Mar 14, 2012, 1:47 PM EDT
If you’re of the “The NIT is for losers, talk to me about the real tournament” crowd, you’ll find a Cal-USF breakdown down the bottom. If you’re otherwise interested in the exploits of Drexel, La Salle and Saint Joseph’s (and Penn!), then you won’t need to skip — or, at least, as far.
We’ll start with the Dragons…
NIT: #3 Drexel vs. #6 UCF (Daskalaskis Center) / 7:15 p.m. / ESPN3.com
After their resume kept them out of the NCAAs, there’s pressure on the Drexel Dragons to back up all the talk that has surrounded their “snub.” Some will say their NIT performance has no bearing on whether they should or should not have made the NCAAs. Others will argue that their early exit or extended run will either totally validate or invalidate the selection committee’s omission — and that tipping point will obviously vary.
Speaking of resumes, Drexel has the opportunity to take on a UCF program on its way to the Big East in 2013, and one that, as a six seed from C-USA, had an arguably better resume than the Dragons to get into the NCAAs in the first place.
UCF finished the year 22-10 with the 54th best RPI in the country and two Top 50 wins — UConn and Memphis. Six of their 10 losses came to teams in the NCAA tournament — Memphis, Florida State, Harvard, and two to Southern Miss.
Drexel, by contrast, cannot say the same. Though they won 27 games, they played just four of those contests against NCAA teams, losing to St. Joe’s and Virginia and splitting two games with VCU. They never played a Top 50 team (UVA finished 53).
Look, we’re not here to rehash why Drexel didn’t get in nor to browbeat them for failing to do so. The point is that UCF is very much the kind of program Drexel didn’t get the chance play enough over the course of its regular season, and just one of a handful they’ll have to survive if they want to prove they were more than just a good team with an awful schedule. Drexel fans can proffer every reason they want as to why the team’s weak schedule wasn’t the school’s fault, and they might even be right. But now it’s time to play the teams those same fans wish they could have just a month or two prior; so now it’s time to produce.
Of course, should they beat UCF, they could get the chance for a little retribution against a team they already played…
NIT: #2 Saint Joseph’s vs. #7 Northern Iowa (Hagan Arena) / 7:15 p.m. / ESPN3 / 610 AM
This NIT bid could really be good for SJU. Yes, every team would prefer “the big dance” and Joe’s could have even played its way in had it squeaked by St. Bonaventure, but there’s little doubt the Hawks have the tools to be successful in the NIT.
An extended run for a young SJU roster could give this up-and-coming team a whole lot of confidence and some very worthwhile experience heading into next year, when Carl Jones will be a senior and Langston Galloway, C.J. Aiken and Ron Roberts juniors.
They’ll take on Northern Iowa tonight, whose Missouri Valley Conference flew under the radar as the best Mid-Major in the country, one that finished ahead of C-USA and the Pac-12 and just behind the A-10 for the eighth-best conference RPI in the country. NIU lost both its contests with Wichita State earlier this season, but split games 1-1 with Creighton, who SJU also downed early.
For those who make use of the online feed or make it down to the Fieldhouse, the matchup between Jones and NIU’s Anthony James should be fun to watch. At 6-0, James, like Jones, is undersized, quick and has dropped 20 or more five different times this season.
Also, if Northern Iowa sounds familiar, remember this guy?
NIT: #3 La Salle vs. #6 Minnesota (Gola Arena) / 7 p.m. / ESPN 2 / 990 AM
This is the only one of the City Six games that will be on basic cable tonight.
Explorers head coach John Giannini said after his team’s loss to St. Louis last Friday night that an opportunity to play in the NIT would put his team in the company of some household names. In this case, La Salle has drawn a household college hockey name in round one.
The Golden Gophers will no doubt be happy to play a non-Big Ten team for the first time since Dec. 22. Minnesota went 12-1 out of conference but just 6-12 in conference. Their lone loss outside the Big Ten came to another Atlantic 10 team: the Dayton Flyers.
Tonight’s meeting will be the two teams’ first since 1965. The winner will move on to play the victor of Miami (FL) and Valparaiso.
CBI: Penn vs. Quinnipiac (Palestra) / 7:30 p.m. / 88.5 FM WXPN
One other note we forgot to mention earlier, the Penn Quakers are in action tonight against the Quinnipiac Bobcats in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational. Every game the Quakers play could be Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernandini’s last in Penn uniforms.
The winner will move on to play the victor of the Delaware-Butler game, which can be seen on HD Net at 8 p.m. this evening.
And now, onto the big show…
NCAA: #12 South Florida vs. #12 California / 9:10 p.m. / TRU TV
The winner earns the last remaning spot in the field of 64 and the right to play the fifth-seeded Temple Owls in round one.
It’ll be a contrast of styles, as USF plays to hold opponents to under 60 — and sometimes 50 — points, while Cal boasts the 20th best field goal percentage in the nation at 47.9 and scores 71.9 ppg.
The easy way to look at this is just to compare the Big East to the Pac-12 and to pick your winner from there — and we’re not necessarily discouraging anyone from doing so. If we were forced to fill out brackets, we probably would have done the same under the logic that stiffer defense and more hands in more faces will dramatically decrease Cal’s shooting percentages.
That said, it’s never wise to count out a team who shoots for that high a percentage. Even if it’s inflated, it’s still excellent enough to give you pause, regardless of how it gets done.
Again, the winner moves on to face Temple at 9:50 p.m. Friday night.
Owls fans, who would you rather play?
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