2010 National Invitation Tournament (NIT) Preview and Picks

There will be plenty of NCAA Tournament previews to go around – which teams will make the Final Four, which 12-seed will upset their 5-seed, which coach will do the best job, and eventually, what team will win it all. But no one will really delve into the also-rans – otherwise known as the NIT. This year, 32 ballclubs will once again look to reach Madison Square Garden and become one of only a very small handful of teams to say they won their final game in 2010. So with that, let’s look at the regions and see who will make it to New York.

East Region
1. Virginia Tech
2. Rhode Island
3. Wichita State
4. Connecticut
5. Northeastern
6. Nevada
7. Northwestern
8. Quinnipiac
Clearly the favorite here should be Virginia Tech, since they were considered a virtual lock by many until Utah State and UTEP lost their conference tournaments and shrunk the bubble. Tech was the unlucky casualty of those losses, so they take their fourth place ACC finish to the NIT. But two issues present themselves here. First in the second round, UConn lingers, and despite not playing well down the stretch, they have loads of talent and could steal a win. The second is Rhode Island, a team that has already won a tough road game this year (at Dayton) and was at least on the short list of final teams into the NCAA’s. Look for the Hokies to get bounced before MSG, most likely in the region’s final game.
Winner: Rhode Island

Midwest Region
1. Illinois
2. Cincinnati
3. Dayton
4. Kent State
5. Tulsa
6. Illinois State
7. Weber State
8. Stony Brook
It’s almost a given that every game in this bracket will occur in either Ohio or Illinois except for one – the opening round between Illinois and Stony Brook. The Fighting Illini will be forced to travel east to Long Island to open up the NIT because of a scheduling conflict with Cirque du Soleil at their arena this week. That game should likely pose little issue for another one of the last teams out, and they should also knock off Kent State in round two. The most interesting matchup of the entire tournament could come in the second round, however, as Dayton will likely face Cincinnati in the Queen City. The trip south on I-75 hasn’t been kind to the Flyers – they’ve only beaten the Bearcats once in Cincinnati since 1981, and have failed to beat the other city program, Xavier, at ALL in that same span. Considering Dayton’s issues on the road this season, expect a Cincinnati-Illinois final, with the Big East once again proving its worth.
Winner: Cincinnati

South Region
1. Mississippi State
2. UAB
3. South Florida
4. North Carolina
5. William & Mary
6. NC State
7. Coastal Carolina
8. Jackson State
Two automatic NIT qualifiers in Jackson State and Coastal Carolina in this region, and for my money I’ll take the latter to score the biggest upset of the first round over UAB. Look for NC State to also make some noise, fresh off their run in the ACC tournament. The Tar Heels were generously given a home game, meaning they should be able to win round one, but the dominant player here is Mississippi State, arguably the hottest team anywhere over the past week. They’re a fluke tip away from beating Florida, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky in three consecutive days and playing in the big-boy tournament. Instead, they’ll suffer with the also-rans, but were rewarded with the easiest bracket and should be able to easily reach New York.
Winner: Mississippi State

West Region
1. Arizona State
2. Mississippi
3. Memphis
4. Seton Hall
5. Texas Tech
6. St. John’s
7. Troy
8. Jacksonville
Like the NCAA, seeding in the NIT always produces one head scratcher. In this tournament, it’s Seton Hall. There’s no way the Pirates should be a four seed to a Pac-10 team, and because of that look for a second round upset in the desert. St. John’s should also have some momentum on their side after their upset of UConn and near miss over Marquette in the Big East tournament, but they might not have enough to knock off Memphis. Mississippi will likely earn themselves a home game in the regional final, but even that might not be enough to knock off Seton Hall.
Winner: Seton Hall

Final Four
Rhode Island vs Mississippi State
Seton Hall vs Cincinnati
Unfortunately for the NIT, there’s no reseeding for the trips to MSG, so the two Big East foes will face off in one of the semifinals. Expect the crowd to be partisan for Seton Hall, but Cincinnati is playing better right now, which should make a very interesting game. Regardless of the outcome of that game, this is Mississippi State’s tournament to lose. If they play like they did all season, they might not even make it this far. But if they play as they did last week, and it’s expected that they’ve now turned the corner, they’ll beat Rhode Island and Seton Hall and win the NIT. It might be a gamble because of their inconsistency all season long, but this is about who’s playing well right now, and out of every team in this tournament, this is it.

Winner: Mississippi State