Yes, the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) is a rung below the “Big Dance.” But for a lot of programs, Boston College men’s basketball included, it’s an opportunity to play meaningful games deep into March and give their fans something more to root for. After some questionable selections for the NCAA’s field of 68, several strong teams have landed in the NIT—making it one of the better fields in recent years. There’s more than enough coverage breaking down every possible angle of the NCAA Tournament, so here’s a brief guide on the unheralded second-tier tourney.
Five title contenders
St. Mary’s (1) The Gaels returned much of their roster that earned a seven seed and won a game in the NCAA tourney last year, including star center Jock Landale—a double-double machine, averaging 21.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Penn State (4) With one of the top defenses in the country (21st in defensive efficiency), the Nittany Lions are guided by guard Tony Carr, who established himself as one of the top guards in the Big Ten by nearly averaging a 20-5-5 line. Good luck on getting inside against them—Mike Watkins is sixth in the country in defensive rebound percentage and is a tough matchup in the post.
Notre Dame (1) An injury-plagued season doomed Mike Brey’s squad, as it played without preseason Player of the Year candidate Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell for a combined 20 games. Still, when healthy, this team isn’t one to be trifled with—the Irish went 14-5 with both in the lineup.
USC (1) Despite making an inspired run to the Pac-12 championship game, the Trojans missed out on a third-straight NCAA appearance under Andy Enfield. Bennie Boatwright’s season-ending knee injury hurt them, but they still have an impressive offense anchored by Chimezie Metu down low—he’s averaging 16 points and seven rebounds per game.
Louisville (2) Another team that was left grasping at straws after being excluded, David Padgett’s lengthy Cardinals roster has grappled with inconsistency, but can play with the best of country. Deng Adel is a slippery forward averaging 15.4 points per game, while Ray Spalding (12.3 points, 8.6 rebounds), Quentin Snider (12.2 points, 4.0 assists), and Anas Mahmoud (7.2 points, 2.9 blocks) round out a diverse attack.
Five dark horses
Temple (5) Boasting the ninth-hardest non-conference schedule in the country, the Owls played surprisingly well—they knocked off Auburn, Clemson, and South Carolina, then only lost to Wichita State by eight in the conference tournament. Temple defends the 3-point line well, doesn’t turn the ball over often, and has three players averaging double figures.
BYU (6) The Cougars made some noise in the West Coast Conference Tournament, ousting St. Mary’s before falling, predictably, to Gonzaga. BYU has a stifling defense that forces opponents to slow the ball down (327th in tempo) and rarely commits fouls (nation’s best free throw rate). Throw in a sharpshooter in Elijah Bryant (41.2 percent from 3-point range) and a go-to scorer down low in Yoeli Childs (18.0 points and 8.6 rebounds per game), and there’s plenty of potential for a run.
Nebraska (5) Bounced by a white-hot Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, the Huskers missed out on the tourney despite winning eight of their last nine regular season games, defeating Penn State and Maryland in the process. They execute well on the defensive side of the floor, holding opponents to 47 percent from the field, 23rd in the nation.
Vermont (6) A buzzer-beating UMBC 3-pointer in the America East Championship cost the Catamounts a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight year. Almost everybody returned from that team, and it showed—it lost to Kentucky by just four in its season opener. The Catamounts are one of the slowest teams on offense in the country (340th in tempo), but it works—they rank 43rd in offensive efficiency.
Boston College (5) A run through the ACC Tournament wasn’t enough to offset some narrow losses earlier in the year, but the fact remains—when the duo of Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman are at their best, the Eagles are hard to beat. Combined, the scoring tandem averages 38.4 points per game, ranking among the best backcourts in the nation.
Five best players
Jock Landale, St. Mary’s (1) A highly efficient center, the 6-foot-11 senior has only elevated his play from a year ago. Landale is easily averaging a double-double—he shoots almost 70 percent from the field and 75 percent at the line. He also chips in a block and a pair of assists per game.
Troy Brown, Oregon (3) A key contributor for the Ducks all season long, Brown is on many NBA Draft big boards as one of the more versatile players in the country. Described by The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie as “a multi-positional player with superb passing ability, a solid handle and a terrific basketball IQ,” Brown averages 11.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.6 steals per game.
Chimezie Metu, USC (1) Metu is another player who is getting second round consideration—the appeal of a “vertically explosive,” per Vecenie, 6-foot-11 center is obvious. Metu has good range for a center and has established himself as a capable rim protector during his three-year tenure at USC. He posted almost two blocks per game this season, while leading the Trojans in scoring (15.7 points per game).
Jerome Robinson, Boston College (5) The runner-up for ACC Player of the Year behind Duke’s star freshman Marvin Bagley III, Robinson rolled over one of the nation’s top conferences this year. He’s elevated his play at each turn—in 21 ACC games, he averaged almost 24 points per game, including a trio of 30-plus point performances.
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame (1) Colson missed a big chunk of time with an injury, but has quickly worked his way back into action—take a look at his banked-in 3-pointer to secure an ACC Tournament win over Pittsburgh as evidence. The senior averaged 20.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game in 19 contests this season, and has drawn NBA potential as a result of his “fascinating potential as a small-ball 4/5,” per Vecenie.
Five first-round matchups to watch
Temple at Penn State, Wednesday, 8 p.m. (ESPNU) A pair of talented Pennsylvania teams squaring off in a narrow 4-5 seed matchup? Of course that’s getting a nod here. Penn State, by KenPom, is the second-best team in the field—finishing at No. 29 in adjusted efficiency margin. Meanwhile, the Owls will look to play spoiler in a battle of talented guards, when Carr and Temple’s Quinton Rose go head-to-head.
Nebraska at Mississippi State, Wednesday, 9 p.m. (ESPN2) Two top-50 defenses clash in Starkville, Miss., and it should be quite the game. One facet to pay attention to—the Rebels are one of the best two-point shooting teams in the country (18th), but will have a stiff task getting inside against Nebraska, who ranks 12th in block percentage.
Vermont at Middle Tennessee, Tuesday, 8 p.m. (ESPNU) UVM’s defense sits outside of the top 100, so the matchup to pay attention to is the Catamounts’ offense facing off against a stiff Blue Raiders defense. Both rank inside the top 45, and the biggest battle will be at the 3-point line. UVM ranks 10th in the country with a 40.4 percent mark from beyond the arc, but MT holds opponents to a slim 31.0 percent clip (11th).
Boise State at Washington, Wednesday, 10 p.m. (ESPN3) The northwest matchup has one of the slimmest lines in the tournament, per KenPom—the Broncos are favored by just one. Both teams play strong defense, but the difference lies in the offense. Washington ranks outside the top 150, while Boise State is a much stronger 77th in efficiency. The Broncos are also the best on the defensive glass in the country, so the Huskies will have to make the most of their opportunities.
Boston College at Western Kentucky, Tuesday, 8 p.m. (ESPN3) Per KenPom’s excitement score, this matchup is poised to be the best of the Tuesday slate of games. A pair of top-50 offenses taking on below-average defenses could turn this into a shootout. Both teams limit fouls and have sharpshooters, who are poised to exploit each other’s putrid perimeter defenses. WKU’s Justin Johnson shot 46.4 percent from 3-point range in conference play, while BC’s Robinson had a comparable 44.5 percent mark. Expect fireworks on Tuesday.
Four semifinal picks
St. Mary’s (1) The Gaels have a pretty favorable draw—No. 8 Southeastern Louisiana, then No. 4 Boise State or No. 5 Washington. The Huskies are the worst five seed, so if they pull the upset, St. Mary’s will have an easier path to the semifinals. The Broncos are a top-60 team, but after that, No. 3 LSU doesn’t have enough offense to counter a shoddy defense while No. 2 Utah is arguably the worst of the two seeds.
Louisville (2) It’s hard to have confidence in Baylor, who, despite going to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago, is well known for crashing and burning—it lost first-round matchups as the No. 3 and No. 5 seeds the two years prior. So let’s take the Cardinals out of the bottom left region. Middle Tennessee or Vermont are a tough second-round draw, but Louisville has plenty of size and depth in its back pocket.
Oklahoma State (2) The Cowboys are top 60 on both sides of the ball, swept the regular season series with Kansas, and boast plenty of quality wins. They have the firepower to roll through to the quarterfinals, where a potential matchup with No. 1 USC would likely decide their fate. The Trojans are no slouch, but Oklahoma State has already proven that it can compete with anyone.
Penn State (4) Talk about a tough draw: an underseeded Temple, Notre Dame, then likely Oregon or Marquette. Still, it’s not hard to see the Nittany Lions getting through the thick of the tournament. Penn State has a top-25 defense that excels at forcing turnovers and denying shots in the paint, and the Nittany Lions are no pushover on offense either—converting 38.4 percent of their 3-point attempts this season, they’re more than capable from downtown.
Featured Image by Julianna Glafkides / Heights Staff