A couple of interesting matchups highlight the NIT version of the final four when the semifinal round of the oldest postseason basketball tournament in the country takes place on Tuesday. An all Texas and Big 12 tilt in the late game features a pair of teams that didn’t think they’d be here. Not because they weren’t good enough, rather their sights were set on the NCAAs. Turns out it’s probably a good thing the TCU Horned Frogs and Texas Longhorns are in the NIT since they would have been early-round fodder for any squad in the Big Dance.
The Lipscomb Bisons and Wichita State Shockers weren’t supposed to be here because they weren’t perceived as good enough. WSU, seeded sixth, knocked off the top three seeds in its bracket to reach the NIT semifinals, including a win over Indiana in the quarterfinal round. Lipscomb nearly matched the task taking down three of the top four seeds in its bracket. One team will continue its journey to a NIT title when the festivities get underway at Madison Square Garden.
NIT Semifinals – Tuesday, April 2, 2019
No. 6 Wichita State vs. No. 5 Lipscomb ( -1, 150.5 ), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Pulling off upsets in postseason tournaments is nothing new for Wichita State, and while the Shockers have struggled in their transition to a new conference, the story has remained the same. WSU beat the top three seeds during bracket play, reaching the semifinals with a 73-63 win at Indiana, with all three coming on the road. In fact, Wichita State hasn’t played a home game since the next to last game of the regular season back on Mar. 5. They are 6-1 straight up and against the spread in the seven games since. The only loss in that span was to Cincinnati in the AAC tournament semifinals.
The Shockers certainly won’t be intimidated by playing at Madison Square Garden and it’s a stage Markus McDuffie will enjoy. He scored 21 points to help beat the Hoosiers and averages 18.3 points per game. Lipscomb will counter with a potent offensive attack, one that averages 84 points per outing, which is good for seventh in the country. Garrison Mathews had the game of his life against NC State going for 44 points and draining 8 of 13 three-pointers. WSU’s defense tightened up against Indiana and has the potential to limit Lipscomb inside. Dexter Ennis has six blocks and the Shockers totaled nine for the game, helping to limit the Hoosiers to 38.5 percent shooting. The Bisons had their own run through the NIT, but I like the Shockers to continue on to the championship game.
NIT Score Prediction: Wichita State 76, Lipscomb 73
No. 2 Texas vs. No. 1 TCU ( -1, 137.5 ), 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
While the first game of the night pits teams against each other for the first time, the second NIT semifinal has a pair of Big 12 foes going at it for the third time this season. Texas and TCU are closely matched in a number of areas. They both score between 71 and 75 points while allowing less than 70 per game. The Horns had a better record in league by a game with their 8-10 mark, but the Frogs won both regular season meetings. They slipped by with a 65-61 home win at the end of January and wrapped up the regular season with a 69-56 win in Austin behind 34 points from leading scorer Desmond Bane. TCU did a number defensively in that one holding the Horns to 37.3 percent shooting overall and 21.1 percent from distance.
Giving the Longhorns hope that they can break the spell is Kerwin Roach, who missed the last game with TCU and returned for the Big 12 tournament. Roach had 21 points in the overtime win over Xavier and followed that with 14 against Colorado. He gives Texas a much needed option with Jaxson Hayes done for the year. Hayes is one of three double-figure scorers, however, Roach and the rest of the squad picked it up against the Buffs. It’s hard to beat a team three times and TCU will be tested. The Frogs managed to beat Creighton by 13 while getting little production from Bane, who tallied just six points. Expect more from him and the depth and balance of the Horned Frogs will be enough of a cushion to cover the line and move on.
NIT Score Prediction: TCU 73, Texas 66
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