We are down to the Final Four of the 2014 NIT Tournament. These remaining teams all missed the NCAA Tournament but have managed to set aside any disappointment, win a few games and now getting the experience of playing in New York City at Madison Square Garden. Let's be clear, the NIT isn't the same thing, but that really shouldn't take away the experience that these teams have earned. A trip to NYC and playing in The Garden are special and probably a lot of fun for these kids. For some it may even be their first ever trip to New York. And this has been an opportunity to extend seasons for these teams and their seniors.
There is no shame in enjoying this run to the NIT Final Four.
Here are the remaining teams and just a brief overview of each team. This is not an in-depth look at each team (3 of which I am very unfamiliar with), instead this is a brief look at each team to help us get prepared for some NIT basketball on Tuesday.
We all know who they are and how we got here, but for those non-Gopher fans who may be reading I'll share just a bit about the Gophers and what it will take for them to win.
How They Got Here - Minnesota was probably just a win away from making the NCAA Tournament but it wasn't quite enough but the Gophers are playing well enough to continue to win the NIT. This semi-final game against Florida State is unquestionably their most difficult game in the tournament thus far.
Key Player(s) - Andre Hollins is the team's leading scorer and is capable of carrying the team on his back, but he has been in a bit of a slump for a few weeks. Austin Hollins has typically been more of an offensive support guy as the team's third leading scorer but he has been playing very well as of late. But the guy who holds the cards to the Gopher offense is Deandre Mathieu. The little point guard is capable of getting by anybody, getting deep into the paint where he can usually score or dish. He may have a more difficult time against the Seminole athletic big men, but don't count him out just yet. On the flip slide, when Mathieu is going a bit too fast and turning the ball over, the Gopher offense really struggles.
What Will It Take For Them to Win - The fortunes of the Gophers almost always seem to boil down to two things. Shooting and turnovers. If they are shooting poorly and turning the ball over, they can lose to anybody. If they are shooting well and taking better care of the ball they can beat anybody. That is this year's formula.
The Gophers faced Florida State at home earlier this season and won the game by forcing the Seminoles to turn it over on 26.6% of their own possessions, making 44% from three and by getting to the free throw line 38 times while keeping our own turnovers low. This game will likely have a very different story but what the Gophers need to do to win will still likely boil down to turnovers and shooting well.
1-Florida State (22-13)
A big and athletic team who also nearly played their way into the NCAA Tournament.
How They Got Here - The Seminoles won three of their last four regular season games to get back into the NCAA Tournament picture but eventually they fell just short and were also relegated to being a 1-seed in this tournament. They have played their way through Florida Gulf Coast, Georgetown and Louisiana Tech to earn an appearance at Madison Square Garden.
Key Player(s) - This team has three guys who score 13+ per game. Aaron Thomas, Ian Miller and Okaro White are all very dangerous. White is averaging 17.7 in the NIT and has been a perfect 5 for 5 from behind the arc. Thomas has been averaging 23 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Ian Miller missed the first game with a foot injury but still managed 18 in the Georgetown game and 9 in the Louisiana Tech game.
What Will It Take For Them to Win - This is more about what do they have to NOT do to lose. Turnovers and defensive rebounding have been glaring weaknesses for this team. They rank 320th nationally in turnover % and rank 329th in defensive rebounding %. Giving away that many possessions and then giving your opponent that many extra shot opportunities makes it very difficult to win basketball games against good teams.
This a very good offensive team and a good defensive team as well, but a couple times too often they gave away too many possessions to win ball games. So what will it take to win? I really think it is primarily about turnovers. They have several games with a turnover % greater than 25%. Giving away a quarter of your possessions is really difficult to overcome.
I asked the guys at SBN's Tomahawk Nation to give a very brief thought on what it will take for Florida State to win the whole thing.
"Florida State's hopes rests on the health of Ian Miller's foot. He's hobbled by turf toe, and when he's not on the court the Noles struggle to score."
The one team that really was never in the NCAA Tournament conversation but they have made the most of their chances in the NIT.
How They Got Here - A couple very close losses at the end of the season probably kept Clemson from the bubble. An overtime loss to Pitt in the regular season finale and then a 1-point loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament. Flip those two games around and maybe they would have earned a bid into the Big Dance. But they are here and as a 3-seed they beat Georgia Southern, nipped Illinois by a point and a comeback win over Belmont was storm-the-court worthy for the Tigers fans.
Key Player(s) - K.J. McDaniels is the centerpiece of this club. He is the only player who averages in double-figures with 17.2 per game and also leads the team with 7.1 rebounds per game. The 6-6 junior would likely be a first round pick in the upcoming draft should he decide to declare.
What Will It Take For Them to Win - This is a defensive oriented team. Brad Brownell's teams typically hold opponents to a low eFG%, low points per possession and force a decent amount of turnovers. Looking at Clemson's schedule you will see a lot of low-scoring games, they ranked 13th in the ACC in scoring (both in efficiency based stat and raw points) and top 5 in defensive points allowed.
So what will it take to win? Play great defense and find a way to score some points. Our network's Clemson blog, Shakin The Southland had this to say about the Tiger's chances of winning two more games.
"In order for Clemson to win the NIT, they will have to receive significant scoring from role players Rod Hall, Damarcus Harrison and Jordan Roper to support K.J. McDaniels. Clemson will also have its issue on the boards missing key rebounder Jaron Blossomgame with a fractured shin. Clemson will have to make up for his absence and limit opponents second chance opportunities in order to advance."
1 - SMU (26-9)
This was arguably the last team to miss the NCAA Tournament and SMU was able to set aside their disappointment and continue to play well in the NIT.
How They Got Here - Larry Brown's Mustangs appeared to be a near lock for The Tournament before a loss at Temple in February and then a three-game losing streak to end the season (Louisville, Memphis and Houston) dinged their resume and pushed them to the NIT. They then beat the UC-Irvine Anteaters, LSU and Cal to earn their trip to New York.
Key Player(s) - The inside-out combination of Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy is what you primarily have to worry about with SMU. Moore is a 5-9 guard averaging 13.5 points and nearly 5 assists per game while shooting 44.5% from three. Kennedy is 6-9, 245 lbs, leads the team in rebounding and is second in scoring.
What Will It Take For Them to Win - This is another very good defensive team but SMU is also a good shooting team. Defensively they are top 20 nationally in defensive points per possession and effective FG%. They also force their share of turnovers. If they can get open looks from three, they'll knock them down and feel pretty good about their defense doing the rest.
SMU does not have a blog within SBN's network, I probably could search for one but I'm toeing the company line here and not bothering to even look.
I think the Gophers will have a difficult time beating Florida State again but the Miller injury and the unexpected contributions the Gophers have been receiving from guys like Joey King and even Maverick Ahanmisi has given them an extra boost. Should Andre Hollins re-find his shooting stroke and if our big men can stay out of foul trouble then things get interesting. Some early lines have Florida State as a one-point favorite, making this one essentially a pick-em.
On the other side, I would put my money on SMU to beat Clemson. I would just favor the Mustangs, their defense will make it really difficult for Clemson to score and SMU will knock down enough shots to move on to the Final on Thursday.