2015 NIT Bracket Picks and Expert Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 3/16/2015
The NIT - the tournament no team really wants to play in. Once they are forced to play in it, though, most teams are determined to win it. There are 32 teams entered, and only one can come out on top. Of course, our job as handicappers is to figure out which team that will be.
Before we get to that, though, we need to touch on logistics. The teams will play down to four teams at the court of the higher-seeded team (unless that team can't host because their building isn't available, as is the case with Illinois), and then the semifinals and finals will be played at Madison Square Garden. The tournament is split into four regions, with eight teams per region. It's the winner of each region that heads to New York. There are going to be a couple of rule changes that the NCAA will be experimenting with in this tournament. Most significantly, the shot clock will be trimmed from 35 seconds to 30.
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The top seeds
The top-line teams this year are Temple, Colorado State, Richmond, and Old Dominion. The selection committee deserves credit this year because they went with deserving mid-majors up top instead of higher-profile but less-deserving teams from power conferences. The biggest challenge for these teams, and especially Temple and Colorado State, is that they know how close they were to the Big Dance, so they have to manage their disappointment and focus on the task at hand. Oftentimes we have seen a top seed with a big skill edge fall too early because they didn't care enough. Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy pouted his way through a press conference after the selections were made, and that attitude could be a real concern. It's a shame because the Rams are a team that I am otherwise very high on. They have a reasonable path to New York, a talented roster that goes 12 deep, and good coaching. The challenge will be determining how close to their best we should see here. I'm cautiously optimistic. They are my pick, but I wouldn't be surprised to be wrong.
The second best
Miami, Tulsa, Stanford and Texas A&M are the No. 2 seeds. The biggest disappointment for me here is definitely Miami - a team that I think deserved to be in the big tournament ahead of teams like Indiana and especially UCLA (the list of teams that deserved the spot that UCLA outright stole is very long). Again, if Miami's mindset is right then I really like how things set up for them. Their opening game is manageable. In the second round they either face an Illinois team that has been toothless lately or an Alabama team that just fired their coach. They would wind up potentially facing Richmond - the top seed I respect least. Miami controls their destiny when it comes to a trip to New York. I am optimistic.
The UConn Huskies are a very public team when it comes to tournament time. They deserve to be to some extent as the reigning NCAA champs. This, though, is not the same team as we saw last year. Not close. They have depth issues, and they have not shown to have the same grit and refusal to lose that they had last year. You should respect this team, but it would be a mistake to give them too much credit here.
As a five seed, Vanderbilt really stands out here. They measure up favorably in several regards to teams like Indiana and UCLA, so they look solid as a five here. Kevin Stallings is a very good coach, and this is a young team that is gaining confidence lately. Their opener against St. Mary's is manageable, and they could capitalize on Colorado State's pouting if the Rams don't come to play. The bottom half of their bracket is very manageable, so the winner of the Colorado State vs. Vanderbilt game should be able to go to New York. The Commodores offer some value here.
Central Michigan, a six seed, is another lower seed that stands out. The MAC is a very tough conference this year, and the Chippewas had the best record of the group. They could easily have won the conference but have to settle for this spot here. Chris Fowler is a very nice player, and he leads a roster that could be dangerous. Their bracket is no gimme, but it is very manageable if they play their best. They offer value.
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