Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 12:54 PM
If you’re a sports historian like me, there will always be a special place in your heart for the NIT, the National Invitational Tournament. There was a time where it was the marquee postseason event in college basketball. There was a time when a lot of really good teams had to “settle” for the NIT because the NCAA Tournament wasn’t as big as it is now, so it was still a very strong tournament. You may not believe this, but there was a time when EVERY game was played in Madison Square Garden in either day or night sessions.
The modern incarnation is mostly a “made for TV” event where bubble teams from the Dance can earn some extra exposure on ESPN while that network waits for baseball season to start. Sometimes there are surprise teams from off the bubble that earn their way to New York. We have a couple of examples of that this year.
A quick review of who’s playing:
*WASHINGTON won the regular season crown in the Pac 12, and was shocked that they didn’t earn an at-large bid to the Big Dance. In terms of the seedings, this is the best team still playing.
*STANFORD was supposed to be a Pac 12 power this year, but disappointed through much of the campaign. Their resume wasn’t even good enough to get them on the bubble in the latter stages of the season. But, they have played well in three home games in the NIT.
*MINNESOTA was a bubble team from the Big 10 much of the season. I can’t say they were on the right side of the bubble very often. They were always within striking distance, but not quite good enough in a conference that was truly loaded this season.
*MASSACHUSETTS didn’t really click until late in the season. They reached the finals of the Atlantic 10 tournament, losing to the St. Bonaventure team that just missed upsetting Florida State. They’ve won there road games in this event to stay alive (as did Minnesota).
Now let’s go through some quick “Advanced” strategies for handicapping the NIT. You regular readers know the fundamentals that are ALWAYS in play (find the playmakers and gamebreakers, give respect to defense, etc…). I’m not going to list those again. Here are some tips designed specifically for the NIT.
*Respect ROAD performances from the regular season, because they’ll tell you quite a bit about how a team is likely to perform under pressure in a neutral site tournament. I strongly encourage you to closely study how all four of the remaining teams performed on the road or at neutral sites this year, particularly vs. THIS caliber of opponent. I won’t hold it against a team if they couldn’t beat Ohio State in Columbus. I will hold it against them if they struggled vs. their same class or lower classes away from home.
*Respect RECENT performances over anything that happened in November or December. There is such a thing as getting hot at the right time. Obviously all four of these teams have a sense of “hotness” about them because they’ve won three straight games to get this far. Review the boxscores of the earlier NIT games to see who’s truly playing well. Review their conference tournaments. Give a lot more weight to late February and early March basketball than you do to anything before that.
*Respect COACHES because basketball becomes an X’s and O’s chess match when there’s something important at stake. You’ve seen that time and time again in the Big Dance. A smart defensive coach changes defenses, and the opposing offense has a few disastrous possessions at just the wrong time. You’ve seen good timeouts taken, and bad timeouts taken. Both of Tuesday’s games have lines near pick-em. I can tell you from YEARS of handicapping tournament basketball that coaches play a huge role in determining who wins and covers that type of neutral court situation.
I can’t tell you who I’ve decided on for my NIT Final Four selections. You can purchase those plays right here at the website with your credit card. I had a great weekend in the Elite Eight in the Big Dance, and I fully intend to keep my roll going through the baskets this week as we approach The NCAA Final Four in New Orleans. I’ll talk more about THAT the next time we’re together later this week.
Thanks very much to all of you who continue to read these articles and do the homework from my College of Advanced Handicapping. The simple strategies don’t work any more, and haven’t for years. My Advanced Handicapping approach will still help you get the money. And, I’m developing new techniques each and every day!