For some teams a trip to the Postseason NIT is viewed as a punishment of sorts, and those teams tend to see their seasons end in quick fashion.
For others the 32-team tournament offers a second chance of sorts, an opportunity to play more games with an eye towards next season while also chasing a championship. Both Baylor and Iowa fall into this category, but with the NIT crown on the line Thursday night at Madison Square Garden there was a clear disparity between the two teams.
Cory Jefferson (23 points, eight rebounds) and Isaiah Austin (15 points, nine rebounds) combined to shoot 14-of-18 from the field, and Pierre Jackson added 17 points and ten assists to lead the Bears to the 74-54 victory. Jackson finishes his Baylor career with double-doubles in four straight games.
With the victory the Bears won their first-ever Postseason NIT title, and the Hawkeyes struggled with Baylor’s length and athleticism on both ends of the floor. Baylor shot 54.2% from the field on the night, making 22 of their 34 two-point field goal attempts (64.7%).
By comparison Iowa shot just 26.5% from the field, making 13 of their 44 shots (29.5%) inside of the arc. Baylor’s big men certainly didn’t block every shot (seven blocks; five by Austin) in the paint but they did manage to change a number of Iowa’s looks, and in some cases the mere thought of a Baylor big man being nearby resulted in the Hawkeyes being hesitant to take those shots.
Aaron White (12 points) and Mike Gesell (ten points) were the lone Hawkeyes to reach double figures, but despite the poor outing the future looks bright for Fran McCaffery’s program. Outside of Eric May the Hawkeyes are due to return their entire rotation, and the addition of players such as Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff and incoming freshman Peter Jok will help from a depth standpoint.
As for Scott Drew’s Bears there are some significant personnel issues to address, with the graduation of Jackson and Austin’s NBA prospects (he’s projected to be a lottery pick) being the biggest ones.
Jackson’s departure will mean more minutes for L.J. Rose, a highly touted guard who didn’t see a great amount of playing time as a freshman, and their 2013 recruiting class is strong with wing Ishmail Wainright and center Dominic Woodson leading the way.
In most cases a deep Postseason NIT run can serve as a springboard into the following season (of course last year’s champion, Stanford, struggled with inconsistency and ended up back in the NIT this season). Baylor and Iowa both hope this will be the case in 2013-14.