NIT Brackets Picks and Predictions for 2018
You ever have one of those nights where you are at the bar, it's getting late, and you are hungry. All you can think about is the pizza you are going to order when you get home and how good it is going to taste. You can taste every glorious bite of gooey goodness. But when you make the call to order you discover that you are too late - the pizza pace is closed for the night. You're stuck warming up the frozen pizza you had in the freezer. It's still kinda good - even frozen pizza is better than most foods. But it isn't at all what you were dreaming about, and you wind up going to bed disappointed.
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The NIT is that frozen pizza. It's still college basketball, and that means it is good. But when March rolls around all we want is the NCAA Tournament. The good stuff. The NIT is fine when we can't get that, but it's not nearly the same, and we know it. It used to be a more prestigious and important tournament than it is now. Now it barely registers on the national psyche. But there are still plenty of games, and we can bet on them, so that makes it interesting - at least to some extent. So, while we are waiting for the real pizza to get here, we might as well do some NIT brackets picks and predictions.
First, the basics. There are 32 teams in the field, and they are split into four regions. The first three rounds are played in the home arenas of the higher seeds, with the semifinals and finals being played in Madison Square Garden in New York. Most years they experiment with a few rule changes to see what happens, and that is the case this year again. Two years ago, for example, they tried six fouls instead of five. This year they are playing four 10-minute quarters instead of two 20-minute halves. They are moving the three-point line to FIBA dimensions and widening the key. And there are no one-and-one fouls. Ay fouls that would have been such are now automatically two fouls.
The top seeds
The four No. 1 seeds are all squads that were on the NCAA Tournament bubble right up to the end - Notre Dame, which was the last team out; St. Mary's, which won a pile of games, but played a truly pathetic nonconference schedule and wasn't good enough against Gonzaga; a Baylor team that lost four of their last five to shoot themselves in the foot; and a USC squad that got left out of the big bracket despite finishing second in the truly terrible Pac-12. All four teams are very dangerous. Notre Dame gets back their best player, Bonzie Colson, after playing half the season without him, and the other three are talented. But USC and Notre Dame both feel slighted, and St. Mary's probably does, too. If they pout about being left out instead of focusing on the task at hand then they could fall short. Last year, for example, none of the top seeds made it past the second round, and it was all because they quit caring.
The second best
The second seed line includes two more teams that are likely less than thrilled to be here - Louisville and Oklahoma State. It was a very popular argument that the Cowboys should have been in instead of their better rivals the Sooners. It's not a great argument, but if the players buy into that then it could be a big distraction. And Louisville probably felt like getting in would have been a good cap to what is obviously a very tough year. The other two on this line are Marquette and Utah. The fact that they are so high is proof of how weak this field is this year.
Aside from USC, which probably deserved better after finishing second in both the regular season and the conference tournament, the rest of the Pac-12 teams in this field - Utah, Stanford, Oregon, and Washington - are all certainly overrated. It would be impossible to overstate how bad that conference was and how underwhelming these teams are. Marquette and Baylor are also getting more respect than I would give them right now.
Middle Tennessee lost their last two games - the regular-season finale and the conference tournament opener - to throw away a 16-1 start to conference play. That is rough to take and could have them feeling defeated, but they are talented and dangerous, and I expect them to be hungry. Nebraska was the fourth seed in the Big Ten tourney after going 13-5 in conference play, but they fell to Michigan in their opener to end any faint tournament hopes they had. Their fifth seed here is an insult, and it could fuel them or defeat them. Like Middle Tennessee, Louisiana was 16-1 in conference play before losing the last game of their season and then losing in their second game of the Sun Belt tournament. That derailed a strong season, but they had a couple of decent wins in nonconference play, and they have some dangerous pieces. A No. 6 seed is probably too low.
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