Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (26-10) at Oklahoma State Cowboys (21-14)
With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament stealing most of the limelight in March it is rare that we get an opportunity to take a look at the other big tournament, the National Invitational Tournament. The NIT, as it is generally referred to, used to be the tournament used to select our national champion.
They no longer hold that distinction, but the NIT is still an event that is loaded with basketball talent. Several of the teams still playing in the NIT felt they should have been playing in the NCAA tournament and are using the NIT to prove to the Selection Committee that they got it wrong on Selection Sunday.
They have made a couple of interesting rules changes to this tournament as well. They have switched from two halves to four quarters. To the shot clock resetting to just twenty seconds after an offensive rebound instead of the full thirty seconds. They have stretched out the three-point line to match the international arc. And they have widened the lane by four feet to match FIBA as well.
To be honest, I am not a big fan of any of these changes, and I hope this is a one-year pilot that goes away. I love that college basketball has a better flow to it, and I like the NCAA game much more than the NBA or international game, so I don’t like any moves that try and emulate those brands of basketball. The NCAA has basketball right, leave it alone!
Today I will look at a quarterfinals matchup in the NIT where the Cowboys of Oklahoma State host the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky.
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will travel to Stillwater to play the Cowboys of Oklahoma State Wednesday night. The Hilltoppers missed out on the NCAA tournament by just one point as they fell to Marshall in the finals of the Conference USA league tournament. Western Kentucky has wins over Boston College and USC to get to face the Cowboys in the NIT quarterfinals.
For OK State, many people, myself included, thought they should be playing in the NCAA tournament this year and not the NIT. The selection snub hasn’t slowed them down though as the Cowboys have rolled so far in the NIT, beating Florida Gulf Coast and Stanford.
The Cowboys are -4.5-point home favorites. The game total over-under is set at 149.5 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:00 PM PST from Gallagher-Iba Arena.
The Oklahoma State Cowboys did plenty to get into the NCAA tournament this year. This team has a group of wins that rivals many of the top seeds. They have wins over four of the current Sweet 16 teams. They could absolutely play on that level, and they deserved to get in. I am happy to see that the Cowboys haven’t let that snub ruin their post season. The Cowboys have looked energized and engaged and are my pick to win the NIT.
Some teams think that winning the NIT is kind of like kissing your sister. You get to win the tournament that nobody wanted to play in. But for a program like Oklahoma State that has been down recently, this is an opportunity to get your brand out there on national television. There won’t be many teams playing basketball next weekend and Oklahoma State wants to be one of them. Even if a national title isn’t up for grabs.
Conference USA was nowhere near as good as they have been in recent years, but that being said, they were likely a little better than people gave them credit for. The conference ended up with four teams that had twenty-five wins or more, and I think you could have absolutely made a case for Middle Tennessee State getting an at-large bid.
We saw that this league shouldn’t be overlooked in the first round of the NCAA tournament when the Marshall Thundering Heard upset a Wichita State Shockers team that many saw going deep into the tournament.
The Hilltoppers were not the best team in Conference USA this year. They did, however, acquit themselves well in the tougher than most people think league. They had a marquee win in November over Purdue that still looks like a great one. But when you are comparing how battle-tested these teams were in conference play, it is not even close. The Big 12 was an elite league this year and OK State beat just about everyone in it at some point.
Oklahoma State is really good on their home floor this year. They beat Stanford, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas Tech, and Texas in Stillwater this year. The Cowboys have shown that at home, they are as good as any team in the nation.
I expect the Cowboys to handle the Hilltoppers tonight. I don’t expect Western Kentucky to just lay down, I think winning the NIT would be huge for their program, so I expect a full effort from them. But winning in Stillwater has been something that much better teams than Western Kentucky couldn’t do this year.
I expect a close game where OK State pulls away late for an eight or nine-point win. In the end, the Cowboys are just too battle-tested and will be too good on their home floor.
Give me the Oklahoma State Cowboys -4.5-points tonight!