When you are gearing up to watch the NIT tonight, here are the two mid-major teams to know and the top players to keep an eye one during the night.
1. Boston University: The Terriers lucked into a home game, even though they are the No. 7 seed in the NIT. That means they get a little extra advantage in their game against the Illini, provided the fans come out in support. Boston University landed here primarily because they had such trouble defending the 3-point shot. Their own shooting failed them in that fateful championship game against American after looking good earlier in the conference tournament. It looks more and more now like American was just a bad matchup for the Terriers rather than a truly better team, but that doesn't get you into the NCAA field. Illinois is a better matchup, but BU will have to defend Nnanna Egwu inside and doesn't have anyone of that size to handle him. We just shouldn't overlook that home court advantage.
2. UC-Irvine: Speaking of size, it will be interesting to see how SMU deals with the size of UC Irvine's Mamadou Ndiaye, who tops out at 7-6. You don't just have guys sitting around on the bench to bring in against a player like that. Against teams that had some real height in the middle -- more than the Mustangs at least -- they were 3-1 in conference, beating UConn twice and then splitting with South Florida. So this isn't a team that is afraid of dealing with size. Connecticut is even better at blocking shots than the Anteaters, which could be a bad sign for them tonight on the road. Still, Ndiaye is a sight to see in the middle, no matter who is playing.
Mid-Major Players to Watch:
1. Maurice Watson, Boston University: We are really high on Maurice Watson here, and we can't stop telling people about him. It will be fun to see him go against some of the guards at the top level, especially a guard like Tracy Abrams who is just as good a defender as he is. Watson is one of the top assist men in the country, dishing it out on almost 43 percent of his possessions, and he can certainly cause his share of turnovers on defense. He is smaller than the average guard on Illinois, but that shouldn't stop him from being effective against them.
2. Nathan Boothe, Toledo: Since we are talking big men with Mamadou Ndiaye, we would be wrong to leave out Nathan Boothe (especially since we are also talking Illinois players here). Boothe is one of the better interior defenders in the MAC, and turns away a decent 4.4 percent of the shots against him. He has also become better at feeding the ball out to his shooters this season and that has been a big help to his offense stats and Toledo as a whole. He will need to be careful tonight against Southern Miss as they like to drive and get to the line, and Boothe is no stranger to hearing his number called by the ref after a whistle. But here is a scary thought. His freshman season (last year) compares favorably with a certain kid named Mike Muscala when he was a freshman. If Boothe can keep that comparison coming, there is no telling what this kid can do.
3. Kruize Pinkins, San Francisco: The junior Pinkins was a great pickup for San Francisco this season. He is like a magnet for the ball on the offensive glass, which has been a big part of San Francisco's success this season: extending possessions and, making things happen. He also gets to the line quite well, although that can be an adventure when he does. Look for Pinkins to cause a lot of trouble for LSU defenders Jordan Mickey and Johnny O'Bryant. It will definitely be a battle between Mickey and Pinkins for the ball off the glass and Mickey doesn't have enough of a size advantage to just bully the Dons center out of the way.
As always, you can catch all of the action for the NIT by checking out our handy dandy schedule along with the teams for tonight's games.