Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

March 17, 2009

#66, #98 and #114!

Filed under: Uncategorized — jsheehan @ 4:31 pm

Where once there was one backup tournament, there are now three, as something called is sponsoring a 16-team event drawing largely from non-major conferences. It joins the College Basketball Invitational, in its second season, and the venerable NIT.

I’m not complaining of course, although as far as I can tell, the newest event has minimal, if any, TV coverage, and I’m in no hurry to go back to that nightmare of a Web site to find out if I missed something. HDNet has picked up a bunch of the CBI games, and I think I get that on DirecTV. The NIT, since being subsumed by the NCAA, has gotten most of its games onto the ESPN family of networks. Look, I’m a sports geek, and if you put the games on, I’m going to watch them, or at least TiVo them. So I’m all in favor of absurd expansion of the college basketball postseason, up to and including the point where the 16-17 St. John’s squad gets to keep playing.

The NIT trumpeted the way in which it extended bids to any regular-season conference champion that didn’t reach the NCAA tournament. For the second year in a row, though, they treated those teams unkindly. Four of the five teams to get bids this way are eight-seeds, and the fifth, Davidson, is a six. The NIT remains the province of BCS schools coming off of mediocre seasons, usually featuring .500 or worse conference records and lame nonconference schedules. Of the 16 teams hosting first-round games, nine are from BCS leagues, and two others are from the Mountain West.

Playing at home is usually the best path to success in the NIT, although that didn’t hold as much last season. After a 24-4 performance in ’07, home teams went just 21-7, still a strong indication that being the higher seed is the path to Madison Square Garden. A look at this year’s bracket shows that out west, seeds will probably hold for the first two rounds, but #2 St. Mary’s has a good shot to beat #1 San Diego State in the regional final. In the south, it’s a little more sketchy; Northwestern can win at Tulsa in the 4/5 game, and Georgetown should be able to take advantage of Baylor’s defense down in Waco. I expect Georgetown to emerge from this quadrant of the bracket, although only Tennessee-Martin would be a true surprise. Duquesne can play, and a second-round matchup of the Dukes and Baylor would be a ton of fun to watch if it happened.

In what we’ll call the midwest, seeds are likely to hold, although I like UNLV to take out Kentucky at Rupp Arena in the 4/5 game. Creighton versus Notre Dame would be an excellent game, and given the Irish’ problems away from home, I’ll go with the Bluejays-who should be in the NCAAs-to advance to New York.

Finally, in the Eastish quad, Florida has a fairly easy path to the final, hosting Jacksonville and either Miami (Fla.) or Providence. Penn State gets George Mason at home, no easy game, and then would host the winner of Niagara/Rhode Island, one of the better first-round games, and one with no TV coverage. I like Rhode Island for the upset here, and to make it to a final eight showdown with Florida, which is a tossup game.

So my NIT final four is St. Mary’s, Georgetown, Creighton and Rhode Island. I’ll take St. Mary’s to win it all.

In the CBI, teams get home games by putting up money, so there’s not much relationship between quality of team and playing at home. That’s how St. John’s ends up hosting Richmond. It won’t be enough; the Spiders are the best team in that particular foursome. Look for them, Oregon State, Nevada and Boise State-my upset special!-to comprise the final four, with Nevada taking it all.

The new event doesn’t bracket, so picking a winner is harder to do. The best teams in the field, in my opinion, are Portland, Old Dominion, Austin Peay and either Rider or Idaho. Three of those teams open on the road. Gun at my head, I’ll take Old Dominion over Portland in the final.

One last note, so that I can be on record when I get the next 63 games right: Morehead State wins it going away in Dayton.

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