You won't find a Final Four any wackier than this year's NIT. UCF, TCU, Georgia Tech and CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD!??! But a wacky field doesn't mean we can't grab a winner along the way...
If you think YOUR Bracket is busted, just be glad you weren’t in an NIT pool. Considering the aggregate seed total would eclipse the highest total ever for an NCAA Tournament AND that the NIT only seeds up to #8’s, it is a pretty remarkable situation this week at Madison Square Garden.
If you like chaos, you should be excited. If you like to see a few well-known coaches in new places having success earlier than anticipated, you’ll enjoy seeing Jamie Dixon, Johnny Dawkins and Josh Pastner square off. If you like sheer insanity, then you’ll enjoy Cal State Bakersfield, because is it a good chance to break out all your Roadrunners’ gear, right? If you work in ESPN’s ratings and advertising departments… er…. Not so much.
I’ll admit, this is not the NIT field that is going to bring many casual eyes to the television, but the nightcap between TCU and UCF should be about as much fun as any game between two schools who go by their initials intentionally to avoid the directional-school low-major stigma (don’t call us “Central Florida” thank you very much!) can possible be.
Here’s my take on the NIT Semi-Finals tonight.
Today’s College Basketball Pick:
UCF Knights vs. TCU Horned Frogs -3
Neither team was particularly close to making the NCAA Field of 68 this year, but both are playing like teams you might want to avoid overlooking in 2018. Jamie Dixon raised some eyebrows when he left Pitt for perennial bottom-feeder TCU. A few months later, he looks like the right guy to put his alma matter on the hoops landscape. Johnny Dawkins arrived in Orlando under more auspicious circumstances; dismissed after a tumultuous ‘winning just enough to stay employed but losing way too much to ever be off the hot seat’ tenure at Stanford and looking to rebuild his career with a fledgling midmajor with major resources and desire to elevate.
Both were #4 seeds in the NIT and opened with impressive home wins before going on the road and toppling bigger name foes; UCF winning at Illinois State and smoking Colorado and Illinois, TCU winning a nail-biter at Iowa before pummeling Richmond.
This game feels like a pick em – do you like the more efficient offense of TCU or the elite-level defense of UCF. And me? I’ll take the defense. It travels better. It deals with nerves better. And at the end of the day, even if some jump shots shrink, Tacko Fall won’t. The nation’s tallest player anchors the nation’s stingiest defense. I like them to be on full display tonight.
And it isn’t like UCF is completely devoid of offense. They tallied a healthy 79 points against Colorado and 68 against Illinois. A similar effort with their trademark defense should be enough to get a win tonight at MSG.
Today’s Pick: UCF KNIGHTS +3