This is my third season of attempting to predict the NIT bracket and one of the things I've learned during this experience is that the first thing you have to do is make a random guess about which teams are going to care that they're in the NIT and which ones are just going to roll over and go home. This is a tough thing to figure out. For instance, Illinois could be really pissed that it didn't get an NCAA At-Large bid and could beat Stony Brook by 25 points on Wednesday, or the Fighting Illini could see they're playing an America East school - on the road nonetheless - in the second best tournament in the country and decide to go on one quick bender.
The thing is, even if Illinois falters out of the gate they'll have some time, because the Fighting Illini are much better than the Seawolves. But this effect really comes into play in other first round match-ups. Ones like Kent State vs. Tulsa, Seton Hall vs. Texas Tech, Memphis vs. St. John's, UConn vs. Northeastern, Rhode Island vs. Northwestern and South Florida vs. N.C. State. Those are all games that might be close.
Still, it wouldn't be fun if we didn't give it our best shot. So after the jump I predict the NIT bracket all the way to eventual champion... Northwestern. (Just kidding, I think.)
Predictions First Round:
- Illinois over Stony Brook
- Kent State over Tulsa
- Dayton over Illinois State
- Cincinnati over Weber State
Arizona State Bracket:
- Arizona State over Jacksonville
- Seton Hall over Texas Tech - Red Raiders rank 229th in 2-point shooting percentage
- Memphis over St. John's - Assuming St. John's doesn't care here, that might be dangerous
- Mississippi over Troy
Virginia Tech Bracket:
- Virginia Tech over Quinnipiac
- Connecticut over Northeastern - This will be a good game
- Nevada over Wichita State - Nevada is 18th in 2-point shooting percentage
- Northwestern over Rhode Island - You never know
Mississippi State Bracket:
- Mississippi State over Jackson State
- William & Mary over North Carolina - Big upset prediction!
- South Florida over N.C. State
- UAB over Coastal Carolina - Though Coastal is a fun pick if you're so inclined.
Predictions Second Round:
- Illinois over Kent State
- Dayton over Cincinnati
- Arizona State over Seton Hall
- Mississippi over Memphis
- Connecticut over Virginia Tech
- Northwestern over Nevada - Don't worry I'll stop soon.
- Mississippi State over William & Mary
- UAB over South Florida
Projected Final Four, etc.:
- Connecticut, Mississippi State, Dayton and Arizona State meet in MSG
- Mississippi State defeats Dayton in the Championship Game
Now, what's funny about those predictions above is that:
- I have Northwestern going way too far probably. Here I'm counting on last year's experience at Tulsa mattering and the fact that the Wildcats have had a little while to regroup since getting knocked out of the Big Ten Tournament.
- I warned against teams that suffer a let down coming into the NIT and then picked a team ripe for one - Mississippi State - to win the whole thing. But if you watched the SEC Championship game I think you understand why.
- I changed my Virginia Tech bracket champion to Connecticut at the last moment. This is another long shot, but I'd love to see the Huskies play the Wildcats. I also think Jim Calhoun will want to prove that this team can win when he's coaching. Still, the converse is true. I could see Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards just giving up. And so it goes.
Anyone else like to share their NIT predictions? Do so in the comments. Specifically, how far do you think Northwestern will go?