Postseason NIT

George Washington players celebrate after winning the NIT on Thursday, March 31, 2016, in New York. George Washington defeated Valparaiso 76-60 in the final. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

George Washington wins first Postseason NIT title

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Thursday night’s Postseason NIT championship matchup featured two teams, No. 1 seed Valparaiso and No. 4 seed George Washington, that began this season with hopes of playing in the NCAA tournament. Things didn’t work out as either team would have hoped, with the Crusaders falling in the Horizon League tournament and the Colonials not getting the wins needed to earn an at-large bid out of the Atlantic 10, but both had the chance to return home with a championship trophy.

And it was Mike Lonergan’s team that would accomplish that goal, pulling away in the second half to beat Valparaiso by the final score of 76-60.

Kevin Larsen led four Colonials in double figures with 18 points, with Patricio Garino adding 14 points, Joe McDonald 13, eight rebounds and four assists and tournament Most Outstanding Player Tyler Cavanaugh 12 points. Leading by one at the intermission, George Washington outscore Valparaiso 44-29 in the second half with the Crusaders struggling to make shots.

Bryce Drew’s team finished the game 8-for-28 from three, with forward Alec Peters being their lone double-digit scorer with 15 points. Valparaiso shot 39 percent from the field, and the reliance on perimeter shots was one reason why they were outscored 22-6 from the foul line. That margin was the biggest difference, and as a result George Washington is headed home with their first postseason tournament title.

The Colonials join Columbia (CIT) and Old Dominion (Vegas 16) as winners of postseason tournaments thus far. Nevada hosts Morehead State in Game 3 of the CBI Finals Friday night.

Evansville, Stanford win postseason tournament titles

2015 NIT Championship
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Thursday night two championships were determined, with the title games of the CIT and NIT being played. With Evansville winning the CIT and Stanford the Postseason NIT, the non-NCAA tournament portion of the 2014-15 schedule has been completed.

Marty Simmons’ Purple Aces became the second Missouri Valley Conference team to win a postseason event in as many days, with Loyola (IL) winning the CBI title on Wednesday, as they beat Northern Arizona 71-65 in Evansville. Egidijus Mockevicius led the way offensively for Evansville with 27 points and he also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.

Guard D.J. Balentine, the team’s leading scorer on the season, chipped in with 16 points. Evansville shot just 1-for-10 from three but made up for that by scoring 20 points from the foul line, seven more than NAU. First team All-Big Sky selection Kris Yanku, who will be a junior next season, led Jack Murphy’s team with 18 points.

The Lumberjacks picked up the first postseason wins in school history in the CIT, and with Yanku leading the way they should once again be a factor in the Big Sky next season. As for Evansville they had just one senior this season, guard Jaylon Moore, and the returning depth and talent should mean good things for the Purple Aces in 2015-16.

As for the Postseason NIT, Stanford’s senior class of Anthony Brown, Stefan Nastic and Chasson Randle won the title as freshmen and Thursday night managed to do so as seniors. Randle scored 25 points to lead the Cardinal to a 68-66 overtime win over Miami at Madison Square Garden, earning MVP honors as a result.

Miami’s quest for the program’s first-ever postseason title fell short, as Sheldon McClellan was forced to double-clutch a corner three in the final seconds by the solid defending of Stanford’s Anthony Brown. McClellan led the Hurricanes with 17 points but did so on 5-for-16 shooting, with Davon Reed adding 16 points and Ja’Quan Newton ten. Stefan Nastic scored 11 points for Stanford before fouling out late in the second half.

Stanford has some key pieces to account for next season, as Brown, Randle and Nastic will all be out of eligibility. However they have some young talent, including guard Marcus Allen and forwards Rosco Allen, Michael Humphrey and Reid Travis, to work with this offseason.

As for Miami, Jim Larrañaga won’t lack for depth or talent in 2015-16. Miami didn’t have a senior on this year’s roster, and that includes two contributors in Angel Rodriguez and Tonye Jekiri who missed Thursday’s game due to injury. With that being the case, Miami should be able to earn the NCAA tournament bid they missed out on this season in what will be an incredibly tough ACC.

Trey Freeman’s banked-in three sends Old Dominion to NIT semifinals (VIDEO)

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While the NCAA tournament receives the lion’s share of the attention this time of year, the Postseason NIT’s had some good moments as well. One night after Miami and Stanford clinched their spots in next week’s semifinals at Madison Square Garden, Old Dominion did the same with a 72-69 win over Murray State.

The hero was guard Trey Freeman, who answered a Jarvis Moss game-tying three with a banked-in three a couple steps inside of half court after time expired. Freeman wasn’t even a sure bet to play in the game, as he was dealing with an ankle injury suffered in practice prior to the Monarchs’ second round win over Illinois State. Freeman finished Wednesday’s game with 25 points.

As a result of Freeman’s heroics Jeff Jones’ team, which was closer to the NCAA tournament bubble than many gave them credit for in the days leading up to Selection Sunday, is two wins away from capping their second season in Conference USA with a postseason tournament title.

As for Murray State, this is the second heartbreaking finish of the month for Steve Prohm’s team with the first coming on a Taylor Barnette three-pointer in the OVC title game. That shot sent Belmont to the NCAA tournament and ended the Racers’ hopes of going to the NCAA tournament. Freeman’s shot Wednesday night ended their season.

Old Dominion will take on Stanford Tuesday night in New York City.

Video credit: ESPN

‘First four out’ to receive one-seeds in Postseason NIT

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One of the biggest questions that gets asked in the immediate aftermath of the NCAA tournament bracket being announced is which teams were the ones closest to getting into the field. Of course with “bracketology” being what it is today, we tend to have a better idea of which teams those are, but the NCAA has decided to ensure that the four teams in question are rewarded in the Postseason NIT.

Wednesday afternoon the NCAA announced that the “first four out” of the NCAA tournament field will be the one-seeds in the Postseason NIT. With the first three rounds of the Postseason NIT being played on college campuses (the higher seeds host), those teams won’t have to leave campus before a possible trip to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals and title game.

“We think this is a natural progression to make, given that these are the last four teams under consideration for the NCAA tournament,” Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men’s basketball championships, said in the release.

“They have earned the opportunity to be a number one seed in the NIT and play home games in their quest to make it to Madison Square Garden for the NIT championship. We believe this is an appropriate way to connect these two postseason tournaments.”

With the NCAA taking control of the NIT in 2005, efforts have been made to greater connect the two postseason events and Wednesday’s news is the latest step in that regard. Since 2012 the NCAA has released an overall seed list (tournament teams ranked 1 through 68) that includes the first four teams left out of the NCAA tournament.

This year’s Postseason NIT will also serve as a testing ground of sorts for two possible rules changes, with games using a 30-second shot clock and a block/charge arc of four feet (increased from three feet). The Division I men’s basketball rules committee will use the data from NIT and CBI games as part of the evaluation process when it comes to the possibility of making these changes permanent.

Like Postseason NIT, CBI to feature 30-second shot clock

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Earlier this month the NCAA announced that the Postseason NIT would be used to evaluate a couple rules changes, with the block/charge arc in the paint being increased to four feet from the current measurement of three feet and the shot clock being lowered to 30 seconds being the two alterations. Wednesday afternoon the CBI, another postseason event, announced that it will also use the 30-second shot clock.

According to the CBI, the data gathered will be sent to the Division I men’s basketball rules committee. The committee, which is chaired by Belmont head coach Rick Byrd, will use the data to see whether or not a lower shot clock impacts scoring and pace of play.

“The NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee is very appreciative that the College Basketball Invitational has chosen to experiment with the 30-second shot clock this March,” Byrd said in the release. “The additional data we will receive from these games will be very meaningful to us as we meet this coming May.”

At this point in the season possessions are averaging just over 18 seconds, per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. Will that average change in postseason play? And how will that translate to the regular season should the rules committee shorten the shot clock? Those are questions they’ll look to answer in May, and more data can’t hurt in that regard.

Surveyed coaches want shorter shot clock, but is that guaranteed to improve offensive production?

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With the NCAA announcing last week that it will experiment with a 30-second shot clock throughout the Postseason NIT, many have wondered if this will lead to a permanent change in the near future. In a poll conducted by Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com, nearly 60 percent of college basketball coaches surveyed would like to see the 30-second shot clock become the standard.

Amongst the others polled, approximately 30 percent would prefer the clock remain at 35 percent and ten percent want the shot clock lowered to 24 seconds. The NBA and FIBA use a 24-second shot clock, and this is one reason why some coaches support a move to 24 seconds.

“I think we should all have a 24-second shot,” Villanova coach Jay Wright told ESPN. “Consistent. It’s NBA and international. We should all learn to play the game the same way. The game is still the game. Everything you do to the game, everyone’s adjusted.”

“We are only country that doesn’t have 24 seconds,” Central Florida assistant Tim Thomas added. “There are [15-year-olds] in FIBA competition all over the world that are able to play with a 24-second shot clock. But we can’t?”

But the question needs to be asked: would shortening the shot clock truly speed up the game?

According to kenpom.com the average possession in Division I basketball has taken just over 18 seconds (18.3 to be exact) this season. And that’s with more than half of the 351 teams currently having an adjusted tempo of 65.1 (the national average) or lower.

Shooting percentages and scoring averages have decreased in recent years, but I don’t believe changing the shot clock is the remedy. There were initiatives to increase freedom of movement but that didn’t have the desired effect, nor was there the level of consistency needed to ensure that the changes would take hold and impact the game for the better.

With games turning into whistle-laden contests that left many complaining about the resulting parade to the foul line and lack of flow to games, the physicality slowly creeped back to where it was before the changes were made.

If there are any words that stick out in the quest to improve offensive production in college basketball, it was what Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said following his team’s 90-74 win at Duke in mid-January.

“We don’t run offense, we play offense.”

That simple comment was one that grabbed people’s attention, as the Hurricanes let their guards go to work in ball-screen situations as opposed to running structured sets that can (in some cases) be easier to disrupt.

With the resources available to college programs being what they are today, with analytics websites and video programs such as Synergy being far more detailed than what was accessible in the past, there are fewer “secrets” in games. Add in the freedom of movement issue, and offensive production tends to drop even if possession length hasn’t changed a whole lot.

If college basketball looks to change the shot clock to be more in line with other leagues (the women use a 30-second clock), that’s one thing. But maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that shortening the clock automatically means that games will speed up and points will become more plentiful.