It’s ‘just’ the NIT, but here’s why you should care
by Bryan Fonseca
Mar 28, 2017 | 2270 views | 0 0 comments | 222 222 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The NCAA Tournament has been as ludicrous, exciting and nonsensical as advertised.

Meanwhile, college basketball’s stepchild, otherwise known as the National Invitational Tournament, just goes about its business without making much of a sound, as is the case every year.

Even though the final four (not that one) is held in a local gym called Madison Square Garden.

For years, especially recently, the slept-on NIT has been the stomping ground for eventual NCAA Tournament-bound teams.

The Kentucky Wildcats reached the NCAA Title game in 2014, one year after being one and done in the NIT as a one seed. The Baylor Bears won that same NIT in 2013, and have been a high-seed in the NCAA Tournament every year ever since.

One of the team’s in this season’s NCAA Final Four is seven-seed South Carolina, who has progressively shocked the world at every turn since knocking out Duke in round two.

Last year before going on this historic run, the Frank Martin-led team was bounced out in round two of the NIT, perhaps planting the seed for what became the greatest season in school history one year later.

For this season’s crop of NIT combatants, whether it’s this current final four or some already eliminated youth-driven units such as BYU, Colorado State, and the College of Charleston, we’re likely to see plenty of these squads take part in next year’s March Madness, and years to come after that, if history serves us properly.

Now let’s get to that other final four.

Up first in Tuesday’s semifinals are sixth-seeded Georgia Tech (20-15, 8-10 Atlantic Coast Conference) and eighth-seeded Cal State Bakersfield. On the road to MSG, CSU Bakersfield (25-9, 12-2 Western Athletic Conference) upset top-ranked California, destroyed number-four Colorado State, and edged out number-six University of Texas Arlington.

Georgia Tech upended the number-three Indiana Hoosiers in the opening round by 12, and followed with wins over Belmont and Ole Miss.

CSU Bakersfield is one season removed from their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance since becoming a Division I school in 2007.

Georgia Tech, the 2017-18 destination of local Christ the King standout Jose Alvarado, is led by freshman guard Josh Okogie, which bodes well for that whole future thing, right?

Okogie is the team’s leading scorer at 16.1 points per game, while also adding 5.3 rebounds. The 6-foot-4 Nigerian import is also doing so efficiently by shooting 46.0 percent from the field, including 37.7 percent from three.

Since the month of February began, Okogie has elevated to 17.3 points and nearly seven rebounds per appearance while shooting 49 percent on field goals and 40 percent on three’s.

Tech also has junior Ben Lammers, who was in the running for ACC Most Improved Player of the Year. The junior center boosted averages of 3.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks last season, to 14.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks this season.

Following the ESPN-aired 7 p.m. tip of game one is a pair of four seeds, the University of Central Florida Knights and Texas Christian University Horned Frogs.

UCF (24-11, 11-7 American Athletic Conference) defeated Colorado, Illinois State and Illinois en route to MSG, and they also have a player who’s been popping up on some NBA mock drafts in sophomore center Tacko Fall.

Fall, by the way, is 7-foot-6 and 290 pounds.

Fall is only the team’s third leading scorer, but makes much of his 26.4 minutes per contest. The Senegal native is posting 11 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

Orlando native B.J. Taylor is also a player worth highlighting, as the sophomore guard is among the leading scorers in the AAC. Taylor paces the Knights with 17.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contest.

Taylor is currently averaging 21.7 points in the NIT, spearheaded by a 26-point outburst over Colorado on opening night.

TCU (22-15, 6-12 Big 12) is also led by underclassmen, with their top-six scorers being non-seniors. Junior Vladimir Brodziansky puts up 13.8 points per game and dropped 20 in a win over Richmond last time out.

For the NIT, the two winners will square off on Thursday, March 30, at 8 p.m. in the World’s Most Famous Arena. And while it isn’t quite what’s going down at the University of Phoenix next weekend, it could be a stepping stone to getting into next year’s dance.
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