I love preseason basketball tournaments. And I hate preseason basketball tournaments. It's like plucking a rose to determine your love for someone. As the players on the winning team each climb the ladder to snip off a section of the net – Tournament, I love thee… SNIP. Tournament, I hate thee… SNIP. Tournament, I love thee… SNIP.
The reason is that most aren't really tournaments. They have these bogus early round games at one of the top-seeds' home courts, but if the top seed loses they still advance. I'm no bracketologist, but I'm pretty sure if you lose in a tournament then you're supposed to head the way of the losers. But these prefab events only want the premier teams. Which is fine. So don't play the bogus early round games.
Luckily, the preseason NIT is here to save us. They have an actual tournament. They have an actual bracket. And today (finally!) it dropped. Here are the roads for the top four seeds.
No. 1 – Michigan. They'll tune up with a win over IUPUI, who lost three starters off a team that went 12-18 against Division I opponents. Then they'll get the winner of Cleveland State vs Bowling Green. Last year, Cleveland State would have given Michigan a run, but now they've graduated three starters who all took more than 23% of the shots when they were on the floor. In the early season, Cleveland State will still be searching for an identity.
No 2 – Virginia. They open with Fairfield in what will be one of the lowest possession games of the season. Fairfield will likely be able to keep it close, and if they can then Derek Needham and Desmond Wade both hit 39% of their threes last year. The Hoos should be nervous about this one. If they win they'll face the winner of Penn vs Delaware. Penn probably can't do too much damage, but Delaware returns four starters (the 5th transferred) off a team which finished last year with eight consecutive wins in the regular season. The Cavaliers have about a 50% chance of winning both games.
No. 3 – Kansas State. K-State will get past Lamar, which was the most experienced team in the nation last year and graduated all five starters. But North Texas looms in the 2nd round, with likely lottery pick Tony Mitchell leading the way. K-State is the far more talented team, but North Texas has the best player. I'll take K-State, but you'll want to tune in.
No. 4 – Pittsburgh. As the Panthers say goodbye to the Big East, they say hello to consensus top-10 recruit Steven Adams, and he'll be able to do whatever he wants in the opener vs Fordham. Lehigh and Robert Morris in the round-2 matchup both return deep and talented teams. Lehigh has the star power with CJ McCollum, while Robert Morris returns seven of eight guys who played at least 40% of the minutes. This makes Pitt the 2nd most likely team not to see Madison Square Garden.