With the quartet of 1-seeds now set for next weekend’s Final Four in San Antonio, attention has turned to breaking down the teams, match-ups, and storylines surrounding Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA, and Memphis. But lost amidst the hype on the Riverwalk are a pair of games being played tonight in New York…games that could offer a glimpse into the future.
Once a proud post-season tournament, the NIT is now something of a March afterthought. But since the NCAA took charge of the tournament in the 2006 season, the “other” Final Four could be seen as a stepping stone to future post-season success. In the two NIT tournaments run by the NCAA, five of the eight semifinalists were selected to the following year’s NCAA tournament. And with the rebuilding Buckeyes and Baby Gators in tonight’s semis, chances are quite good that this group of teams could make some noise next March.
UMass matches up with that young Florida team in tonight’s first semifinal, tipping off at 6 P.M. The Minutemen are the semifinal team that looks least likely to go on to future NCAA success, but their balanced scoring attack means that they might not see too big of a drop-off as they head into the 2008-09 Atlantic 10 season. Both Ricky Harris and Chris Lowe will be returning after a year in which they’ve averaged more than 10 points per game, and the addition of point guard David Gibbs could keep things running smoothly.
While Ole Miss has a fairly large recruiting class, their collection of 3- and 4-star talent ranks that class quite low in the SEC. But with freshman Chris Warren leading the team in scoring at 15.7 points per game, next year’s Rebels could build upon an 07-08 season in which they started with 13 consecutive wins. Sophomores David Huertas and Eniel Polynice should also provide some veteran leadership in next year’s backcourt, but Ole Miss will need to address their issues in the post to parlay this year’s success into future rewards.
The crown jewels in tonight’s semifinals are Ohio State and Florida, the two teams who met in last year’s NCAA championship. With both teams being hit hard by early entries, the 2007-08 year has been something of a rebuilding season. But despite the fact that these two teams have a combined 19 underclassmen on their rosters, both were in bubble discussion until the 11th hour this March.
While coaches Thad Matta and Billy Donovan certainly earned their paychecks by performing admirably with such young teams this year, the future looks even brighter. Florida and Ohio State have incoming recruiting classes that are currently ranked 5th and 6th nationally by Rivals.com, and both are being considered by numerous studs in the 2009 class as well.
So, if you’re not in the mood for baseball quite yet, tune in tonight to catch some quality teams playing for their own post-season glory. There are certainly some future stars in this bunch, and you can get an early glimpse at some teams that will be making noise next year.
Tonight’s NIT schedule: