as good offensively (54.9% shooting for two points, 34.8% for three), but they average 17.6 turnovers per game defensively.
The top seeds on the side opposite Maryland in the region are No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Stanford. Alabama was 13-3 at home this season, but all three losses were in December (Dayton, Mercer, Tulane). Having the top seed in their region will certainly help the Crimson Tide, as they were just 4-8 on the road. Stanford boasts a nice inside-out combination with junior big man Dwight Powell (15.4 points, 8.2 rebounds) and sophomore guard Chasson Randle (14.0 points per game, 35.8% three point shooter).
No. 4 seed
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Florida State will play a conference regular season champion in the first round of the NIT. The Seminoles opponent will be Louisiana Tech, 16-2 in the WAC. However, both losses came in the last two games of the regular season and led into a opening round loss to Texas-San Antonio in the WAC tournament. Louisiana Tech opponents make only 40.1% of their shots, including less 29.4% of three-pointers. That said, the Bulldogs aren’t much better offensively, shooting only 41%.
The winner of Florida State-Louisiana Tech will meet either Southern Mississippi or Charleston Southern. Southern Miss is another electric offensive team (48.7% shooting, 38.7% three-point shooting) that generates a ton of turnovers (17.4 per game), but they also have turnover issues of their own (15.0 turnovers per game, 510 assists to 509 turnovers). Charleston Southern was 12-4 in the BIg South, but didn’t defeat a single team in the RPI top 200 this season.
No. 2 Tennessee and No. 3 Brigham Young are the top seeds on the other side of this bracket. The Volunteers play stifling perimeter defense, but aren’t a great offensive club. Brigham Young’s dynamic duo of senior forward Brandon Davies (17.6 points, 7.8 rebounds) and sophomore guard Tyler Haws (20.9 points, 38.6% three-point shooting) may not have people saying “Jimmer Who?” but they will be tough enough for NIT opponents.