Arizona St vs. Baylor (8:00pm ET)
Arizona St (22-12, 99 Pac-12) – The Basics: The Sun Devils might be playing away from Wells Fargo Arena, but that’s perfectly fine with freshman guard Jahii Carson. The co-Freshman of the Year and First Team All Pac-12 guard has averaged over 22 PPG in away games this season while shooting an eye-opening 53% from the field. In Wednesday night’s thrashing of Detroit, Carson scored 22 points while grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out 7 assists. Not to be forgotten is senior forward Carrick Felix, who is the team’s leading rebounder (8.1 RPG) and also the Sun Devils second leading scorer (14.4). With the size advantage of ASU, look for the Sun Devils to play an in-and-out offense through their 7’2” C Jordan Bachynski (9.9 PPG).
Baylor (19-14, 99 Big 12) – The Basics: The Bears 2012-2013 season is the ideal illustration of a roller-coaster season. They beat Kansas, but lose to Northwestern; they beat Oklahoma State, and then lose to Texas. The 2009 NIT runner-ups have been plagued by inconsistency, but senior guard Pierre Jackson has been anything but inconsistent this season. The Bears leading scorer (19.5 PPG) and assist man (6.4 APG) came off the bench in Wednesday night’s pasting of Long Beach State to contribute 11 points and 6 assists in only 20 minutes of play. But the star of the game was junior guard Brady Heslip, who hit 8 3-pointers en route to a 26 point performance. Baylor’s big men pose a threat to any team they play, as freshman center Isaiah Austin (13.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG) continues to develop into a legitimate top center in the Big-12.
Key Matchup: Arizona St’s Carrick Felix vs. Baylor’s Cory Jefferson
These two may not be matched up together that much during the game, but the show will take place underneath the basket. Felix leads ASU in rebounds (8.1 RPG) and grabbed 7 boards against Detroit. Jefferson on the other hand is second on his team in rebounds (8.5 RPG) by only a slim margin, and was credited with 8 rebounds against Long Beach. Look for these two to lock horns after every shot attempt; it will be a sight to see.
Keep an Eye on: Bench production. This is based on Pierre Jackson coming off the bench for Baylor again. If he does, it will be interesting to see him and ASU’s Evan Gordon (who also logs a ton of minutes off the bench) clash. Arizona St has more fire power in their starting five (not a knock on Baylor at all) but Baylor boasts more depth, so advantage Bears.
Stony Brook vs. Iowa (9:30pm ET)
Stony Brook (25-7, 14-2 Am. East) – The Basics: The America East regular season champions beat the #2 seeded Massachusetts to secure their first ever win in the NIT. The Seawolves, who hold 13 road wins (1st in NCAA – keep in mind neutral court doesn’t count as road games), held the Minutemen to 37% shooting from the field, while forcing 19 UMass turnovers. They also claim an impressive trio of scorers, including freshman Jameel Warney (12.2 PPG), juniors Anthony Jackson (11.2 PPG) and Dave Coley (11.1 PPG).
Iowa (22-12, 9-9 Big Ten) – The Basics: Junior forward Roy Devyn Marble, in essence, has ‘been there and done that’ for Iowa. So when Indiana St. threw a new look zone at the Hawkeyes in their meeting Wednesday night, it might have fooled Iowa’s underclassmen, but not Marble. Iowa, as they have often done this season, used a stretch of runs created through rebounding and assists to give them the 68-52 victory over Indiana St. Marble, a 6’6” Third Team All-Big Ten slasher, leads the Hawkeyes in scoring (14.4 PPG) and assists (2.9 APG), while 6’8” sophomore Aaron White leads Iowa in rebounding (6.1 RPG) and second in scoring (13.1 PPG).
Key Matchup: Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney vs. Iowa’s Aaron White
Stony Brook’s Anthony Jackson and Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble are going to get their points, that’s for certain. What could potentially be a game changer is secondary scoring; White, Iowa’s second leading scorer, is responsible for holding Stony Brook’s leading scorer in check. Foul trouble could come into play for both players, as they like to get physical underneath the basket (both players lead their team in rebounding).
Keep an Eye On: foul trouble. As mentioned above, both teams have scorers, but scorers who rebound really well. The difference is, if Iowa’s White gets into foul trouble, the Hawkeyes have big guys to spare (whereas Stony Brook doesn’t). Let’s not forget Iowa is in the top 10 in rebounding. Advantage Iowa.
Stanford vs. Alabama (12:00pm ET)
Stanford (19-14, 9-9 Pac-12) – The Basics: The Cardinal boast 6’10” First Team All-Pac-12 junior PF Dwight Powell who is a force inside, but here’s what you didn’t know: he’s also a pretty decent shooter from behind the arc. Powell may not take a ton of 3’s, but when your 235lb forward hits 46% of the ones you do take, he’s considered a threat. If he has an off night shooting, don’t make the same mistake SF Austin did and get comfy, because Powell can contribute in other ways (15 rebounds and 4 blocks against the Lumberjacks). Bruisers seem to come in doubles in Palo Alto as 230lb junior Josh Huestis almost averages a double double (10.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG) while also registering over 2 blocks per game.
Alabama (22-12, 12-6 SEC) – The Basics: First Team All-SEC junior guard Trevor Releford may lead the Crimson Tide in scoring (15.2 PPG), but he also made the All-SEC Defensive Team for a reason. Releford averages over 2 steals per game to go along with his arsenal on offense (47% from the field, 82% FT shooting and 42% from 3-point range). But Alabama also has a pair of sophomore guards who can be dangerous if you pay too much attention to Releford. Trevor Lacey (11.6 PPG) is the leading assist man (3.1 APG) while Levi Randolph (7.7 PPG) is third on the team in FG% and and second on the team in rebounding (4.1 RPG).
Key Matchup: Stanford’s Aaron Bright vs. Alabama’s Trevor Releford
Aaron Bright’s scoring might have dropped from his sophomore year, but Stanford is going to need him to stay with Alabama’s guard-oriented offense. He still has the potential to put up 12-15 points if he can get hot early and get his confidence up. It will be difficult, as Releford will obviously be a handful. Look for Bright to try and wear down Releford on offense to try and slow down his offensive flow, while I wouldn’t be surprised if Releford tries to post up Bright due to his size advantage (Bright only weights 178lbs). If Bright is unsuccessful, he could find himself on the bench in favor of Robbie Lemons, who has the size and strength to stay with Releford.
Keep an Eye On: matchups/assignments. Although Alabama’s starting 5 is guard-heavy, they are still big guards. Lacey (6’3” 215lbs) Randolph (6’5” 205 lbs) and Cooper (6’6” 215lbs) could be trouble for Bright (5’11” 178lbs) and Randle (6’1” 180lbs). Look for Stanford to try and run zone to try and neutralize Alabama’s size advantage.
St. John’s vs. Virginia (11:00am ET)
St. John’s (17-15, 8-10 Big East) – The Basics: The suspension of leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison proved to be damaging to the young Red Storm, as it steered them towards a 4-game losing streak (5 if you include his last game – he scored only 6 points). Yet, even with Harrison, St. John’s still has a young team, as all ten of their players who play consistently are either sophomores or freshmen. In Harrison’s absence, 6’8” forward JaKarr Sampson has taken the reigns, as the Big East Rookie of the Year leads the Red Storm in scoring (14.9 PPG), rebounds (6.6 RPG) and blocks (1.1 BPG). The do-it-all forward is aided by some young guns in sophomores Phil Greene IV (9.8 PPG) and Sir’Dominic Pointer (7 PPG, 5.5 RPG and the hero of the St. Joseph’s game).
Virginia (22-11, 11-7 ACC) – The Basics: The Cavaliers are a much disciplined team that plays great defense (first in scoring defense and second in FG% defense in ACC), and steady offense (third in assist/turnover ratio in ACC). While the Wahoos are led by 6’6” junior guard Joe Harris in scoring (16.7 PPG), it has been the steady play of freshman forward Justin Anderson (6.8 PPG), who has averaged almost 9 PPG since becoming a starter towards the end of January. His advantage is his 6’6” 230lb frame; he is a matchup nightmare for taller forwards who can’t keep up with him, but strong enough to not get pushed around by those same forwards. Akil Mitchell is the big man down low for UVA and he leads the Cavaliers in rebounding (9 RPG) while contributing 13.3 PPG (second on the team).
Key Matchup: St. John’s JaKarr Sampson vs. Virginia’s Justin Anderson
These two match up perfectly with each other. What will be interesting is how each player uses his slight advantage over one another (JaKarr with his quickness and Anderson with his strength). Both freshmen love to be physical and rebound, and both use that physicality when playing defense. This will be fun to watch as JaKarr likes to talk, while Anderson likes to smile.
Keep an Eye On: coaching. Tony Bennett is a very underrated in-game coach, and Steve Lavin is very good at getting his team prepared. Pay attention to the weaknesses each coach tries to exploit; St. John’s is in the bottom half of the Big East in assists and turnovers per game, so look for Bennett to put tons of pressure on their guards. UVA on the other hand is near the bottom in scoring in the ACC, so look for Lavin to try and push the tempo, get an early lead, and try to take UVA out of their comfort zone.
Monday (the 25th):
Robert Morris vs. Providence (7:00pm ET)
Robert Morris (24-10, 14-4 NEC) – The Basics: The Northeast regular season champions are coming off of a dramatic upset over defending National Champion Kentucky Tuesday night. The Colonials have no won 10 of their last 12 contests and 16 of their last 19. They have four players averaging in double figures, led by 6’6” sophomore forward Lucky Jones. Jones, who’s averaging close to 12 points, 6 boards and 1 steal per game, is arguably their best player, and his absence late in the second half against Kentucky exhibits as such. However, junior guard Karvel Anderson (12.3 PPG) is the Colonials leading scorer and is shooting 43% from behind the arc this season. Guard Velton Jones (5.2 APG) is the lead assist man for Robert Morris, while senior forward Russell Johnson has done just about everything for the Colonials, averaging close to 11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals per game.
Providence (18-14, 9-9 Big East) – The Basics: Providence has been in a rebuilding phase for quite some time. The good news is that with their win over Charlotte Wednesday night, they proved that the Friars are well on their way. The better news is that their lone senior, Vincent Council, is continuing his stellar season averaging just a shade less than 10 points, 7 assists and 3 rebounds per game. The best news is that their top three scorers should all be back next season. First Team All-Big East Junior Bryce Cotton (19.6 PPG), Honorable Mention Kadeem Batts (14.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG), sophomore LaDontae Henton (13.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG), along with Council, head a quartet of assassins that not only specialize in scoring, but rebounding and defense as well.
Key Matchup: Robert Morris’ Lucky Jones vs. Providence’s LaDontae Henton
Henton is a good defender, and he’ll need to bring his A game because he’ll more than likely draw the top task of stopping Lucky Jones. If there’s one thing that Henton and Providence does well, it’s preventing the 3. And wouldn’t you know, something that Jones and the Colonials do well is shoot the 3. Hmmm….
Keep an Eye On: energy. Both teams are coming off of emotional wins, so it will be interesting to see if either or both teams come out somewhat flat, particularly Robert Morris.
Mercer vs. BYU (9:00pm ET)
Mercer (24-11, 14-4 A-Sun) – The Basics: The Atlantic Sun regular season champions might have been in that other tournament had it not been for a slipup in the championship game against Florida GC. But their first NIT action in program history Wednesday night against Tennessee proved that the Bears are not going to slow down for any NIT opponent. Mercer is full of scrappy players who defend, rebound, and shoot free-throws with the best of them. Led by guards Travis Smith (13.8 PPG) and Langston Hall (11.2 PPG), the Bears have a formidable starting five that make it difficult for opponents to hone in on one or two particular players. Forwards Daniel Coursey, Bud Thomas and Jakob Gollon are all capable of scoring, rebounding and even getting the occasional assist or two. As Tennessee found out, if you put too much focus on stopping Smith, the other four will do damage (46 of Mercer’s 67 points in Wednesday night’s contest).
BYU (22-11, 10-6 WCC) – The Basics: coming off of their program record fourth straight postseason victory, BYU’s offensive potential can have any opponent shaking in their shoes. Sophomore guard Tyler Haws (21.4 PPG) is capable of hitting any shot on the court, and putting him on the free-throw line will ultimately end in points as well (87% FT shooter). While Haws knocks down shots from above, senior forward Brandon Davies is cleaning up the boards below (7.8 RPG). Davies is second on his team in scoring (17.8 PPG) but he can also find the open man (2.5 APG). Sophomore guard Matt Carlino (11 PPG, 4.5 APG) rounds out a Cougar threesome that can run you out of the gym before you have a chance to tie your shoes.
Key Matchup: Mercer’s Travis Smith vs. BYU’s Tyler Haws
They’re the teams respected leading scorers, they shoot the 3 with high percentages, they are both leaders in the locker room, and both have the courage to take the tough shot no matter where they are on the court. Nothing else needs to be said.
Keep an Eye On: the scoreboard. Both teams have the weapons to light it up. Mercer likes to run, while BYU likes to shoot. Look for a ton of 3-point shots to be taken early in the game, as both teams will want to make a statement.
Louisiana Tech vs. Southern Miss (10:00pm ET)
Louisiana Tech (27-6, 16-2 WAC) – The Basics: Tuesday’s victory over FSU may have been Louisiana Tech’s first NIT win since 2002, but these Bulldogs have the makeup to go a lot farther than just a first round win. The co-WAC regular season champions get the majority of their scoring from sophomore guard Raheem Appleby (14.8 PPG), but head coach Michael White likes to spread the wealth, as he can go up to 9-deep in a game. Depth is on the Bulldogs side; Appleby is the only scorer who averages double figures, but La Tech have 9 other players who average more than 10 minutes a game, with 6 of those players averaging 5 or more PPG.
Southern Miss (26-9, 12-4 C-USA) – The Basics: The Golden Eagles victory over Charleston Southern Wednesday night was the first post season victory for Southern Miss since 1988. They are led by senior guard sensation Dwayne Davis (16.4 PPG, 4.4 RPB) who continues to shoot lights out from behind the arc. Fellow senior Jonathan Mills (9.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG) continues to be steady for the Golden Eagles. Southern Miss’ top three scorers might be guards, but they have plenty of wings who can fill up the stat sheet as well (three who average over 8 PPG and 4 RPG).
Key Matchup: Louisiana Tech’s Alex Hamilton vs. Southern Miss’ Jerrold Brooks
Both of these guards are coming off of double digit games where they shot the ball at a high percentage. With both defenses likely keying in on Appleby for La Tech and Davis for Southern Miss, these two will do their best to be the go-to guy if either defense is successful.
Keep an Eye On: guard substitutions. Both teams can score (both were ranked in the top 45 in scoring with over 73 PPG), so both coaches will make plenty of substitutions to keep their scorers fresh. There won’t be much action underneath the basket as both teams like to shoot. Southern Miss finished 11th in the NCAA in FG%, however, La Tech finished 26th in rebounding. One will play into the other; if Southern Miss has an off night from the field, La Tech will clean up on the glass. But if Southern Miss is hot, it takes away the Bulldogs’ strength on the boards.