The NCAA Tournament gets all the glory, but it isn’t the only show in town. The NIT used to matter a whole lot more than it does, but it still provides some great action every year, and there is nothing wrong with basketball at Madison Square Garden. It provides yet more opportunities to bet on great elimination action in March.
We’ll get to some 2014 NIT bracket picks and predictions in a moment, but before we do let’s look at two key things to remember when looking to handicap this tournament.
1. Not happy to be here: Not every team is happy to be in the NIT. This can especially be the case for top seeds because they came the closest to making the NCAA Tournament field. Kentucky is a perfect example last year. They were the defending National Champions, but little went right last year. The wildly-talented team was the highest seed in the NIT, but they were frustrated and ready for the suffering of the season to end. They went out with a whimper in the first round to Robert Morris. There aren’t any teams this year pouting quite like Kentucky last year, but motivation is still a major factor.
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2. Location matters: The semis and finals are played at MSG, but the rest of the games are played at the home arena of the higher seed. That can potentially be a big boost for home teams. That boost might not be as much as you expect, though. Some fanbases don’t get excited by NIT games, and ticket sales can be challenging because there is little lead time. Doing a little online research into how fans are embracing games can give you an edge over the public in terms of assessing the impact of the home court.
The top seeds
Click here for full printable 2014 NIT brackets from Doc’s Sports
SMU is going to be the interesting one to watch here. They were absolutely snubbed in the NCAA Tournament field, and my sense is that at this point in his career Larry Brown is more likely to pout than rally. The other three — Minnesota, St. John’s and Florida State — are all talented, and they did some good things this year, but ultimately they all wound up here because they couldn’t quite pull through against top-level competition. Any of the four could win this tournament, but none are good enough to be considered heavy favorites. If I had to pick one of the four to get behind, it would be St. John’s. Though they lost to their best opponents — Wisconsin, Syracuse, Villanova (twice), Creighton (though they beat them at home) — they played each of them tough. They have the big advantage of playing at home throughout the tournament, so they will be comfortable. The No. 2 seed in their bracket is Cal and third is Arkansas, so they don’t face terrifying opposition. Coach Steve Lavin is due for a big showing, too.
No. 4 Green Bay: This is a team that went 14-2 in a solid Horizon League and fell in overtime in their conference tournament. They played Wisconsin very close at home early in the year, so they can rise to the occasion. They have a very good guard in junior Keifer Sykes, who is averaging more than 20 points per game. They run into St. John’s in the second round, so one team I like is going to fall early. This team could make things interesting, though.
No. 7 Davidson: This is a team that seems to peak in March, and this year could be no exception. They had 10 losses before conference play even began, so it was pretty easy to write this team off. When you look closer, though, you see that few teams challenged themselves more out of their conference. They lost to five ranked teams — Duke, Virginia, New Mexico, North Carolina and Wichita State — and played Clemson as well. Building off that humbling experience, they went 15-1 in the Southern Conference before falling in overtime in their second conference tournament game. They are seasoned, they are led by a very good player in senior forward De’Mon Brooks, and their draw — starting with underwhelming second seed Missouri, is reasonable.
No. 4 San Francisco: The Dons face a vulnerable SMU in the second round, so they have an opportunity to make some waves. They finished tied for second in the decent WCC, and though they lack a defining win, they have played some decent games. What stands out about this team, though, is that they can shoot. They are deep with potential scorers, and they like to throw the ball up. If they can get that ball falling then they can beat anyone in their bracket. What they can’t afford, though, is to get into a defensive battle, because they are just plain awful defensively.
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