2013 NIT Bracket Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 3/18/2013
The top storyline of the NIT this year is that No. 1 overall seed, Kentucky, was the top seed in the NCAA Tournament last year and won it all. That’s not nearly as rare as it seems, though — Kentucky is actually the 20th defending champion not to make the Big Dance the next year. North Carolina was the last, in 2010. They were even worse than Kentucky — they were just a No. 4 seed in the NIT. They got hot at the right time, though, and made it all the way to final game before losing to Dayton.
There is another interesting note with the Wildcats in this tournament. School officials clearly weren’t expecting to miss the NCAA Tournament, because Rupp Arena is a first round host — featuring top overall seed Louisville, amongst others. That means that building is being used, so Kentucky won’t host their game like higher seeds do in the preliminary rounds of this tournament. They’ll open instead on the home court of No. 8 seed Robert Morris in Moon Township, Pennsylvania — a suburb of Pittsburgh which is, coincidentally, the hometown of Kentucky coach John Calipari.
Kentucky’s path through the NIT is as easy as they want to make it. Even without Nerlens Noel, there isn’t a team in their region that can match their talent — Baylor comes closest, and that’s not that close. The biggest issue for the Wildcats is whether they really care about the NIT. Most years I would be all over a Calipari team in this spot. Of course, most years they wouldn’t be in a spot like this. Coach Cal has not connected with this team like he usually does, and he is not getting the most out of them. I still see them reaching Madison Square Garden, but it’s not the slam dunk it should be.
The other three top seeds are fellow SEC disappointment Alabama, Virginia and Southern Miss. Of those three, the team in the toughest spot is Virginia. Saint Joe’s or St. John’s are both very tough matchups in the second round, UMass is tricky, and Iowa has what it takes to win it all if they really get on track and play to their potential. I don’t see Virginia making the trip to New York.
Southern Miss has a reasonably smooth path, but I don’t trust the team. They didn’t measure up to Memphis in conference play, and the Tigers are one of the more overrated teams in the NCAA Tournament this year. Their biggest nonconference tests were Arizona and Wichita State, and they lost both games. I don’t think that the Golden Eagles have what it takes to warrant this seeding, and I will look for them to get beat before New York.
Alabama is not a great team. A lot of people are frustrated that they were left off the bubble, but I am not one of those people. When you look at their schedule, the only win that really jumps out is against Villanova, and that was way back in November. Alabama will lose — perhaps as early as the second round when either Stanford or Stephen F. Austin will be a challenging opponent.
With three vulnerable No. 1 seeds and a fourth that is only good enough if they decide to be, the tournament is wide-open. So, who is going to win it? Here are three lower seeds with real potential:
Iowa - No. 3 in Region 4
The Hawkeyes didn’t beat any of the elite teams in the Big Ten other than Wisconsin, but the important thing is that they played them and they were competitive. It was an absolutely brutal conference schedule, but it left them seasoned and experienced. There is nothing they can see in this tournament that is any tougher than what they have already seen several times. They are deep, well-coached, and flexible. I haven’t committed to it yet, but I am flirting with picking them to win it all.
Stephen F. Austin - No. 5 in Region 3
This team won 27 games and didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. That’s the second most wins ever by a team being left out of the field. They just lost at the wrong time. They haven’t played a tough schedule, but they did win at Oklahoma, and the Sooners are a decent squad. Taylor Smith is a very good player — the type of guy who could carry a team deep in a tournament. Their bracket sets up very well, too.
Detroit - No. 6 in Region 1
Here’s a good longshot special. Detroit is a very talented team. Ray McCallum is a very good player, and Minnerath, Calliste and Anderson can all score. They all combine to make a Top-10 offense. They aren’t hot coming into the tournament — three losses in their last five — but they are a team that can get on a roll. From Dec. 5 to Jan. 10 they went 9-1, and that lone loss was a four-point defeat at Syracuse. You only need to win five games to take this tournament down. If all went well — and Kentucky isn’t interesting in performing to their potential — then Detroit could shock some folks.
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