2019 NIT Tournament Betting Preview
The NIT Tournament starts this week. Is it just me, or does it seem like people care less and less about this tournament every year? At the rate it seems to be declining in relevance, soon it will just disappear into a black hole and we'll be done with it. There was a time when this tournament was a really big deal. But now it's something that teams pout about. I'd be tempted to ignore the tournament entirely, but it is still worth a look for a couple of big reasons, so we'll persevere and do a preview.
The first thing that is interesting about this tournament is that the NCAA uses it as a lab to test out rule changes. Often you don't notice the impact at all, but sometimes they have enough of a change that they are interesting to consider. This year there are four rules changes being tested - three that were used last year in the tournament as well. The three-point line will be extended by 20 inches to the FIBA distance. The free throw lane is extended an extra four feet. And the shot clock has been cut from 30 to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound. Nothing revolutionary there, but interesting nonetheless. Additionally, they are adjusting the free throw rules, eliminating one-and-ones, resetting fouls halfway through each half, and trying other tweaks to streamlines free throws.
The other reason that this tournament is very interesting is that the best teams aren't always the ones you want to be backing. In the NCAA Tournament, the top seeds get attention and respect for a good reason. But in the NIT the top seeds are squads that are angry because they weren't selected for the NCAA Tournament. They might be able to use that anger to fuel their performance. Or they may not care, and we'll see just a shadow of what they are capable of. They are flawed teams in the first place - they wouldn't be in the NIT if they weren't - so when you add in uncertainty of effort, you get a tournament that is very tough to handicap. It can be an interesting challenge - though it would be more interesting and easy to appreciate if it wasn't jammed in between the NCAA Tournament.
Last year the tournament was won by No. 4 Penn State, with two more No. 4 teams and a No. 2 joining them on the last weekend. In 2017 it was two No. 4 squads, a 6 and an 8. In 2016 only one No. 1 team made the Final Four, and they lost in the finals to a No. 4. I could go on, but the point is simple - you don't have to respect the top seeds blindly. The success of No. 4 teams doesn't feel like a fluke - they are high enough seeds to be decent, but low enough that they never fooled themselves into thinking they belonged anywhere else. They are legitimately happy about the opportunity.
The tournament invites 32 teams, placing them into four brackets. The first three rounds take place on the home court of the higher-ranked team, with the Final Four taking place in Madison Square Garden.
The four top seeds this year are UNC Greensboro, Alabama, TCU and Indiana. The latter three are all a little upset about not being in the tournament, but not nearly as much as NC State, a No. 2 seed, that which views their slight as a heinous crime against humanity. I don't trust them in the tournament at all. Clemson is another No. 2, and they could end up in a finals clash with Alabama - just what the sports world is crying for.
Loyola is a No. 7 seed in this tournament, so they have fallen a bit from their heights of last year - this is a long way from the Final Four. They have a tough path, but they know how to peak in March. Wichita State, a No. 6, is another traditionally dangerous tournament team that has hit a rough patch but is still worth watching here. You could lump No. 3 Xavier and No. 4 Davidson into the same group if you want to as well. This is not a big futures driven tournament - odds aren't even posted at major books as I write this, and we are only about 30 hours away from the start of the first games. But following storylines like these ones, and looking for spots to doubt uninspired favorites, can make this a welcome part of March.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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