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The Big Roll 'Bama Roll NIT Preview

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Breaking down all 31 games — yes, all 31 — from the advanced stats side of the world

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

RPI information courtesy of CBS Sports.
BPI information courtesy of ESPN.
All other statistics are courtesy of KenPom.com, Ken Pomeroy’s outstanding basketball analytics site.

Welcome to the NIT

We’ve known for some time that Alabama was headed for the NIT, as 18-14 with an 8-10 conference record is not getting you into the Big Dance without a conference tournament title. I was fairly certain the Tide were going there regardless of the season’s final week and tournament play, but it could be the close win over Texas A&M on March 3rd was just enough to push the Tide into the field. It certainly knocked the Aggies into the NIT, and that alone is worth celebrating for those of you who prefer crimson in your athletic apparel.

However, the Tide is just one of the 32 teams that will partake in this year’s NIT, which starts this evening at 6 PM CDT / 7 PM EDT on the ESPN family of networks. In lieu of pulling out the time and channel for each of the games, I’m going to link you to the NCAA’s Official Bracket, which has all of that information for the first round all set up for you. The tournament wraps up in Madison Square Garden on April 2nd, but we’ve got 31 games to go before we get there.

Anything we should know?

Unlike the NCAA tourney, the NIT plays at home court locations through the first three rounds, only heading to the Garden for the final three games of the tourney. Usually that means the higher seed hosts the game — Illinois will be traveling to play any lower-seeded teams, however, as their arena is under renovation until December.

More important than all of that is the brand of basketball you’ll be seeing in this year’s NIT is a little different from your typical college fare. The NCAA is experimenting with some new rules in this year’s tournament, using the tourney as a testing ground for potential changes to college basketball in the future. There are two rule changes of note.

First, the shot clock is being reduced from the standard 35 seconds to 30 seconds. This is a big, big deal, because what this means is more scoring. Your typical college basketball game has about 65 possessions, and the typical offense scores at about 1.02 points per possession, such that your average offense scores about 66 points a game. Drop the shot clock 5 seconds, and you’re look at more on the order of 75 or 76 possessions a game, so your average offense scores about 77 points a game. The postseasons is for above-average teams, of course, so be looking for a lot of scores in the 80s and even in the 90s in this tournament. Another unintended consequence? Those slow-it-down, grind-it-out tempo teams will be thoroughly out of their element, which is something we’ll look at extensively in the previews.

The other rule change is that the restricted area arc under the basket, a feature in college ball since the 2011-2012 season, will be moved out to four feet from its current location of three feet from the basket. Apparently the thought here is that it will help reduce collisions under the basket, which is desirable from a player-safety aspect. I don’t buy that it will, but we’ll see.

The reason they are doing these things now is the next opportunity to make rules changes is the May 2015 meeting of the Rules Committee, which is conveniently a month after the NIT ends, allowing plenty of time for the coaches to ignore surveys and the quants to make up for lack of data with creative number crunching. I wouldn’t mind a shorter shot clock — possessions go on for-e-ver in college basketball — but as noted I’m not sold on the restricted area changes being worthwhile. Anyway, keep those in mind when watching this year’s tournament.

The Goods

Below is my prediction, game-by-game, of all 31 games in this year’s tournament. These mini-previews should be familiar to any of you who read Advanced Stats Rundown, and yes this is going to be a rather long piece, but totally worth it. All statistics are as of March 16th.

Wondering what all these terms are?

  • RPI: The Ratings Percentage Index, a measure of team strength based on winning percentage, the winning percentage of a team’s opponents, and the winning percentage of those opponents’ opponents. For a more detailed excoriation discussion of RPI, check out this section of the PTN Basketball Primer.
  • BPI: The Basketball Power Index is an opponent-adjusted statistic created by ESPN that accounts for scoring margin, pace, game location, and absence of critical players. It can be used both predictively and as a measure of a team’s strength to that point in the season.
  • PYTH: The Pythagorean Rating, a measure of a team’s expected winning percentage against an average D-I team, which is based on the concept of Pythagorean Expectation. For a more detailed discussion of PYTH ratings, check out this section of the PTN Basketball Primer.
  • Luck: A measure of how a team’s actual performance has outstripped that of its expected performance based on PYTH rating.
  • OE+: Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, a measure of a team’s offensive performance on a possession-by-possession basis, adjusted to provide the expected performance against an average D-I team. Expressed in points scored per 100 possessions.
  • DE+: Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, a measure of a team’s defensive performance on a possession-by-possession basis, adjusted to provide the expected performance against an average D-I team. Expressed in points allowed per 100 possessions.
  • T+: Adjusted Tempo, a measure of a team’s expected pace against a team that wants to play at an average D-I pace. Expressed as possessions per game.
  • Sched. PYTH: The Schedule PYTH Rating, a PYTH rating based on the adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies of a team’s opponents, used as a strength-of-schedule rating.
  • NCS PYTH: The Non-Conference Schedule PYTH Rating, simply the schedule PYTH calculated for non-conference opponents only.
  • Opp. OE+: Opponents’ Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, the average adjusted offensive efficiency of a team’s opponents.
  • Opp. DE+: Opponents’ Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, the average adjusted defensive efficiency of a team’s opponents

Wondering what all of this means? Check out the PTN Basketball primer!

Regional Breakdowns

ROUND 1

#8 Bucknell Bison (19-14) @ #1 Temple Owls (23-10)
March 18th

Overall Quality
TEMPLE BUCKNELL THE EDGE
BPI 68.8 (66) BPI 45.8 (207) TEMPLE
PYTH 0.7716 (56) PYTH 0.4176 (202) TEMPLE
OE+ 102 (172) DE+ 107 (269) TEMPLE
DE+ 91.7 (12) OE+ 103.9 (125) TEMPLE
T+ 65.8 (123) T+ 64.7 (171) TEMPLE
Sched. PYTH 0.5812 (90) Sched. PYTH 0.4257 (218) TEMPLE

Temple just missed out on this year’s NCAAs by virtue of a steamrolling at the hands of SMU in the American tournament, whereas Bucknell received an automatic bid by winning the Patriot’s regular season title. Those are two very different paths that reflect how far apart these two teams are. Temple is a top-70 squad according to the advanced metrics, whereas Bucknell is below-average per the same. Neither team has a great offense, but Temple boasts the #12 defense in the land, which will make scoring a tough proposition for the Bison. This one shouldn’t be close.

THE PICK: Temple Owls

#5 George Washington Colonials (21-12) @ #4 Pittsburgh Panthers (19-14)
March 18th

Overall Quality
PITTSBURGH GEORGE WASHINGTON THE EDGE
BPI 64.8 (86) BPI 67.7 (71) GEORGE WASHINGTON
PYTH 0.6974 (80) PYTH 0.719 (75) PUSH
OE+ 112.7 (23) DE+ 97.2 (74) PITTSBURGH
DE+ 104.8 (218) OE+ 105.4 (103) GEORGE WASHINGTON
T+ 61 (327) T+ 61.9 (307) GEORGE WASHINGTON
Sched. PYTH 0.6583 (51) Sched. PYTH 0.5553 (110) PITTSBURGH

GW’s presence here is interesting, as they were a 6 seed in the A10 tournament and lost in the third round (of five), which is not a resounding endorsement of team strength. They did win 21 games against a solid schedule, which is why I had them pegged them for the NIT back in the Bracketology special. Pittsburgh was chewed up and spit out by the heinously tough ACC, losing to NC State in the second round of that conference’s tournament. Yet, this appears to be a solid matchup of two of the nation’s slowest-playing teams, as the advanced metrics have a similar opinion on both squads. Pitt will hope their lethal offense is enough to overcome a well below-average defense, and that their experience from a tougher schedule will be enough to carry the day. I don’t think it will be.

THE PICK: George Washington Colonials

#6 Central Michigan Chippewas (23-8) @ #3 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (25-8)
March 17th

Overall Quality
LOUISIANA TECH CENTRAL MICHIGAN THE EDGE
BPI 66.2 (75) BPI 65.6 (82) PUSH
PYTH 0.7092 (76) PYTH 0.6785 (84) PUSH
OE+ 104.7 (114) DE+ 105.2 (227) LOUISIANA TECH
DE+ 96.9 (66) OE+ 112.3 (26) CENTRAL MICHIGAN
T+ 67.5 (50) T+ 63.9 (218) LOUISIANA TECH
Sched. PYTH 0.4444 (197) Sched. PYTH 0.5565 (109) CENTRAL MICHIGAN

Louisiana Tech is yet another automatic-bid beneficiary, as they led Conference USA going into the conference tournament, but lost by double-digits to eventual champion and NCAA representative UAB. Central Michigan is in the same boat after losing in the conference finals to Buffalo in an exciting 89-84 finish. This appears to be another fun matchup, however, as the Bulldogs and Chippewas are similarly regarded by BPI and PYTH, with a slight edge to the Bulldogs. Central Michigan is one of the nation’s most lopsided teams, with a fantastic offense rated #26 according to OE+ and a putrid defense at #227 in DE+. They lag significantly behind the Bulldogs in pace as well, and as a result they may find the new clock rule taxing. They played a tougher slate than Tech, but they won’t be hanging with the Bulldogs in this one.

THE PICK: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

#7 Montana Grizzlies (20-12) @ #2 Texas A&M Aggies (20-11)
March 17th

Overall Quality
TEXAS A&M MONTANA THE EDGE
BPI 74.4 (40) BPI 51 (162) TEXAS A&M
PYTH 0.7808 (50) PYTH 0.5011 (162) TEXAS A&M
OE+ 105.9 (94) DE+ 103.7 (194) TEXAS A&M
DE+ 94.8 (41) OE+ 103.7 (133) TEXAS A&M
T+ 64 (213) T+ 62.1 (299) TEXAS A&M
Sched. PYTH 0.6321 (69) Sched. PYTH 0.3852 (286) TEXAS A&M

We all know how Texas A&M got here, after a shocking upset loss to lowly API in the SEC tournament. Montana lead the Big Sky conference, but like Central Michigan dropped a tight game to conference #2 Eastern Washington in the tournament final, and find themselves in the NIT. They have the misfortune of drawing the Aggies, who were on the NCAA bubble before the API loss, and are significantly better down the line. This one won’t be close.

THE PICK: Texas A&M Aggies

ROUND 2

#5 George Washington @ #1 Temple

Overall Quality
TEMPLE GEORGE WASHINGTON THE EDGE
BPI 68.8 (66) BPI 67.7 (71) PUSH
PYTH 0.7716 (56) PYTH 0.719 (75) TEMPLE
OE+ 102 (172) DE+ 97.2 (74) GEORGE WASHINGTON
DE+ 91.7 (12) OE+ 105.4 (103) TEMPLE
T+ 65.8 (123) T+ 61.9 (307) TEMPLE
Sched. PYTH 0.5812 (90) Sched. PYTH 0.5553 (110) TEMPLE

Temple’s road gets a bit tougher in Round 2, as GWU maybe didn’t have the résumé to be here but are still a strong team. Like most everyone else in this side of the draw, they are going to run headlong into the buzzsaw that is the Owls defense. The Colonials are solid on defense themselves, and the weakness on this Temple team is an anemic, nationally-average offense, which is not the sort of thing you want to bring into the postseason. If GWU can clamp down enough to keep the Owls within reach, they might score enough to make this interesting. The magic box has it at over 70% for the Owls though, and I don’t see any reason to argue with that.

THE PICK: Temple Owls

#3 Louisiana Tech @ #2 Texas A&M

Overall Quality
TEXAS A&M LOUISIANA TECH THE EDGE
BPI 74.4 (40) BPI 66.2 (75) TEXAS A&M
PYTH 0.7808 (50) PYTH 0.7092 (76) TEXAS A&M
OE+ 105.9 (94) DE+ 96.9 (66) LOUISIANA TECH
DE+ 94.8 (41) OE+ 104.7 (114) TEXAS A&M
T+ 64 (213) T+ 67.5 (50) LOUISIANA TECH
Sched. PYTH 0.6321 (69) Sched. PYTH 0.4444 (197) TEXAS A&M

Texas A&M is third-highest rated team in this tournament behind Stanford and conference foe Vanderbilt, and there’s a good reason for that. They package a decent offense with a better defense, and plenty of talent to boot. Much like GWU in the previous game, Tech will be banking on slowing down the Aggies just enough to make up for their significant deficit at the other end of the floor. A&M has been battle-tested after running through the SEC this season, and will be playing with something to prove after being left out of the NCAAs. This would be nearly a 60% win expectancy for the Aggies on a neutral floor, let alone in College Station.

THE PICK: Texas A&M Aggies

REGIONAL FINAL

#2 Texas A&M @ #1 Temple

Overall Quality
TEMPLE TEXAS A&M THE EDGE
BPI 68.8 (66) BPI 74.4 (40) TEXAS A&M
PYTH 0.7716 (56) PYTH 0.7808 (50) TEXAS A&M
OE+ 102 (172) DE+ 94.8 (41) TEXAS A&M
DE+ 91.7 (12) OE+ 105.9 (94) TEMPLE
T+ 65.8 (123) T+ 64 (213) TEMPLE
Sched. PYTH 0.5812 (90) Sched. PYTH 0.6321 (69) TEXAS A&M

I hope this game happens, because it should be outstanding. Outstanding if you like a defensive struggle, that is, as neither offense will find much room to score in this one. I think Temple’s success is largely a product of experience and a weaker conference, whereas the Aggies got here on the talent of Jalen Jones and Danuel House, and were kept out of the tournament because of the grindhouse that was the SEC this season. I also think they punch their ticket to Madison Square Garden in this one.

THE PICK: Texas A&M Aggies

ROUND 1

#8 St. Francis (NY) Terriers (23-11) @ #1 Richmond Spiders (19-13)
March 18th

Overall Quality
RICHMOND ST. FRANCIS THE EDGE
BPI 70.4 (59) BPI 50.8 (163) RICHMOND
PYTH 0.7804 (51) PYTH 0.524 (152) RICHMOND
OE+ 106 (89) DE+ 100.3 (128) RICHMOND
DE+ 94.9 (44) OE+ 101.1 (190) RICHMOND
T+ 61.7 (311) T+ 64.3 (195) ST. FRANCIS
Sched. PYTH 0.5937 (85) Sched. PYTH 0.3194 (339) RICHMOND

Richmond’s here for similar reasons to George Washington — a #4 seed brought them a double-bye in the A10 tournament, but a close loss to eventual tournament champ VCU left them in the last four out for the NCAAs, and thus the beneficiary of a #1 seed. St. Francis blitzed the Northeast Conference this season, but fell 3 points short of a tourney bid, losing to First Four team Robert Morris in the tourney final. Much like the other #1-#8 game on this side of the bracket, Richmond has a healthy advantage on the Terriers all the way down the line, as they are a consensus top-60 squad that happens to find themselves in the NIT. St. Francis does have the edge in tempo, but not to a degree where it will bit the Spiders — at least for now.

THE PICK: Richmond Spiders

#5 Arizona State Sun Devils (17-15) @ #4 Connecticut Huskies (20-14)
March 18th

Overall Quality
UCONN ARIZONA STATE THE EDGE
BPI 70 (63) BPI 67.8 (69) PUSH
PYTH 0.7543 (59) PYTH 0.7361 (70) PUSH
OE+ 106 (92) DE+ 98.2 (90) PUSH
DE+ 96.1 (54) OE+ 107.4 (69) PUSH
T+ 61.9 (303) T+ 66 (112) ARIZONA STATE
Sched. PYTH 0.5816 (89) Sched. PYTH 0.6393 (64) ARIZONA STATE

Arizona State may be the most puzzling choice in the field, as they bowed out in the first round of the PAC-12 tournament, as a five seed, to a horrid USC team that only managed 12 wins on the year. They didn’t accomplish much outside of that either, unless you count losing to Alabama in non-conference play an accomplishment. That being said, the advanced metrics indicate they are a tough match for the most recent national champion, who found the American conference a bit less hospitable without Shabazz Napier doing Shabazz Napier things. In one of only two major-conference matchups in the NIT first round, there’s no clear edge for either team on either end of the court, although the UConn defense comes close. The problem is that tempo disparity, which is again going to be magnified with the shorter shot clocks. I think that makes the difference in another #5-over-#4 upset.

THE PICK: Arizona State Sun Devils

#3 Illinois Fighting Illini (19-13) @ #6 Alabama Crimson Tide (18-14)
March 17th

A full preview for this game can be found here, if you missed it yesterday.

THE PICK: Illinois Fighting Illini

#7 NC Central Eagles (25-7) @ #2 Miami-Florida Hurricanes (21-12)
March 17th

Overall Quality
MIAMI NC CENTRAL THE EDGE
BPI 73.1 (43) BPI 58.1 (125) MIAMI
PYTH 0.7764 (52) PYTH 0.6264 (109) MIAMI
OE+ 109.2 (51) DE+ 96.4 (61) PUSH
DE+ 98 (88) OE+ 100.8 (198) MIAMI
T+ 62.5 (284) T+ 59.9 (342) MIAMI
Sched. PYTH 0.6542 (52) Sched. PYTH 0.287 (346) MIAMI

The Eagles are another automatic bid beneficiary, as they paced the MEAC this season only to fall to eventual tournament runner-up Delaware State. Miami is here on résumé, after notching 21 wins on the season in the ACC, none bigger than a 16 point detonation of Duke back in mid-January. The vast disparity in origin is clearest when looking at the schedule rating, where Miami has the advantage by nearly 300 ranks. They will find NC Central’s defense prickly and somewhat challenging, but I don’t see how they don’t eventually overcome it.

THE PICK: Miami Hurricanes

ROUND 2

#5 Arizona State @ #1 Richmond

Overall Quality
RICHMOND ARIZONA STATE THE EDGE
BPI 70.4 (59) BPI 67.8 (69) PUSH
PYTH 0.7804 (51) PYTH 0.7361 (70) RICHMOND
OE+ 106 (89) DE+ 98.2 (90) PUSH
DE+ 94.9 (44) OE+ 107.4 (69) RICHMOND
T+ 61.7 (311) T+ 66 (112) ARIZONA STATE
Sched. PYTH 0.5937 (85) Sched. PYTH 0.6393 (64) ARIZONA STATE

This should be an outstanding game if it happens, as we have a Spiders offense and a Sun Devil defense that are almost identically ranked in the efficiency ratings. Richmond appears to have a slight edge on the other end of the floor, but I think Arizona State’s pace is going to be enough to take the victory. And you thought I was only picking high seeds.

THE PICK: Arizona State Sun Devils

#3 Illinois @ #2 Miami

Overall Quality
MIAMI ILLINOIS THE EDGE
BPI 73.1 (43) BPI 71.1 (56) PUSH
PYTH 0.7764 (52) PYTH 0.7467 (65) PUSH
OE+ 109.2 (51) DE+ 94.7 (39) PUSH
DE+ 98 (88) OE+ 104 (122) MIAMI
T+ 62.5 (284) T+ 65.2 (151) ILLINOIS
Sched. PYTH 0.6542 (52) Sched. PYTH 0.6414 (63) PUSH

Ooph. This may be your match of the second round if it happens, as these are two solid, well-matched clubs down the line. Miami does have an edge on the defensive end of the court, as the Illini are not the most offensively efficient team in the world to say the least. They run at about an average pace, which is quite a bit faster than Miami prefers and may be something to keep an eye on. Miami had the slightly tougher slate in the ACC, but the B1G was a good conference again this year, and there’s not a huge differential there. This is a tough pick, but I have to go with the ‘Canes.

THE PICK: Miami Hurricanes

REGIONAL FINAL

#5 Arizona State @ #2 Miami

Overall Quality
MIAMI ARIZONA STATE THE EDGE
BPI 73.1 (43) BPI 67.8 (69) MIAMI
PYTH 0.7764 (52) PYTH 0.7361 (70) MIAMI
OE+ 109.2 (51) DE+ 98.2 (90) MIAMI
DE+ 98 (88) OE+ 107.4 (69) ARIZONA STATE
T+ 62.5 (284) T+ 66 (112) ARIZONA STATE
Sched. PYTH 0.6542 (52) Sched. PYTH 0.6393 (64) PUSH

This, unfortunately, is where Arizona State’s run will stop, as Miami is just too good on both ends of the floor for the Sun Devils to overcome. The new shot clock in conjunction with ASU’s favorable draw in terms of opponent pace is still something to watch for, but I don’t think it’s going to matter here. Miami’s through to the Garden.

THE PICK: Miami Hurricanes

ROUND 1

#8 South Dakota State Jackrabbits (23-10) @ #1 Colorado State Rams (27-6)
March 18th

Overall Quality
COLORADO STATE SOUTH DAKOTA STATE THE EDGE
BPI 71 (57) BPI 58.7 (120) COLORADO STATE
PYTH 0.7404 (68) PYTH 0.6324 (105) COLORADO STATE
OE+ 109 (52) DE+ 100.1 (123) COLORADO STATE
DE+ 99.5 (110) OE+ 104.9 (111) PUSH
T+ 66.9 (73) T+ 66.1 (108) COLORADO STATE
Sched. PYTH 0.4965 (150) Sched. PYTH 0.3998 (265) COLORADO STATE

Colorado State is considered one of the big snubs from the big dance, as a 27-6 record in a conference that sent three teams to the NCAAs is nothing to sneeze at. The #1 seed is indicative of how close the Mountain West was to four bids, as it means Colorado State was one of the last four out of the field. Their opponent was well on their way to the tournament themselves by winning the Summit League’s regular-season title, only to see those dastardly Bison from North Dakota State steal the conference tournament title by just a point. When the Jackrabbits have the ball they are evenly matched with the Rams, but that’s about the only bright spot to find here. This shouldn’t be close.

THE PICK: Colorado State Rams

#5 Vanderbilt Commodores (19-13) @ #4 St Marys-CA Gaels (21-9)
March 18th

Overall Quality
ST. MARY'S VANDERBILT THE EDGE
BPI 69.3 (64) BPI 74.7 (38) VANDERBILT
PYTH 0.7436 (66) PYTH 0.7968 (47) VANDERBILT
OE+ 108.6 (55) DE+ 99.7 (113) ST. MARY'S
DE+ 99 (99) OE+ 112.3 (25) VANDERBILT
T+ 62.6 (281) T+ 63.4 (252) VANDERBILT
Sched. PYTH 0.5664 (102) Sched. PYTH 0.619 (73) VANDERBILT

St. Mary’s has the misfortune of playing in the WCC, which isn’t particularly prestigious and usually not deep enough to get multiple bids to the Dance. Now that BYU has joined the conference for non-football sports, it’s gotten even tougher to get some spotlight next to Gonzaga. Their opponent is the SEC’s own Vanderbilt Commodores, who rattled off six wins in a row down the stretch in the regular season only to flop yet again against the Creamsicles in the tournament, in what should have been a home atmosphere in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. Despite that, they enter the NIT as the top-rated team, at least according to the advanced metrics, which makes their #5 seeding somewhat puzzling. Vanderbilt has the slight edge down the line, with the exception of their continuously putrid defense against the Gaels’ decent offense. This looks like a tight Vandy victory, but hold the phone: the Gaels’ home court is a legendarily unpleasant place to play (scroll to the Gonzaga section) for opposing teams, and that’s a big factor to consider here. I think the atmosphere is enough to propel the Gaels into the second round. Hopefully Coach Stallings keeps his temper in check when that happens…

THE PICK: St. Mary’s Gaels

#6 Iona Gaels (26-8) @ #3 Rhode Island Rams (22-9)
March 17th

Overall Quality
RHODE ISLAND IONA THE EDGE
BPI 72.8 (49) BPI 61.4 (106) RHODE ISLAND
PYTH 0.7723 (55) PYTH 0.6271 (108) RHODE ISLAND
OE+ 101.4 (186) DE+ 105.5 (233) RHODE ISLAND
DE+ 91.2 (9) OE+ 110.4 (39) RHODE ISLAND
T+ 65.8 (120) T+ 69.5 (17) IONA
Sched. PYTH 0.5485 (115) Sched. PYTH 0.4387 (202) RHODE ISLAND

The other Gaels of Iona have won a lot of ballgames at 26-8 on the year, but that doesn’t do a whole lot for you in the MAAC if you don’t win the tournament. They lost a shocker to First Four team Manhattan in the tournament final, and receive a 6 seed in the NIT for their troubles. Rhode Island is yet another representative from the A10, who somehow received a 3 seed when lower-rated conference foe Richmond is a 1 seed — you will never be able to explain to me how seeding any of this is supposed to work. At any rate, in addition to rocking a sweet blue-on-blue color scheme, the Rams have a significant advantage all the way down the chart against the Gaels. Rhode Island is one of the country’s finest defensive teams, rating 9th in DE+, but are somewhat held back by a terrible offense. Iona’s defense is just as bad, but the quirky thing to this matchup is the Gaels offense, which isn’t bad at all at 39th in the country in OE+. Combined with a high ranking in adjusted tempo, and this may be another game where the shot clock changes are front and center. I think the Rams defense is strong enough to withstand the onslaught, but it could get interesting along the way.

THE PICK: Rhode Island Rams

#7 UC Davis Aggies (25-6) @ #2 Stanford Cardinal (19-13)
March 17th

Overall Quality
STANFORD UC - DAVIS THE EDGE
BPI 72.4 (50) BPI 60.7 (109) STANFORD
PYTH 0.7852 (48) PYTH 0.6586 (93) STANFORD
OE+ 111.1 (36) DE+ 104.1 (205) STANFORD
DE+ 99.3 (107) OE+ 110.3 (43) UC - DAVIS
T+ 65.3 (144) T+ 63.2 (261) STANFORD
Sched. PYTH 0.6686 (38) Sched. PYTH 0.4164 (238) STANFORD

Stanford bowed out early in the PAC-12 tournament, as they were blown off the floor by Utah in the second round after barely outlasting Washington in the first. The reason they’re here? A shocking 91-69 demolishing of Arizona in Tucson to end the regular season, fresh in the minds of the selection committee — they are right on Vanderbilt’s heels in the advanced metrics as well. Their opponent is one of the weaker automatic bids, as the Aggies won the Big West only to fall to Hawaii in the second round of the tournament. Their only chance is to somehow outscore the Cardinal, which is going to be awfully tough with such a crappy defense.

THE PICK: Stanford Cardinal

ROUND 2

#4 St. Mary’s @ #1 Colorado State

Overall Quality
COLORADO STATE ST. MARY'S THE EDGE
BPI 71 (57) BPI 69.3 (64) PUSH
PYTH 0.7404 (68) PYTH 0.7436 (66) PUSH
OE+ 109 (52) DE+ 99 (99) COLORADO STATE
DE+ 99.5 (110) OE+ 108.6 (55) ST. MARY'S
T+ 66.9 (73) T+ 62.6 (281) COLORADO STATE
Sched. PYTH 0.4965 (150) Sched. PYTH 0.5664 (102) ST. MARY'S

This should be a really fun matchup if it happens. The Rams have the slightest of edges in BPI, while the Gaels have an even slighter edge in PYTH. Each team’s offense has the edge, but CSU has a big, big edge in tempo. St. Mary’s is firmly in the bottom third of the country in terms of adjusted tempo, and that is not going to serve them well against a team in the T+ top-75. I suspect they will have trouble keeping up with the Rams.

THE PICK: Colorado State Rams

#3 Rhode Island @ #2 Stanford

Overall Quality
STANFORD RHODE ISLAND THE EDGE
BPI 72.4 (50) BPI 72.8 (49) PUSH
PYTH 0.7852 (48) PYTH 0.7723 (55) PUSH
OE+ 111.1 (36) DE+ 91.2 (9) RHODE ISLAND
DE+ 99.3 (107) OE+ 101.4 (186) STANFORD
T+ 65.3 (144) T+ 65.8 (120) RHODE ISLAND
Sched. PYTH 0.6686 (38) Sched. PYTH 0.5485 (115) STANFORD

Unsurprisingly, Stanford sports a much better schedule rating playing in the PAC-12, but that’s about the only significant advantage they have over the Rams. The advanced metrics are split on these two teams, but the margins are slim either way. Defense should rule the day, but I just can’t tear my eyes away from that “9” next to Rhode Island’s DE+ rating. That is an elite number, and I think it’s enough to topple the Cardinal, even in the Bay Area.

THE PICK: Rhode Island Rams

REGIONAL FINAL

#3 Rhode Island @ #1 Colorado State

Overall Quality
COLORADO STATE RHODE ISLAND THE EDGE
BPI 71 (57) BPI 72.8 (49) PUSH
PYTH 0.7404 (68) PYTH 0.7723 (55) PUSH
OE+ 109 (52) DE+ 91.2 (9) RHODE ISLAND
DE+ 99.5 (110) OE+ 101.4 (186) COLORADO STATE
T+ 66.9 (73) T+ 65.8 (120) COLORADO STATE
Sched. PYTH 0.4965 (150) Sched. PYTH 0.5485 (115) RHODE ISLAND

I’d like to think you come around these parts for the insightful, hard-hitting brand of analysis you typically see here. In keeping with that, bold prediction for this game if it happens:

The Rams are definitely going to win.

This quadrant of the bracket is a lot of fun, as it seems like every reasonable matchup beyond the first round is highly intriguing. Once again, Rhode Island is going to have to find a way their terrible offense, but the good news here is they match up strength-for-strength with Colorado State. That elite defense is going a long, long way for me, and I’m calling the upset here again, with the Rams from Kingston headed to MSG.

THE PICK: Rhode Island Rams

ROUND 1

#8 Charleston Southern Buccaneers (19-11) @ #1 Old Dominion Monarchs (24-7)
March 18th

Overall Quality
OLD DOMINION CHARLESTON SOUTHERN THE EDGE
BPI 70.4 (60) BPI 49.1 (177) OLD DOMINION
PYTH 0.7473 (64) PYTH 0.4416 (187) OLD DOMINION
OE+ 105 (108) DE+ 107.7 (278) OLD DOMINION
DE+ 95.6 (49) OE+ 105.5 (102) OLD DOMINION
T+ 60.4 (338) T+ 65.7 (126) CHARLESTON SOUTHERN
Sched. PYTH 0.449 (192) Sched. PYTH 0.3825 (292) OLD DOMINION

Charleston Southern entered the Big South tournament as the 1 seed, and promptly fell by eight to Longwood — former home of Tide big man Michael Kessens — finding themselves in the NIT thanks to the automatic qualifier rule. Their opponents had an early exit from the Conference USA tournament, and despite being the lowest-seeded in that tournament among the C-USA’s three bids, they find themselves with a #1 seed here in the NIT. One of the slowest-playing teams in the country at 338th overall in T+, the only line the Monarchs didn’t win is in tempo. It’s not going to matter.

THE PICK: Old Dominion Monarchs

#5 Green Bay Phoenix (24-8) @ #4 Illinois State Redbirds (21-12)
March 18th

Overall Quality
ILLINOIS STATE GREEN BAY THE EDGE
BPI 69.2 (65) BPI 67.8 (70) PUSH
PYTH 0.7539 (60) PYTH 0.7376 (69) PUSH
OE+ 106.3 (83) DE+ 93.5 (22) GREEN BAY
DE+ 96.5 (63) OE+ 102.3 (164) ILLINOIS STATE
T+ 65 (154) T+ 65.2 (150) PUSH
Sched. PYTH 0.5721 (96) Sched. PYTH 0.506 (145) ILLINOIS STATE

Illinois State was the 4 seed in the MVC tournament, but after Indiana State was shellacked by Loyola and the Redbirds dropped Wichita State on their way to a championship game loss to the Tuttles, they find themselves in the NIT over the lesser Indiana. Green Bay was an early RPI darling after a non-conference win over Miami and a tight loss to tournament-bound UC Irvine, but faded a bit after several in-conference losses, and were put out to pasture by Valpo in the Horizon Tournament final. They match up well with the Redbirds, and bring a strong defense at #23 overall in DE+. The Redbirds are far more balanced, however, with top-90 units on both sides of the floor and a much tougher schedule on the year. I’m sorely tempted to make some lame metaphor about not rising from the ashes, but suffice it to say Green Bay’s headed for an early exit.

THE PICK: Illinois State Redbirds

#6 Texas-El Paso Miners (22-10) @ #3 Murray State Racers (27-5)
March 17th

Overall Quality
MURRAY STATE UTEP THE EDGE
BPI 67.9 (68) BPI 65.3 (83) MURRAY STATE
PYTH 0.7229 (73) PYTH 0.6515 (97) MURRAY STATE
OE+ 113.1 (17) DE+ 98.5 (95) MURRAY STATE
DE+ 104 (203) OE+ 104.1 (121) UTEP
T+ 66.7 (82) T+ 64.7 (166) MURRAY STATE
Sched. PYTH 0.3972 (271) Sched. PYTH 0.4618 (178) UTEP

Murray State was pointed squarely at the NCAAs after an undefeated run through the Ohio Valley Conference regular season, only to lose by a point to Belmont in the tourney final. The automatic qualifier rule brings them to the NIT, where they have the best record of any participant in terms of win percentage. They face the C-USA’s third representative in UTEP, who fell one step short of the final in what appears to have been one heck of a conference tournament. Prospective future Tide coach Steve Prohm has the Racers playing a brand of ball reminiscent of their mascot, with one of the country’s best offenses playing at a well above-average pace. UTEP’s anemic offense should have some success against a putrid Racers defense, but Murray State should advance here.

THE PICK: Murray State Racers

#7 William & Mary Tribe (20-12) @ #2 Tulsa Golden Hurricane (22-10)
March 17th

Overall Quality
TULSA WILLIAM AND MARY THE EDGE
BPI 65.7 (80) BPI 58.6 (121) TULSA
PYTH 0.7288 (72) PYTH 0.5691 (130) TULSA
OE+ 100.6 (207) DE+ 108.7 (299) TULSA
DE+ 92.3 (14) OE+ 111.4 (32) TULSA
T+ 64 (215) T+ 64.2 (202) PUSH
Sched. PYTH 0.5624 (108) Sched. PYTH 0.4852 (158) TULSA

Tulsa was living on the bubble for most of the year, and probably needed to win the American tournament to get in. They didn’t, falling to lower-seeded UConn a round before the final. A weak out-of-conference schedule prevented them from getting an at-large bid a la Cincinnati, and they received a a high NIT seed for their troubles. The Tribe are your last automatic qualifier, as they lost to presumptive NIT participant Northeastern in the finals of the CAA tournament despite having the number 1 seed. Like so many on this side of the bracket, Tulsa makes their hay on the defensive side of the ball, sporting the #14 defense in the country according to DE+. The Tribe have an exceptional offense at #32 overall in OE+, but the gulf is way too large on the other end of the court, where the Tribe’s defense is among the country’s worst.

THE PICK: Tulsa Golden Hurricane

ROUND 2

#4 Illinois State Redbirds @ #1 Old Dominion Monarchs

Overall Quality
OLD DOMINION ILLINOIS STATE THE EDGE
BPI 70.4 (60) BPI 69.2 (65) PUSH
PYTH 0.7473 (64) PYTH 0.7539 (60) PUSH
OE+ 105 (108) DE+ 96.5 (63) ILLINOIS STATE
DE+ 95.6 (49) OE+ 106.3 (83) OLD DOMINION
T+ 60.4 (338) T+ 65 (154) ILLINOIS STATE
Sched. PYTH 0.449 (192) Sched. PYTH 0.5721 (96) ILLINOIS STATE

What a matchup! These two teams are nigh-indistinguishable in the advanced metrics, both rating in the low-to-mid-60s in BPI and PYTH. Both are above-average defensive teams with offenses that lag just a bit behind. The difference is the Redbird offense, which has a tighter margin on the Monarch defense than on the other end of the floor, but more importantly comes with a significant pace advantage. ODU is one of the slowest-playing teams in the country, and they will be forced out of that comfort zone with the shorter shot clock. The Redbirds pull off the upset and head into the regional final, ensuring no #1 seeds make it to MSG.

THE PICK: Illinois State

#3 Murray State @ #2 Tulsa

Overall Quality
TULSA MURRAY STATE THE EDGE
BPI 65.7 (80) BPI 67.9 (68) PUSH
PYTH 0.7288 (72) PYTH 0.7229 (73) PUSH
OE+ 100.6 (207) DE+ 104 (203) PUSH
DE+ 92.3 (14) OE+ 113.1 (17) PUSH
T+ 64 (215) T+ 66.7 (82) MURRAY STATE
Sched. PYTH 0.5624 (108) Sched. PYTH 0.3972 (271) TULSA

Hehe. Your guess is as good as mine here. Quite possibly the closest potential matchup in this tournament, the Racers have the tempo edge but Tulsa’s actually played a schedule worth mentioning. When in doubt, pick the defense.

THE PICK: Tulsa Golden Hurricane

REGIONAL FINAL

#4 Illinois State @ #2 Tulsa

Overall Quality
TULSA ILLINOIS STATE THE EDGE
BPI 65.7 (80) BPI 69.2 (65) PUSH
PYTH 0.7288 (72) PYTH 0.7539 (60) PUSH
OE+ 100.6 (207) DE+ 96.5 (63) ILLINOIS STATE
DE+ 92.3 (14) OE+ 106.3 (83) TULSA
T+ 64 (215) T+ 65 (154) ILLINOIS STATE
Sched. PYTH 0.5624 (108) Sched. PYTH 0.5721 (96) PUSH

The one matchup on this chart that matters is the line that Tulsa wins, which is their defense against the Redbirds offense. The Golden Hurricane’s offense is really bad, #207 overall in OE+, and while the Redbirds’ defense isn’t anything special they are more than capable of shutting down such mediocrity. Tulsa is going to have to bring the house on defense, because I don’t expect them to score much in this game at all, short shot clock or no. Playing in Oklahoma helps, but Illinois State seems like they are destined for MSG in this draw.

THE PICK: Illinois State Redbirds

The Final Rounds — Madison Square Garden

#2 Texas A&M vs. #2 Miami

Overall Quality
TEXAS A&M MIAMI THE EDGE
BPI 74.4 (40) BPI 73.1 (43) PUSH
PYTH 0.7808 (50) PYTH 0.7764 (52) PUSH
OE+ 105.9 (94) DE+ 98 (88) PUSH
DE+ 94.8 (41) OE+ 109.2 (51) PUSH
T+ 64 (213) T+ 62.5 (284) TEXAS A&M
Sched. PYTH 0.6321 (69) Sched. PYTH 0.6542 (52) MIAMI

Oddly reminiscent of Murray State-Tulsa, eh? In this scenario the last two major conference representatives eliminate each other in the appetizer round in Madison Square Garden. Texas A&M is the higher-rated team, but by all of 2 or 3 ranks, and is evenly matched at both ends of the floor with the Hurricanes. The Aggies do have a slight tempo edge, but at all of 1.5 possession per game. Miami has a slight edge in schedule. Everyone has a slight edge on everyone. The magic box isn’t much help, as it calls it at 50.6% for the Aggies on the neutral floor. This game is quite literally a coin flip when taking the accuracy of the PYTH ratings into account. I’m picking SEC.

THE PICK: Texas A&M Aggies

#4 Illinois State vs. #3 Rhode Island

Overall Quality
RHODE ISLAND ILLINOIS STATE THE EDGE
BPI 72.8 (49) BPI 69.2 (65) PUSH
PYTH 0.7723 (55) PYTH 0.7539 (60) PUSH
OE+ 101.4 (186) DE+ 96.5 (63) ILLINOIS STATE
DE+ 91.2 (9) OE+ 106.3 (83) RHODE ISLAND
T+ 65.8 (120) T+ 65 (154) RHODE ISLAND
Sched. PYTH 0.5485 (115) Sched. PYTH 0.5721 (96) ILLINOIS STATE

And much like the other semifinal, the last two mid-majors square off in this eliminator. Fortunately for me, these teams are not as closely matched, which makes the decision-making a bit easier. Fresh off another defense-first opponent, the Redbirds run into the better version of Tulsa in the Rhode Island Rams, possessors of that oh-so-alluring top-10 defensive mark. The Rams are also a bit better on the offensive floor than their Oklahoman counterparts, and while Illinois State has the edge on that end of the floor, the margins are not in their favor this time around. This will surely be a tight game — 52.5% for the Rams according to the magic box — but the localish boys have just enough to get them over the hump into the final, ending the Redbirds’ shocking run of upsets.

THE PICK: Rhode Island Rams

The NIT Final

#3 Rhode Island vs. #2 Texas A&M

Overall Quality
TEXAS A&M RHODE ISLAND THE EDGE
BPI 74.4 (40) BPI 72.8 (49) PUSH
PYTH 0.7808 (50) PYTH 0.7723 (55) PUSH
OE+ 105.9 (94) DE+ 91.2 (9) RHODE ISLAND
DE+ 94.8 (41) OE+ 101.4 (186) TEXAS A&M
T+ 64 (213) T+ 65.8 (120) RHODE ISLAND
Sched. PYTH 0.6321 (69) Sched. PYTH 0.5485 (115) TEXAS A&M

30 games later, it all comes down to this. Like many of the later rounds in this tournament, the overall metrics aren’t much help in distinguishing the two teams. The Aggies’ SEC schedule gives them a significant edge in terms of experience in tough games, but Rhode Island will have gone through several of their own just to get here. Tempo favors the Rams, but at a margin of less than 2 possession more per game I don’t think it makes a difference, even with the shorter shot clock. Rhode Island will struggle to score against a very good Texas A&M defense, but can the Aggies score at all against the Rams? Rhode Island is the only team in this tournament with a top-10 unit on either end of the court, and on top of that it’s the defense. Offenses can be stopped, but it takes special talent to break down an elite defense, and as much as it pains me to do this as a card-carrying SEC homer, I have to take the Rams as your 2015 NIT champs.

THE PICK: Rhode Island Rams

Hey, where’s my mini-quotes!?

To say this piece escalated quickly would be an understatement. This is by far the longest thing I’ve ever written here — I have verified Microsoft Word’s word counter goes to five digits, which includes HTML just to be clear — and the idea of combing back through all of that to add little barbs of wit here and there is a little daunting at this stage. I apologize, as I realize those the only reason anybody reads this stuff.

That being said, for those of you who made it all the way through this monster — what do you think about all of this? Can you see Rhode Island winning it all? If not, who’s your pick to take home the title? Let me know in the comments!

ROLL TIDE