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NIT Tournament – First Round Overview

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Harvard at Oklahoma State

The Harvard Crimson (23-6) will face the Oklahoma State Cowboys (19-13) in a National Invitational Tournament (NIT) first round contest Tuesday night in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  The Crimson were a buzzer-beater away from claiming their first-ever Ivy League basketball title, losing to Princeton 63-62 in a playoff to determine the Ivy League champion on a Doug Davis jumper.  While Harvard had its best hoops season ever, the Crimson did not receive an at-large invite to the NCAA Tournament.  Oklahoma State was eliminated by eventual champion Kansas in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Conference tournament.

The Cowboys stumbled down the stretch, going 4-6 in their last ten games.  Senior forward Mose Marshall leads a balanced Oklahoma State attack with 14.3 points per game while Keiton Page and J.P. Olukemi contribute 13.5 and 11.5 points per game, respectively.  The Cowboys struggle to make shots, hitting only 43.4 percent of their field goal attempts, which was last in the Big 12 and 182nd in the nation.  Coach Travis Ford’s team is better on the defensive end of the court, holding opponents to 66.8 points per game on 41.2 percent shooting from the field.

Despite the crushing loss to Princeton, Coach Tommy Amaker’s’ team enters the NIT on a hot streak, having won gone 8-2 in its last ten games. The Crimson have a talented core, with five players averaging double figures in scoring.  Junior forward Keith Wright leads the way with 14.9 points per game.    Christian Webster and Laurent Rivard are the top three-point marksmen for a Harvard team that topped the Ivy League in three-point shooting, making 37.8 percent of its shots from three-point range.  The Crimson also led the Ivy League in field goal percentage, hitting 47.7 percent of their shots from the floor, which ranks 14th in the nation.

The winner of this game will face the victor of Washington State versus Long Beach State in the second round.

 

Florida Atlantic at Miami (FL)

Miami (19-14, 6-10 ACC) will host the Florida Atlantic Owls (21-10, 13-3 Sun Belt) in a first round game in the 2011 NIT tournament. The Owls were an automatic qualifier to the NIT as regular season champions of the Sun Belt East.

The Hurricanes lost many close games in the ACC this year, including a loss to North Carolina 61-59 in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament last Friday; Miami led the entire game, leading by as many as 19 points before surrendering a winning layup as time expired.

Miami is led by Malcolm Grant with 14.9 points per game and Durand Scott with 13.1 points at guard, and center Reggie Johnson averaging 11.9 points and 9.4 blocks per game. The Hurricanes scores an average of 71.2 points per game, and were 11-4 at home this season.

The Owls are led by guards Greg Gantt, scoring 13.9 points per game, and Raymond Taylor, averaging 11.7 points. FAU notched wins against major conference teams this year over Mississippi State 61-59 in Starkesville on November 30, and at home against South Florida at home on December 4, 50-42.

 

Boston College at McNeese State

Boston College (20-12) will play at McNeese State (21-11) in the first round of the 2011 NIT tournament on Tuesday night. The higher-seed Eagles will not be hosting the game due to a previously scheduled hockey game in the Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill.

Boston College found some success this season, sweeping Virginia Tech and Maryland this season, but home losses to Harvard and Yale ruined their chances for an NCAA tournament bid. The Eagles are led by guard Reggie Jackson with 18.4 points and 4.5 assists per game. Forward Joe Trapani is an inside force, averaging 14.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.

The McNeese State Cowboys were 11-5 in the Southland conference, earning the NIT bid, but they missed the automatic qualification to the NCAA tournament after losing to Texas-San Antonio in the Southland Conference tournament championship game 75-72 on March 12. The Cowboys are led by forward Patrick Richard with 16 points per game and guard Diego Kapelan with 15 points per game.

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Bethune-Cookman at Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech (21-11) will host Bethune-Cookman (21-12) in the first round of the NIT tournament on Wednesday night. The Hokies were 9-7 in the ACC and, according to most bracketologists, just missed the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year. The Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman were regular season champions of the MEAC, and an automatic qualifier to the NIT with their 1-3 conference record.

VPI defeated NCAA No. 1 seed Duke in Blacksburg on February 26, but lost their next two games to Boston College and Clemson before defeating Georgia Tech and Florida State in the ACC tournament, then losing to Duke in the tournament semifinals. The Hokies are led by senior guard Malcolm Delaney with 18.5, and senior forward Jeff Allen with 13.4 points per game. This senior class of Hokies will have never played in an NCAA tournament game, despite an impressive career.

The Wildcats lost to Morgan State in the semifinals of the MEAC Tournament on March 11, 61-48, to dash the conference’s top seed’s hopes of an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The team’s leading scorer, guard C.J. Reed (averaging 19.1 points per game) led the team, despite scoring only 13 points. Forward Garrius Holland averages 11.3 points for the Wildcats.

In the most recent meeting between the Hokies and Wildcats, Virginia Tech won the 2005 game in Blacksburg, 69-58.

 

Dayton at College of Charleston

Dayton (22-13) will travel to Charleston (24-10) for a first round game in the NIT tournament this Tuesday. The game will not be hosted by higher-seed Dayton because its home court is being used by the NCAA tournament to play the inaugural First Four round of games in the 2011 tournament. The Flyers were 7-9 in the Atlantic-10 conference, but due to victories over George Mason and Xavier (in the A-10 tournament), the NIT committee probably granted admission to the crowded tournament this year. The Cougars were regular season champions in the Southern Conference, granting them an automatic qualification.

Dayton lost to the Richmond Spiders in the championship game of the Atlantic-10 tournament on March 13 to deny them the NCAA bid. The defending NIT champions are led by senior forward Chris Wright with 12.9 points per game and junior forward Chris Johnson averaging 11.8 points.

Charleston’s 11-4 record in the SoCon granted them a top seed in the conference tournament, but Bobby Cremins' Cougars could not defeat the defending conference champion Wofford Terriers for a third time this season, losing 77-67 on March 7. The Cougars are led by senior guard Andrew Goudelock, averaging 23.4 points per game, and senior forward Jeremy Simmons, with 13.3 points per contest.

 

Murray State (23-8) at Missouri State (25-8)

The game pits two teams who know they should've fared better. Missouri State, winner of the Missouri Valley regular season title, lost to a close game to Indiana State in the tournament final. Murray State, winner of the Ohio Valley regular season title, lost to Tennessee Tech despite having a double-bye to start the tournament. The Racers, averaging 68.3 points per game, are led by the three-headed guard tandem of Isaiah Canaan (11.7 points per game), B.J. Jenkins (11.0 points per game) and Isaac Miles (10.7 points per game). The team goes as the guards go - as evidenced by the Tennessee Tech loss where they combined to go 5-of-28.Coach Billy Kennedy's team also relies on a defensive effort that holds opponents to 43 percent shooting. The Bears, averaging 69.2 points per game, are anchored offensively by Kyle Weems (16.0 points per game). Coach Cuonzo Martin has used the same starting line-up for all 33 games this season, and employs primarily a two-man bench. The lack of depth cost them in the conference tournament, and could become a factor should the Bears advance on in the NIT.

 

Vermont (23-8) at Cleveland State (26-8)

Vermont, winner of the American East regular season title, heads to the NIT after losing to Stony Brook in the semifinals. The Catamounts employ a nine-man rotation, with all nine players having started at least one game this season, anchored by F Evan Fjeld (14.5 points per game) and the guard combo of Joey Accaoui (11.6 points per game) and Brendan Bald (11.3 points per game). The Catamounts rely heavily on a defensive effort that limits teams to 61.6 points per game (29th in the nation) on 39.3 percent shooting (tied for 11th in the nation). On the other hand, the Vikings score over 71 points per game - using the free throw line (top 50 in free throw percentage) to make up for hardships from the court (43.9 percent shooting). Cleveland State is anchored by guard Norris Cole, whose 12.6 points per game rank him 12th in the nation. Vikings coach Gary Waters has benefited from having the same starting line-up for every game this season. The Vikings finished tied for first, record-wise, in the Horizon, but got the third seed in the conference tourney due to struggles against the top of the Horizon. The Catamounts have lost three of their last four games, but coach Mike Lonergan thinks this will be a good experience for a young team.

 

 Kent State (23-11) at St. Mary's (25-8)

Kent State, returning only three starters from last year's team, wasn't expected to be much of a force in the pack. That doesn't make losing in the MAC title game, after claiming the regular season championship, any easier. They enter the NIT with MAC Coach of the Year Geno Ford, MAC Player of the Year Justin Greene (15.6 points per game), MAC Sixth Man of the Year Carlton Guy (12.5 points per game) and MAC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Porrini. Guard Rodriquez Sherman, averaging 12.9 points per game, is the third player to average over ten points per game. The Golden Flashes holds opponents to 41.6 percent shooting from the field - something that will receive a test when they play the Gaels, who are 6th in the nation at hitting 48.7 percent of their shots and 14th in the nation at 79.2 points per game. The Gaels, who tied with Gonzaga atop the West Coast Conference but were denied a NCAA bid after losing in the championship game, will run out an offense anchored by guard Mickey McConnell (16.7 points per game). McConnell is joined by three other Gaels in the double-digit scoring category. Coach Randy Bennett has seen his team struggle as of late, with issues about their inside game arising due to the struggles of forwards Rob Jones and Mitchell Young.

 

Long Beach State (22-12) at Washington State (19-12)

Long Beach State dominated the Big West this season, finishing 14-2 in conference play. En route to that distinction, coach Dan Monson was named Coach of the Year. The team saw all five starters named to various All-Conference squads. In addition, Long Beach’s Casper Ware was both the Player of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big West. In the end, though, those honors weren't enough - the 49ers shot just 29 percent from the field in a Big West Conference Tournament title game loss to fifth- seeded Cal Santa Barbara. With that, the dreams were dashed on the shores of Long Beach; it’s on to the NIT for the Niners, who average 73 points per game. They'll head out to face Pac-10 opponent Washington State. Coach Ken Bone's Cougars finished 9-9 in the Pac-10, good for sixth place. Washington State, which also averages 73 points per game, held opponents to 39.8 percent shooting (21st in the nation), a stat that has to worry the 49ers given their most recent performance. On the other hand, Long Beach State is ranked in the mid-200s in opponent field goal percentage, a stat that has to have Klay Thompson excited. Thompson, who tied his career high with 43 points in the Pac-10 conference tournament loss, averages 22 points per game - good to tie for 9th place in the nation. The 49ers struggled to contain Orlando Johnson, 15th in the nation, in the title game loss to UCSB and look to have their hands full with Thompson as well. The 49ers use a seven-man rotation with most of the scoring coming from their starters - each of whom averages at least 10 points per game.

By David Minter, Sujal Shah and Tim Coyne
DFN Sports Staff Writers
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