By Kellan King
The NIT if often thought of as a sort of secondary tournament, almost a losers bracket for those left out of March Madness, but that misconception does not do the NIT justice. The NIT is always exciting, and features some of the best teams and players in the country, and this year is no different than the past. With that, lets jump into the first matchup
Saint Louis (1) vs Mississippi State (4)
This game should be your classic grind it out, won on the boards matchup. Both teams are very strong inside, scoring most of their points in the paint and also crashing the boards. This matchup will come down to which teams big man come out to play, specifically how much the Bulldogs can get out of the sometimes inconsistent big man Abdul Ado.
My prediction: Saint Louis 74-67
Richmond (2) vs Toledo (3)
This matchup may be one of the most even and most fun matchups of the NIT. Both teams were top tier mid majors, and Richmond boasts wins over Kentucky and Loyola (IL). Both teams also like to score the ball, and Toledo is deadly from 3, especially Senior Spencer Littleson. The key to this game could be how well Richmonds defense can deal Toledos explosive offense. If the Spiders can control the game and get it down low to big man Grant Golden, they will give themselves a good chance to win.
My prediction: Richmond 77-74
Ole Miss (1) vs Louisiana Tech (4)
This clash between two southern schools will be decided by how motivated Ole Miss is. The Rebels had a solid season, beating Kentucky, Missouri, and Auburn, but just missing out on March Madness. But if Ole Miss doesn’t come prepared, Louisiana Tech will pounce all over them behind a balanced tech led by Isaiah Crawford.
My prediction: Louisiana Tech 71-63
Saint Marys (2) vs Western Kentucky (3)
If you are a fan of throwback basketball, you will want to tune into this game. Both of these teams are reliant their defense and their big men. Saint Marys has the 9th best defense in the country according to KenPom.com, and the Hilltoppers have one of the best big men in the country in Charles Bassey. Bassey averages 18 and 12, and if the Gaels want to win, they must find a way to limit the former 5 star recruit.
My prediction: SMC 61-57
Colorado State (1) vs Buffalo (4)
This game is a very well matched clash. Colorado State is a balanced team, scoring from all 3 levels, and has wins over Utah State and San Diego State, 2 tournament teams. The Bulls on the other hand love to utilize fast paced, slashing attack, with multiple wings on the floor who can all get to the basket and finish. This matchup will be decided by which team is able to get consistent stops and limit runs.
My prediction: Colorado State 72-66
Davidson (2) vs North Carolina State (3)
It may not be Duke-UNC, but this in state matchup should be a fun one. Davidson is led by Kellan Grady and a superb supporting cast, and has one of the best offenses in the country. The Wolfpack are an exciting young team, and are just oozing talent at all 5 spots. This should be a bit of a experience vs skills, and those games are always fun to watch.
My prediction: NC State 79-74
Memphis (1) vs Dayton (4)
In my opinion, Memphis was the best team to not make the tournament. They have a deep, young roster that forms one of the best defensive units in the country. The Flyers aren’t lacking talent either, as they have one of the best backcourts in the country in Jalen Crutcher and Ibi Watson. This game will come down to whether the Tigers can limit turnovers and keep those Flyer guards out of transition.
My prediction: Memphis 74-70
Boise State (2) vs SMU (3)
I believe this game will be one of, if not the closest matchup in the NIT. Both of these teams could’ve made the tournament if they had a few results go their way, and both have top end talent in Derrick Alston for Boise State and Kendric Davis for SMU. This clash will be decided by which teams stars will get buckets in the clutch.
My prediction: SMU 82-81
Finals prediction: Memphis beats Saint Marys 69-64