The NIT is kind of like Reno in my mind. Being in Reno is nice enough - you are in Nevada, you can gamble, there is lots of stuff to do, and it's generally a fun place. There is almost no one, though, who can honestly say that they would choose to spend real time in Reno if they could be in Las Vegas instead. Similarly, the NIT is postseason ball, and there is some prestige in winning it, but any team in existence would give up being a No. 1 seed in the NIT to be a No. 12 in the Big Dance - and they wouldn't even have to think about it. For bettors it's the same basic thing - the NIT is intriguing in a lot of ways, but it would be much more attractive if it didn't happen at the same time as the best three weeks in sports.
All that being said, the NIT does have a few advantages for bettors. Most significantly, the public attention is a tiny fraction what it is for the NCAA Tournament, so value can be found a little easier often times. The potential for values means that it is worth our time, so let's get familiar with the tournament with some NIT brackets picks and predictions.
First, the basics. There are 32 teams in the NIT field, split into four regions - it's exactly like the NCAA Tournament except with half the teams. The first three rounds take place on the home court of the higher seed unless that isn't possible, with the final four and the championship game at Madison Square Garden. They often experiment with potential rule changes in the NIT, and this year is no exception - players will need six fouls to foul out instead of the normal five in his tournament.
The top seeds
As is usually the case, the four tops seeds in this tournament have in big thing in common - they all thought they were going to be in the NCAA Tournament, a lot of other people did, too, and they almost certainly are not feeling very good about it. South Carolina only had a chance to make the tournament as an at-large team because they weren't likely to win the SEC Tournament no matter what, so they probably have the least reason to be upset despite being the team from the biggest conference. The other three - St. Bonaventure, Monmouth, and Valparaiso - only have themselves to blame. All three should have won their conference tournaments, but all three faltered and find themselves here. You can look for real positives on each of the four teams, and there are reasons to be excited about them. You can also find real negatives - many of them the same reasons that the committee used to keep them out of the big tournament. Some years we have top seeds in this tournament that are really strong and likely dominant. That isn't the case this year. Strong teams all of them, but not teams that should already be planning where they are going to put their trophy.
The second best
The second line in the tournament belongs to BYU, San Diego State, Florida and Saint Mary's. If I was in charge of things then both San Diego State and Saint Mary's would be in the big tournament. It only makes sense, then, to perceive these teams as relative value squads - as long as they have their heads in the right place and aren't feeling sorry for themselves. In fact, If I had to pick one team to win this tournament, it would come down to one of these two over any of the top seeds Florida is a team I just don't respect much, and BYU is forgettable.
I already touched on this, but Florida stands out well above the rest here. The Gators lost four of their last five games and six of their last nine. They just are not in a good place. The transition to a new coach has not gone well for them - I'm not saying that it is hopeless, but after Billy Donovan was there so long and so successful even John Wooden would take a while to make a stamp of his own. If this team wasn't in the SEC - a conference that gets much more credit than they should in basketball - then they would be a couple of lines down the bracket - which is just what they deserve.
We've hit on this one already - Saint Mary's and San Diego State shouldn't be in this tournament, so they certainly shouldn't be No. 2 seeds. Both teams offer value based on their seeds alone. Here's hoping that the public discounts them based on the seed.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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