NIT Championship Game
Ok, so it might not be quite as glamorous as 1998, but technically it is another championship game for Tubby Smith. While his predecessor at Kentucky (and arguably the architect of Tubby’s championship run) Rick Pitino is gearing up for yet another Final Four, Tubby is preparing his squad to be able to proudly proclaim “We’re Number 69!”
All kidding aside, yes it is just the NIT, but it is still pretty nice to be able to end the season with a victory. Only a small handful of teams in all of college basketball get to end their season this way. In order to do that, Minnesota’s bigs are going to need to find a way to slow down Stanford big man Josh Owens. Owens has been tough lately, averaging 14 points and 8 rebounds in the NIT – well above his season averages. Much like the rest of the Cardinal lineup, the senior appears to be playing his best basketball at the right time.
It won’t be easy for Minnesota, as they are already missing the services of their best player, Trevor Mbakwe, who went down early in the season with an injury, and now Ralph Sampson III is listed as “questionable” for the championship game. It would be a sad way for the senior to end his career, so one would have to think if there is any way Sampson can play, he will. However, it seems likely his effectiveness would be rather limited.
Minnesota has won six of seven games, but their competition and play hasn’t been terrific. They needed overtime to sneak past Northwestern in the BigTen tournament, and their other wins were over powerhouses like LaSalle and Nebraska. Stanford, while playing in the significantly worse Pac 12, showed relatively well out of conference, playing tight games against Syracuse on the road and beating Oklahoma State, Colorado State and North Carolina State. Too bad it isn’t “Minnesota State….”
No matter on the name of the school, I think Stanford is healthier, and more importantly, more talented than Minnesota. The Gophers have done a nice job salvaging a disappointing season, but Johnny Dawkins’ Cardinal squad is a little more battle tested and little more dynamic offensively. I like the Cardinal to put up plenty of points and be able to outscore Minnesota in an entertaining ballgame. I doubt either coach would trade it for a mere berth in the Big Dance, but I like the Cardinal to cut down the nets in Madison Square Garden in tonight’s ‘pick-em’ contest.
Free Pick: Stanford Cardinal To Win (Pick ‘em)