Originally posted on College Spun  |  Last updated 3/22/13
Over a third of the country picked Kentucky to win the NCAA championship last year. With a 7-deep roster of future NBA stars, the Wildcats were an easy pick. But who had 3-seed Stanford winning the 2012 NIT? Identifying a team that outshines the rest is simple; picking the least mediocre team from a field of utter blandness requires true prognostication skill. Or dumb luck. Either way, if you like upsets, tragically flawed teams, and (occasionally) raucous home crowds, then the NIT does not disappoint.  So, what happened in the first round this year? 1-seed Kentucky and 2-seed Tennessee fell to mid-major opponents: In Tennessee’s defense, Mercer actually isn’t that bad. Yeah, the Bears are ranked 118th on KenPom and lost four games in the weak Atlantic Sun, but they beat fellow NIT schools Alabama and Florida State pretty handily in the regular season. Robert Morris? Not so much. The Colonials lost to the worst 16-seed in the tournament (LIU-Brooklyn) and their only decent win came against MAC runner-up Ohio. Kentucky had to play on the road, but still, when have you ever seen a team make T-Shirts celebrating a first round NIT upset? Robert Morris said they would make a T-shirt if they beat UK in the NIT. They delivered. yhoo.it/15w45vPtwitpic.com/cd7qha — Aaron Smith (@ASmithRivals) March 21, 2013 It’s hard to feel sorry for last year’s national champions, though, given their recent recruiting success. How do they even have room for a 7-player class? Kentucky will definitely win the NIT next year guys twitter.com/PeytonStock11/… — Lisp. (@PeytonStock11) March 22, 2013 The other top seeds advance: Only one other team seeded 3 or higher lost: a horribly overseeded UMass squad ranked 84th by KenPom. You might recognize the team that beat them, Stony Brook, as one of those perennial tough 15/16-seeds from a tiny conference. 1-seed Alabama, 2-seed Maryland, and 3-seeds Arizona State and Iowa all looked strong, so feel confident if you picked any of them to make it to Madison Square Garden. No team looked better than Baylor, though, who absolutely crushed Long Beach State 112-66. Two caveats: Long Beach State just isn’t the same team as last year’s NCAA tournament 11-seed, as they lost Honorable Mention All-American guard Casper Ware to graduation. Also, Baylor shot 16-of-23 (!) from 3-point range. Hitting 70% of your 3-pointers is incredible… and also unsustainable. Still, with Kentucky losing, Baylor will enjoy home court advantage for the rest of its games. Baylor is the only team ever to beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena and defeat Kansas in the same season. #SicEm — Baylor Basketball (@BaylorMBB) March 15, 2013 The 4-5 matchups go down to the wire: Both Louisiana Tech and defending-champion Stanford overcame halftime deficits to win single-digit games on the road. The game of the week, however, goes to the St. John’s-St. Joseph’s thriller, which Red Storm guard Sir’Dominic Pointer won on a beautiful fade-away buzzer-beater. Even better: the ESPNU announcer duo mixed up the two schools’ names less than 10 times, which is pretty good (all things considered). This week’s NIT bracketology lesson: Never bet against against six-time NIT champion St. John’s. They’re more clutch in March than a team coached by some hypothetical mash-up of Tom Izzo and Brad Stevens.
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