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The Morning Dish – Wednesday, March 29, 2017

March 29, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

The championship game for the 80th annual National Invitation Tournament is set, and in a postseason marked by pleasant surprises advancing deep, it’s maybe only fitting that two of the biggest surprises of the entire season will square off to settle this venerable event.

Georgia Tech was a team famously predicted by one national scribe to finish 0-18 in the ACC this season, the first year under new coach Josh Pastner. TCU, meanwhile, won 12 games a year ago and also was breaking in a new coach in alumnus Jamie Dixon. Both will meet in the NIT final after Tech defeated Cinderella Cal State Bakersfield 76-61 and the Horned Frogs rallied past Central Florida for a 68-53 victory in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Georgia Tech moved on by frustrating Bakersfield with its aggressive 1-3-1 zone defense and heating up in the second half after a first half where both teams’ defenses dominated. Josh Okogie scored 22 points and the Yellow Jackets took advantage of Roadrunners turnovers and foul trouble to move to the NIT final for the first time since falling to future ACC rival North Carolina in 1971.

It’s been noted time and again what a nice job Pastner did in his first year at Tech. While some predictions of pain were fairly ridiculous for a team that was an NIT quarterfinalist last year, the fact was the Yellow Jackets returned little from that team and were starting over on many fronts this year. And Pastner adjusted to the talent on his squad, got creative on both the offensive and defensive ends (the high post offense run around Ben Lammers in particular was a terrific move) and put together a team that is a worthy NIT finalist.

TCU got off to a slow start in the second semifinal and trailed by 10 with less than five minutes left in the first half. The Horned Frogs went on a 26-6 run from there, though, led the rest of the way and closed it out strong after UCF got within seven points with just over three minutes left. Vladimir Brodziansky (18 points, nine rebounds) and versatile Kenrich Williams (14 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists) both were outstanding again, as they have been so much of the year. The Knights’ own excellent postseason run ended with 25% shooting in the second half.

TCU was expected to take flight eventually under Dixon, but not this quickly. Brodziansky and Williams both developed into all-Big 12 caliber players, and Texas A&M transfer Alex Robinson-overlooked as a new addition-has been an outstanding addition, giving the team experience and steadiness in the backcourt. It’s to the point where, with almost everyone expected to return, the expectations for next year are already high (Joe Lunardi was touting the Frogs as a 7-10 seed in his ultra-early 2018 NCAA bracket projection), and this season isn’t even finished.

But first, there is the end of this season. Fifty-three different schools have won championships in the history of the NIT, and one of these two teams will be No. 54, as Hoopville writer and NIT historian Ray Floriani noted yesterday in this piece. Not a bad way at all to finish seasons that many expected wouldn’t end with so much as a winning record for either team. (*Also: a plug for Ray’s book, an enjoyable stroll down memory lane of this tournament)

Also, one can’t let Cal State Bakersfield exit the NIT without noting again what a terrific ride it went on over the past couple weeks. As an 8 seed that won three straight games on the road to get to NYC, the Roadrunners quite simply put themselves and the Western Athletic Conference on the map, and both bear watching in coming years. Even in defeat, CSUB did not back down and even out-rebounded bigger Tech. This is a team and a league that deserve more attention next year from TV networks.

Side Dishes:

  • More early departures for the NBA Draft were announced. Among those going pro are Duke’s Harry Giles, North Carolina State guard Dennis Smith and Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner. All three have or will hire an agent and will not be returning to college. Giles had an injury-filled freshman year at Duke, while Sumner suffered a torn ACL in January. Smith was an electric freshman at N.C. State whose team had a disappointing year in the ACC.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • The CBI championship series resumes with the second game as Coastal Carolina is at Wyoming (9 p.m. Eastern, ESPNU). Nice of TV to play this at an appropriate hour in the Mountain Time Zone. The Chanticleers won the first game and need just one win to wrap it up, while the Cowboys try to send it to a third game back in Conway, S.C.
  • The CIT semifinals also take place. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is at Maryland-Baltimore County in the first game (7 p.m., CBSSN), while the second has St. Peter’s hosting Furman (9 p.m., CBSSN), with Bob Richey making his debut as the Paladins’ interim coach after Niko Medved left for Drake.

Enjoy your Wednesday.

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College Basketball Tonight

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