Confession: After the first half of
So courtesy of the clicker, off to more aesthetic contests I went. Kentucky-Robert Morris; St. John's-Saint Joseph's. Even, for a spell, Middle Tennessee State-Saint Mary's.
But unsightly as its 67-56 victory may have been, props to Virginia.
A first-round NIT date can be one of college basketball’s most challenging tasks. If, like Virginia, you’ve spent the previous month on the fringe of
Barely 48 hours after that disappointment, you're playing, often against an obscure opponent.
Virginia (22-11) certainly displayed that natural lethargy Tuesday before finally dispatching Norfolk State behind 15 points each from Justin Anderson and Akil Mitchell. The Cavaliers committed 17 turnovers, two shy of their season-high, missed 12 free throws and couldn't pull away until late.
"I feel like we came out with a little bit of a hangover," Mitchell said in quotes posted on VirginiaSports.com. "We were upset we didn't make it into the NCAA tournament, and I think we were sort of overlooked this team."
The win leaves Virginia one-third of the way to New York’s
Virginia won the 1992 NIT, defeating Florida and
A year after winning the 1980 NIT in Ralph Sampson's freshman season, besting UNLV and Minnesota in Madison Square Garden, Virginia advanced to the program's first Final Four.
And while an NIT run to MSG doesn’t always translate to an
First, it gets players and coaches accustomed to the whimsical rhythms of March, when short turn-arounds and unfamiliar opponents are the rule.
Second, it breeds confidence and creates hunger among returning players – Virginia's lone significant senior is point guard Jontel Evans.
Similarly, after winning the 1995 NIT,
Those NITs were a good ol' boys club, replete with back-room deals. Today's NIT is administered by the NCAA and guarantees bids to regular-season conference champions that stumble in their league tournaments and do not make the NCAAs.
And how cool is that? Without such provision, there’s no way Norfolk State, 16-0 in the
While NIT bids are consolation prizes to programs such as Virginia, and unacceptable to the likes of Carolina and Kentucky, they are big darn deals to the likes of Norfolk State, Robert Morris and 2010 participant
So good on tournament honchos for including them.
Next up for Virginia is St. John’s, which finished 11th in the 16-team
The victory ended a five-game losing streak for St. John's (17-15).
Like the Cavaliers, the Red Storm is stout defensively. But Lavin's team is positively dreadful on offense, ranking 308th nationally in effective field goal percentage, 340th in 3-point accuracy – those ratings courtesy of Ken Pomeroy.
Playing at home, where it's won 18 straight, against an offensively challenged opponent, albeit one from the Big East, should be right in Virginia's wheelhouse and leave Bennett's team one victory shy of reaching the NIT semifinals in New York.
Such an experience would only fuel the suspicion that next season the NIT will be far below the Cavaliers' pay grade.
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