At this time of year, people are filling out their brackets in haste to get them in before the Round of 64 starts. While the NCAA Tournament envelops the nation, the NIT is getting under way.
The initials stand for National Invitation Tournament, but to many fans it means “Not In Tournament.” The later interpretation is used by bubble teams as they wanted to be in the Big Dance.
Teams, like the Penn State Nittany Lions on the other hand, use the NIT to end the season on a high note. The Nittany Lions were on the tournament bubble for a couple weeks, but ultimately fell off with other teams playing well in conference tournaments.
The season for Penn State has been a roller coaster as it knocked off Ohio State three times, but also lost to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Rider at home. Head coach Patrick Chambers had to play stretches of games without Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins.
The loss of two crucial defensive pieces during the season meant the Nittany Lions had some disconnect on the defensive end. The talent on the roster is capable of making the NCAA Tournament as the sophomore duo of Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens are capable of taking over a game.
Carr led the conference in scoring at 19.9 points per game and his combination of size and shooting ability has caught the attention of NBA teams. If he is able to lead the Nittany Lions deep in the NIT, an early entry into the NBA draft might be in the future.
Stevens is the second leading scorer, but has been plagued with inconsistency throughout the year. He scored 30 points on 14-19 shooting against Northwestern, but went 2-12 in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament against the same opponent.
Stevens’ ability to create shots off the dribble has wreaked havoc on opponents’ frontcourts all season. His placement at the four allows for him to blow by bigger, slower defenders, but chooses to settle for contested pull-ups jumpers at times.
His high school teammate does the same as Carr takes a bunch of difficult jumpers in the lane, instead of taking it to the rim. His decision making has been off-and-on throughout the season but the NIT is a great opportunity for him to prove the doubters wrong.
Penn State’s appearance in the NIT is its first postseason appearance since 2014, when Siena beat the Nittany Lions in the CBI. Redshirt senior Julian Moore is the only player on the roster that was a part of that team.
Senior Shep Garner has had a tremendous senior as he is in the top 10 on Penn State’s career scoring list and wants to extend his career for another game. His 33-point performance in the Big Ten semifinals against Purdue proved that he is capable of having a big game against top opponents.
To many fanbases, a run in the NIT is a consolation for not making the NCAA Tournament. Penn State has the talent to make a deep run, which could lead to big success in the 2018-19 season.