Posted 04/04/2014 at 04:49 PM
Minnesota beat SMU last night in an exciting NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden. Don’t apologize if you didn’t watch, the NIT is not much of a draw but it has been a springboard to success in future seasons. Keep the teams that made deep NIT runs in mind heading into next season.
The recent examples are many for successful NCAA Tournament runs following up NIT success. West Virginia won the 2007 NIT, the next season they were in the Sweet 16 and in 2010 they made the Final Four. In 2008 Ohio State won the NIT and the Buckeyes were a sweet 16 team in 2010 and 2011 before making the Final Four in 2012. 2010 NIT champion Dayton made noise in this year’s NCAA Tournament with an Elite Eight run. 2011 NIT Champion Wichita State made the Final Four last season while 2012 champion Stanford made the Elite Eight this season. Last year’s champion Baylor made a solid Sweet 16 appearance this year in the NCAA Tournament as well.
Minnesota was right on the edge of the NCAA Tournament this season before some untimely losses late in the season. While last year’s team under Tubby Smith made the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, it has to be considered a successful first season for Richard Pitino with the NIT championship. NIT MVP Austin Hollins will depart but he is the only senior on the roster that is a significant contributor. Minnesota will have one of the better backcourts in the conference next season with Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu and there is solid size in the front court coming back as well. The Gophers have signed a promising forward Carlos Morris as a junior college transfer and there is some talent that was buried on the bench this season as well as a few incoming freshmen that can contribute. Minnesota will be a team that can make a jump in the standings in the Big Ten with several high profile departures potentially opening things up at the top of the conference.
SMU probably deserved to make the NCAA Tournament this season but they made the most of the NIT opportunity rather than folding away. With some big names departing the conference, SMU may be the favorites in the American Athletic Conference next season. Nick Russell and Shawn Williams will graduate but Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy return for the Mustangs with six of this season’s top seven scorers back in action for Larry Brown. The conference will look different next season with Louisville and Rutgers departing but it should remain a solid league with the additions of Tulsa, Tulane, and East Carolina. SMU has prized 5-star recruit Emmanuel Mudiay committed to join the roster next season as well making SMU a legitimate threat to not only make the NCAA Tournament but be a threat to win a few games.
The extra practices and the championship experience on the big stage should certainly help Minnesota and SMU heading into next season and these are teams to keep an eye on.