Tuesday NIT Preview

TUESDAY'S NIT SEMIFINAL PREVIEWS

Here's what is on tap for Tuesday's NIT Semifinals at Madison Square Garden. The Jim Hurley Network is set with the winners of both games and you can click here to get on board.

WASHINGTON STATE (22-12) vs. WICHITA STATE (27-8)- 7 p.m. ET, espn2
The Wichita State Shockers are the lone non-power conference club left in this NIT field but they may well be the deepest as eight players on this Missouri Valley Conference club average 6-or-more points per game including J.T. Turley (11.4 ppg) but pay special attention here to three-point gunner David Kyles who drills 40 percent of his downtown tries.

On the flip side, the Washington State Cougars- fresh off last Wednesday's 69-66 overtime non-cover win against 4-point pup Northwestern- are not afraid to put pedal to the floor with this group that stars G Klay Thompson who averages 22 points a game but surely got away with a palming violation late in that quarterfinal tilt.

Look for Thompson to get off a minimum of 25 FG tries here ... okay?

ALABAMA (24-11) vs. COLORADO (24-13)- approximately 9:25 p.m. ET, espn2
No doubt both of these clubs were hissing the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee for not including 'em in their 68-team field back on March 13th but both the 'Bama Crimson Tide- who won NIT home games against Coastal Carolina, New Mexico and Miami- and the Colorado Buffaloes (NIT home-game winners versus Texas Southern, California and Kent State) are still bouncing the basketballs and the winner here likely is the side that gets the crunch time hoop from its best player.

Colorado's Alec Burks (20.5 ppg) is adept at creating his own shot while Alabama's Tony Mitchell (15.5 ppg) has hit on 14-of-22 FG tries in the Tide's past two combined games. Note that Mitchell scored 20-or-more points in five different SEC games this year.

THE NCAA TOURNAMENT: ALL HAIL THIS UNLIKELY FINAL FOUR

Here's some summary re-caps of what the Final Four teams just did this past weekend and note we've detailed each team's NCAA Tournament journey with game-by-game looks at the end of each writeup:

SOUTHWEST- VCU (28-11)
Nope, we don't need the ";experts" weighing in here: Not only did Shaka Smart's VCU Rams belong in this tourney in the first place but they'll go down in the books as one of the top stories in tourney history no matter what happens this weekend in Houston.

The team otherwise known as Virginia Commonwealth perfectly played the ";David" role versus ";Goliath" in Sunday's epic 71-61 win against 11 ½-point favorite Kansas as the Rams bombed away from beyond the three-point arc (see 12-of-25 triple tries) and made the Jayhawks play catch-up all day long. When VCU's once-bloated 17-point lead had been shaved down to a mere deuce at 46-44, the Rams hiked up the intensity level and pulled away for good with energetic PG Joey Rodriguez (9 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists) helping to ice matters with some great ball-handling and leadership.

Naturally, the star of this game was one-time Wake Forest F Jamie Skeen who poured in a game-high 26 points despite a wobbly 6-of-17 FG accuracy rate but Kansas- looking lost for much of this contest and shame on head coach Bill Self for allowing his Big 12 team to think it had this game won before tip-off- couldn't buy a trifecta (see 2-of-21) and the usual free-throw shooting woes also came back to bite Kansas too (see 15-of-28 FTs).

In the end, VCU powered past five different power conference teams to get here (see chart below) and unbelievably won these five tourney games by a per-game margin of 12 points.

Cinderella? My foot!

The VCU Rams have been- get this -- the most dominant team in this year's tournament ... and how do you like that?

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

DOG

SCORE

3-16

USC

- 4

VCU

59-46

3-18

Georgetown

- 5.5

VCU

74-56

3-20

Purdue

- 9

VCU

94-76

3-25

Florida State

- 4

VCU

72-71 (ot)

3-27

Kansas

- 11.5

VCU

71-61

 

SOUTHEAST-BUTLER (27-9)
If Hoosiers ";head coach" Gene Hackman was proud last year, now what's he thinking? The Butler Bulldogs- long known mostly for playing their home game in Hinkle Fieldhouse (the site of many scenes in that epic 1986 movie named above)- instead are known these days as the only non-#1 or #2 seed to get back to the Final Four in successive seasons plus let us tell you that this Horizon League club now has won 13 games in a row (and haven't lost since Feb. 3rd when Youngstown State beat 'em) while entering this Saturday's national semi tilt against VCU.

If you didn't realize that these Bulldogs have the heart of a champion, you should 'cause Butler charged back from an 11-point deficit with 9:25 remaining in the 74-71 overtime win against Florida in the Southeast Regional Final game last Saturday and somehow survived/advanced despite the fact Brad Stevens' crew missed half of its 20 free throws and shot just 21-of-53 from the field (that's 39.6 percent).

Butler did all the so-called ";little things" right like outboard the bigger/badder Gators 36-to-33 plus the Bulldogs played superior three-point defense- Billy Donovan's club drained just 3-of-14 triples- and it only seemed that F Matt Howard (14 points and 5 rebs) and mates scooped up all the loose balls late in regulation and right into the overtime session.

Guard Shelvin Mack (27 points) keyed a Butler attack that sputtered for much of the game (see 24 missed three-pointers in all) but never did succumb to the pressures of being down twin figures to a team that didn't get any lift from its bench (Florida reserves scored two points in 40 man-minutes) and some rotten decision-making late in regulation by G Erving Walker helped to sabotage Florida's hopes of making it back to the Final Four for the first time since 2007.

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

DOG

SCORE

3-17

Old Dominion

 -1.5

Butler

60-58

3-19

Pittsburgh

- 8

Butler

71-70

3-24

Wisconsin

- 4.5

Butler

61-54

3-26

Florida

- 3.5

Butler

74-71(ot)



EAST- KENTUCKY (29-8)

It's hard to believe that the UK Wildcats haven't been to a Final Four since 1998 but the here-and-now says this club is rated the betting favorite to cut down the nets come next Monday night and who ever would have thought that might be the case a few weeks back when John Calipari's crew was losing road game after road game?

This Kentucky team- well-steeled after close wins in the first three rounds of tourney action against Princeton, West Virginia and Ohio State- played with major confidence in Sunday's 76-69 win against North Carolina and consider that the 'Cats didn't allow very many fast-break points after ";Coach Cal" reamed 'up with a quick-hitter time out just moments into the second half (maybe the single best time out by any coach in this tournament).

Note that Kentucky's hero of last-second shots- that's freshman G Brandon Knight- led the way against the longer/leaner Heels with a game-high 22 points that included a handful of made triples but hats off here to the likes of lefty Terrence Jones (11 points, 7 boards and some great half-court defense) and blue-collar guy F Josh Harrellson (12 points with 8 rebounds) who showed his fight when he leaped off the floor to confront an oblivious Harrison Barnes after one tripping call.

Faster than you can say Adolph Rupp, this Kentucky club- practically a brand-new edition after the nearly mass exodus of last year's touted freshmen class- has roared its way to 10 consecutive wins and no doubt Calipari's club is playing its best ball of the year right now and the overall team defense is superb, the ball movement is better than its been in weeks and the drive, dish and then shoot it theory has been working wonders with three different 'Cat players notching 4 assists apiece in the Newark regional win against North Carolina.

Next!

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

DOG

SCORE

3-17

Kentucky

- 13

Princeton

59-57

3-19

Kentucky

- 3.5

West Virginia

71-63

3-25

Ohio State

- 5.5

Kentucky

62-60

3-27

Kentucky

- 1.5

NC

76-69

 

WEST-  CONNECTICUT (30-9)
No doubt is says a whole lot that UConn head coach Jim Calhoun has been at this occupation for 39 years now and he claims he's seen nothing like this ... 9 wins in 19 days and now it's his fourth trip to the Final Four (1999, 2004 and '09 previously) with a third shot to win it all.

Hey, who's gonna doubt the Huskies who snagged a back-and-forth 65-63 win against Arizona last Saturday night in front of a pro-U of A Wildcats gathering in Anaheim? The Connecticut faithful held its breath when 'Zona missed two late-game perimeter jumpers including a potential game-winning triple by Jamelle Horne but give the Huskies credit for getting the ";W" despite the fact they shot a lowly 41.1 percent from the field (that's 23-of-56 FGs) and that included a shaky 5-of-17 from beyond the arc.

Superstar G Kemba Walker was good- but not great -- while scoring 20 points on 7-of-17 FG tries but give the veteran leader lots of credit for deferring to freshman phenom Jeremy Lamb who tickled the twine for 19 points including some big points late. Okay, the UConn was greatly aided and abetted by the fact Arizona F Derrick Williams (20 points) played only 7 minutes in the first half thanks to foul woes but there were more than a few occasions when the Big East crew could have folded its tent but did not do so and- again- three-point defense was key as the Wildcats knocked down just 4-of-21 triples.

If Walker has been this year's version of the 1988 ";Danny and the Miracles" starring Kansas icon Danny Manning, than Lamb has been the ";Scottie Pippen" sidekick that many hoop teams need to win and all Connecticut may need to win it all is a third scorer who just needs to toss in 14 or 15 points against Kentucky this weekend- could that be reserve G Shabazz Napier (10 points versus Arizona)? Stay tuned.

DATE

FAV

SPREAD

DOG

SCORE

3-17

Connecticut

- 10

Bucknell

81-52

3-19

Connecticut

- 4

Cincinnati

69-58

3-24

San Diego State     

- 2

Connecticut

74-67

3-26

Connecticut

- 3.5

Arizona

65-63



20
Nov

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