NIT Final Four Preview
by Phil Kasiecki
The NIT is down to four teams, all from high-major conferences after mid-majors looked to make a statement with some early wins. With some teams that were snubbed from the NCAA Tournament, the NIT was their chance. The teams that are left include two that some feel should have gone and two that made late runs that fell just short in their conference tournaments.
Syracuse vs. South Carolina
In the first semifinal, Syracuse will take on South Carolina. The Gamecocks have played very well in the NIT behind the senior backcourt of Jamel Bradley and Aaron Lucas, while Syracuse has been led by senior Preston Shumpert, who had 36 points in their win over Butler. Both teams got here by virtue of easy wins in the quarterfinals.
Syracuse comes in with better offensive numbers, but South Carolina sports better defensive numbers. The Gamecocks also match up well with Syracuse up front, though they aren’t quite as athletic and the Orangemen may have an edge on the perimeter.
For the Gamecocks, one key will be containing Syracuse on the perimeter. The Orangemen have made it this far largely behind Shumpert, Deshaun Williams, Kueth Duany and point guard James Thues at the offensive end. Williams has not shot the ball as well and especially of late; the key with him is containing his penetration. Another key for the Gamecocks will be inside play. The Orangemen are young up front, and that could pose problems defensively since the Gamecocks have a more experienced frontcourt that can match up with them physically, though Hakim Warrick has improved as the season has gone along.
The Orangemen need their perimeter players to take care of the ball and make things happen. If they get some production inside, they will be difficult to beat.
Prediction: Syracuse advances to the championship in a close one.
Memphis vs. Temple
In the other semifinal, Memphis takes on Temple. Talent-wise, Memphis has a clear edge; they are more talented up front and on the perimeter, and deeper, than Temple. However, there is a reason the Tigers are in this tournament in the first place. These two teams met in December, with the Tigers winning by a score of 64-54 in a game where the teams combined to shoot just over 36% from the floor.
The Tigers have the edge in many statistical categories; they score 10 more points per game, haul down 7 more rebounds per game and shoot significantly better from the field. But they also turn it over three times more per game, and that could be a big key if they don’t shoot well against the trademark matchup zone defense of the Owls.
The Tigers figure to have a significant edge up front against the Owls, especially with their lack of depth, but that’s where the matchup zone could make the difference. Kelly Wise and Chris Massie (when he shows up) shoot almost 57% combined from the floor and Earl Barron, though not a major weapon, makes over half of his shots.
In the first meeting, the wings had it: Scooter McFadgon led Memphis with 22 points on 7 of 12 shooting, while David Hawkins had just 6 points on 2 of 14 shooting in his second game back after being academically ineligible. The inside players were non-factors offensively, though Wise had a game-high 16 rebounds.
If the Tigers control the boards, they may be able to get out and run, which could be a problem for Temple given their lack of depth and that Lynn Greer may not be 100%. Taking care of the ball is how Temple got here, as they had just 3 turnovers in the quarterfinal win against Villanova. In the first meeting, each team had 11 turnovers, but the point guards were a study in contrast: Greer had six assists and five turnovers, while Anthony Burks, the unsung hero of this team, had 11 assists and no turnovers.
All this, and we have not mentioned DaJuan Wagner. Memphis’ very talented wing will play a part in this game’s outcome, but he is just one player and not a superstar. He had 15 points on 6 of 14 shooting in the first meeting between these two teams, and Temple’s matchup zone could pose problems for him.
Prediction: Memphis comes out on top for the second time this season.