The NIT final at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Thursday will not only give us a first time champion. It will also be a meeting of two teams from Conference USA. North Texas and UAB both emerged victorious in games coming right down to the wire. In UAB’s case it took an extra five minutes to determine who advanced.
North Texas 56 Wisconsin 54
Offensive efficiency: North Texas 92, Wisconsin 89
The Mean Green lived up to their nickname during the final twenty minutes. Trailing the Badgers of the B10 by a dozen at intermission, North Texas held Wisconsin to 13 second half points. Wisconsin failed to get on the scoreboard the last nine minutes of the contest. On the night Wisconsin had 12 turnovers for a 20% TO rate. That mark is fair overall but the damage was done over the final stanza when Greg Gard’s team turned it over nine times.
Kenpom.com MVP: Tylor Perry, North Texas. Perry scored a game high 16 points. A senior guard standing at 5’11" Perry tied Moulaye Sissoko for the team lead in rebounds with five.
Records: North Texas 30-7, Wisconsin 20-15
UAB 88 Utah Valley 86 (OT)
Offensive efficiency: UAB 101, Utah Valley 99
In a game with four lead changes and four ties, UAB’s Ty Brewer hit a crucial jumper with 45 seconds to go. That shot gave the Blazers a lead they wouldn’t surrender as Jordan Walker iced the game with three from the charity stripe. UAB led by 12 in the first half, eight in the second but each time Utah Valley responded and prevented the Blazers from getting separation. The Wolverines actually took a lead midway through the second half. UAB answered and the two teams battled it out down the stretch. The victory puts UAB in the NIT championship game for the first time in program history.
Kenpom.com MVP: Ty Brewer, UAB. The senior forward matched his career high with 30 points. Brewer also added 12 rebounds and five steals.
Records: UAB 29-9, Utah Valley 28-9
Notes: During the season North Texas won two of three meetings with UAB. The Mean Green swept the Blazers in the regular season before dropping a semifinal contest in the conference tournament.
"I’m incredibly proud of our entire locker room of players….This team has great players, players that work. And they just completed the best basketball season in UVU school history." -Utah Valley coach Mark Madsen
Madsen, in his fourth season directing the Wolverine program, played at Stanford in the late 90s when the Cardinal advanced to the Final Four. He later played for the LA Lakers and was on the LA Lakers NBA title winning team in 2001 and ‘02. He later served as an assistant on the Laker staff.
Third time's a charm. UAB previously appeared in two NIT semifinal games. They dropped both before breaking through to earn their first championship game appearance.
UAB’s triumph in the semifinals extended their program season record to 29 wins.
"That’s a fantastic Wisconsin team that we have a lot of respect for. But man we have a tough group…To hold them to 13 second half points is awesome." - North Texas coach Grant McCasland
North Texas is now 11-3 in post season games under McCasland’s watch. Prior to his 2017 arrival, North Texas had never won a NCAA post season game.
The championship game offers an interesting contrast. North Texas prefers a grind it out pace, averaging 59 possessions per outing. UAB likes to get out and push the ball with a 71 possession norm. Whomever can impose their will from a tempo standpoint will be in a good position to cut down the nets Thursday evening.