The 2012 NIT Final Four kicks off on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, and in the first of two duels at the center of basketball on the night, the Massachusetts Minutemen are going to take on the Stanford Cardinal.
The Minutemen came out of nowhere as a team that could have made the NCAA Tournament when they beat the Temple Owls in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. They weren’t able to get the job done in the next round though, and the end result sent them here to the NIT. Without that victory over Temple though, it is anyone’s guess whether UMass would have been here in the NIT or in any of the other lesser tournaments. Winning three games on the road was definitely not easy, but the Minutemen deserve all sorts of credit for being able to get the job done in very close games in some hostile environments. In fact, it took two overtimes to get rid of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, and after that, they beat one of the best teams that didn’t get into the NCAA Tournament, the Seton Hall Pirates, and then a team that had won 27 out of 29 games, the Drexel Dragons. The A-10 has had a good history here in this tournament, and UMass might be able to keep that great tradition up, especially knowing that it is the “hometown team” here at MSG.
The Cardinal won a bunch of games this year, but because of how weak the Pac-12 was and how weak their out of conference schedule was, they were never really considered for the NCAA Tournament. However, what they did earn in the NIT, thanks to the fact that they kept winning and got some help along the way, were three more home games at Maples Pavilion. Save for a 92-88 win in overtime in the second round against the Illinois State Redbirds, the runners up from the Missouri Valley Conference, none of the games were particularly close. In what was expected to be a relatively nervy game against the Nevada Wolf Pack in the NIT quarterfinals, Stanford was able to roll with an 84-56 win that was never really all that close of a game. This isn’t the greatest offensive team in the world, and that’s why at times, there were some struggles in conference play. Chasson Randle was the team’s top scorer this year at 13.9 points per game, while both Josh Owens and Aaron Bright were double digit point scorers this year as well.
The Final Word: The hometown advantage should really pay off for the Minutemen. Again, we can’t stress enough the fact that the A-10 teams have been fantastic in this tournament, and there aren’t many teams that are going to have a following here to Madison Square Garden like the Minutemen will. They are the only team that probably really is proud to be here in this tournament, and it really might show in what should be an inspired effort on Tuesday night.
Massachusetts Minutemen vs. Stanford Cardinal Pick: Massachusetts Minutemen +2.5
is a staff writer living in the Orlando area. He has covered NFL, MLB, college football, CFL, AFL, NBA, college basketball, NASCAR, golf, tennis, and the NHL for a number of various outlets in his career, and he has been published by a number of different media outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel and the Wall Street Journal.