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National Invitation Tournament - First Round Overview

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Milwaukee (19-13) at Northwestern (18-13)
The Milwaukee Panthers will face the Northwestern Wildcats in a National Invitational Tournament (NIT) first round contest Wednesday night in Evanston, Illinois.  The Panthers finished first in the Horizon League regular season, but were soundly beaten by Butler 59-44 in the Horizon League championship game.  Northwestern finished eighth in the Big Ten and lost in overtime to Ohio State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.

The Wildcats, who run a Princeton offense, are an excellent three-point shooting team, hitting 38 percent of their three-point attempts on the season.  Senior guard Michael Thompson and junior forward Jon Shurna are the Wildcats top three-point shooters and leading scorers, averaging 15.8 and 16.5 points per game, respectively.  Coach Bill Carmody’s team struggled on the defensive end all season, allowing opponents to put up 67.9 points per game on 46.8 percent shooting.  

Despite the loss to Butler in the Horizon League championship game, Milwaukee enters the NIT on a roll, having gone 8-2 in its last ten games.  The Panthers reeled off a seven-game unbeaten streak from January 23 until February 19, which included an 86-80 overtime victory at Butler.  Powerful senior forward Anthony Hill leads the Panthers with 15.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.  Guard Tone Boyle and beefy forward Tony Meier are capable three-point shooters, making 81 and 61 three-pointers on the season.  Coach Rob Jeter’s team actually conceded more points per game, 69.7, than it scored, 68.9.

The teams last played in 1998, with the Wildcats winning 80-44.  The winner of this game will face the victor of Boston College versus McNeese State in the NIT second round.

 

Mississippi (20-13) at California (17-14)
The Mississippi Rebels travel head west to face the California Golden Bears in a National Invitational Tournament (NIT) first round contest Wednesday night in Berkley, California.  The Rebels finished third in the Southeastern Conference West Division, and were eliminated by eventual champion Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament.  California finished fifth in the PAC 10 regular season and lost to Southern California in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

The Golden Bears are balanced team that shoots the ball very well, hitting 46.1 percent of their field goal attempts on the season.  The inside-outside tandem of junior forward Harper Kamp and Jorge Guiterrez both average 14.3 points per game to pace the California offense.  Freshman guard Allan Crabbe is the team’s top three-point shooter, connecting on 55 of his 138 three-point attempts (39.9 percent) on the season.  Coach Mike Montgomery’s team struggled on defense all season, conceding 71.6 points per game while allowing opponents to shoot 43.5 percent from the field.  The Bears are 11-6 at Haas Pavilion this season.

Led by star senior guard Chris Warren, an All-SEC First Team selection, the Rebels are a prolific three-point shooting team.  Warren, who averages 19 points per game, drilled 90 three-pointers on the season, shooting 34 percent from long range while teammates Dundrecous Nelson and Zach Graham each made 44 three-point shots.  Coach Andy Kennedy’s Rebels are just an average defensive team, and actually conceded more points per game in conference play, 71.1, than they scored, 71.0.

The teams have not played in the past 15 years.  The winner of this game will face the victor of Texas Southern versus Colorado in the NIT second round.

 

Nebraska (19-12) at Wichita State (24-8)
The Nebraska Cornhuskers will face the Wichita State Shockers in a National Invitational Tournament (NIT) first round contest Wednesday night in Wichita, Kansas.  The Rebels finished seventh in the Big 12 regular season, and were eliminated by Oklahoma State in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament.  Wichita State finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and lost to eventual champion Indiana State in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

The Cornhuskers stumbled down the stretch, having lost two games in a row, and six of their last ten games.  Nebraska shoots the ball very well, ranking third in the Big 12 and 39th nationally in field goal percentage at 46.5 percent.  Only two players, led by senior guard Lance Jeter’s 11.6 points per game, average in double figures for the Cornhuskers.  Coach Doc Sadler’s team was outscored on average in Big 12 play by a margin of 66.6 to 65.4 points per game.

The Wichita State Shockers are one of the better defensive teams in the nation, holding opponents to just 61.9 points per game and 41.2 percent shooting.  Senior big T.J. Durley leads the Shockers offense, averaging 11.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.  Junior David Kyles is the top perimeter threat, making 39.5 percent of his three-points shots (68-of-172) on the season.  Coach Greg Marshall’s team was 12-4 at home this season.

The teams last met in 1993 with the Cornhuskers claiming a 94-72 victory.  The winner of this game will face the victor of Bethune-Cookman versus Virginia Tech in the NIT second round.

 

UTEP (25-9) at New Mexico (21-12)

The UTEP Miners travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico to take on their rival the New Mexico Lobos at the Pit on Tuesday evening. Both squads were eliminated in their respective conference tournaments. UTEP had a one-point lead with just seconds remaining but couldn’t hold on for the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. New Mexico was on the losing end of BYU’s Jimmer Fredette and his 52 point outbursts. More importantly for New Mexico, it lost its team leader and captain Dairese Gary to a knee injury. The Lobos, who are one of the youngest teams in college basketball just got a whole lot younger. Look for UTEP to pressure the New Mexico guards. This should be a great game.

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Texas Southern (19-12) at Colorado (21-13)

No other team currently in the NIT field has a bigger with the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee than the Colorado Buffaloes. With victories over Texas and Kansas State, among others, head coach Tad Boyle was beyond surprised not see his team put in the field of 68. How will Colorado react to the snub? A Wednesday night contest with Texas Southern will be our first glance. The Tigers, regular season champions of the SWAC, were upset in the conference semifinal. Both squads have a chance to rectify the past week’s disappoints with a deep run in the NIT. Colorado is the class of the tournament as whole and would be shocked if it was upset by Texas Southern in round one.

 

Fairfield (24-7) at Colorado State (19-12)

As the top-seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament, the Fairfield Stags were upset in the semifinal by eventual champion Saint Peter’s. The Stags will travel to the base of the Rocky Mountains to face the Colorado State Rams from the Mountain West. The Rams were defeated in a hard fought MWC Tournament game by fellow NIT compatriot New Mexico. The Rams would have had the inside track at gaining an at-large berth in the NCAA had they been able to close out leads against San Diego State, BYU, and New Mexico. Colorado State’s Andy Ogide is a beast on the inside and will give Fairfield matchup problems all night.

 

Coastal Carolina (28-5) at Alabama (21-11)

The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers were the runaway regular season winners in the Big South Conference. Like many other conference champions, the Chanticleers were undone and upset in the tournament final. Coastal Carolina’s Desmond Holloway led the Big South in scoring during the regular season. Alabama, who comes into the NIT as the top-seed, was disappointed to not make the NCAA Tournament field as an at-large. The Tide won 20 games for the first time in four years and despite winning the SEC West division, Alabama was not included in the Big Dance. Look for Anthony Grant’s squad to come out with a sense of urgency. The Alabama basketball program has made a solid step in the right direction; it’s up this group to keep it moving forward.

By Zach Bloxham and Tim Coyne
DFN Sports Staff Writers
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