Pre-season NIT semifinals tip off in Madison Square Garden
Blake Griffin and the Oklahoma Sooners deprived the Madison Square Garden faithful of a chance to see Davidson star Stephen Curry. But the fans, at least, will get to see another Pre-season First-Team All-American in Griffin, himself. The semifinals of the Pre-season NIT tip off in New York on the day before Thanksgiving, pitting Boston College against Purdue and UAB against Oklahoma.
Boston College vs. (9) Purdue
Boston College Golden Eagles (3-1)
Best Win: vs. St. John’s (neutral site), 82-70
Worst Loss: (only loss) at St. Louis, 53-50
After two successful seasons in Atlantic Coast Conference play, the Eagles are looking to bounce back from a 2007-08 campaign in which they went 4-12 in the ACC and 14-17 overall. The good news is they did not lose much, and senior Tyrese Rice (who has seemingly been in college for no less than 13 years) is one of the most explosive point guards in the college basketball business. Veteran coach Al Skinner has several underclassman guards that should be able to step up and give Rice some support, but questions in the low post remain.
Purdue Boilermakers (4-0)
Best Win: vs. Detroit, 82-50
Worst Loss: none
It’s always a good situation when you do not lose a single starter from a team that went to the NCAA Tournament the previous year, not to mention to the second round of said tournament. Such is the situation for head coach Matt Painter and his experienced Purdue squad. The Boilermakers are well-rounder with Keaton Grant at point guard, shooting guard Chris Kramer as the reigning Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year, and E’Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel pouring in points. A stud big man would help, but even without one, Purdue could be the cream of the crop in its conference this season.
Rice probably needs to go off for the Eagles to have any real chance in this one. Maybe not to the extent that he did in the first half against North Carolina, but he has to be borderline on fire to keep his team close. That might happen for a while, but other than Rice, this is all about experience versus youth. The Boilermakers should pull away in the second half and cruise in relatively comfortable fashion
Purdue 75, Boston College 62
UAB vs. (13) Oklahoma
UAB Blazers (4-0)
Best Win: at Arizona, 72-71
Worst Loss: none
Coming off a 23-win season, the Blazers are expected to challenge 2008 National Runner-up Memphis for the Conference-USA title. Coach Mike Davis enters his third season at UAB and his star shooting guard, Robert Vaden, is back for a senior campaign after toying with ideas of the NBA. Vaden is joined in the backcourt by Georgia transfer Channing Toney and Paul Delaney III, both fifth-year seniors. The Blazers are not big or deep, but—as always—they are athletic. “We want to take advantage of our strengths, which are speed, quickness and our perimeter players,” Davis explains.
Oklahoma Sooners (4-0)
Best Win: vs. Davidson, 82-78
Worst Loss: none
The Sooners finished tied for fourth in the Big 12 last season, but they should be right near the top—if not at the top—in coach Jeff Capel’s second season as head man. Capel returned Blake Griffin and Blake’s brother Taylor, and welcomed heralded recruit Willie Warren into the mix. Oklahoma can score from anywhere and it already looks like the team has the potential to be dominant inside. The key could be senior point guard Austin Johnson. If—and it’s a relatively big “if”—Johnson can run the offense on a consistent, mistake-free basis, the Sooners will have few holes and will be very tough to beat.
Any kind of weakness in the frontcourt is far from ideal heading into a matchup with Oklahoma. The Griffin boys could dominate on the both ends of the floor, so UAB will have to keep pace by applying pressure defense and scoring off turnovers. Look for the Blazers to keep it close for at least a half, but Oklahoma’s physicality will wear down the underdogs in the end.
Oklahoma 79, UAB 68
Championship: (13) Oklahoma vs. (9) Purdue
What a Big 12-Big 10 battle this would be. Blake Griffin would be able to do his damage down low, but overall, Purdue has the most experienced and balanced group of the four NIT semifinalists.
Prediction: Purdue 69, Oklahoma 66