The NIT Finals take place tonight, as the Stanford Cardinal meet the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Madison Square Garden. The game is scheduled for a 7:00 p.m. start time and it will be televised live on ESPN. Currently the odds have Minnesota favored by 1 point with the total sitting at 132 points for the contest.
Free Analysis: Minnesota was 6-12 in the Big Ten and lost seven of their final nine games before winning three straight road games to reach the NIT semifinals. Tubby Smith can become just the 10th coach in NCAA history to win an NCAA title and NIT title, providing his Golden Gophers successfully complete the task at hand. The Golden Gophers have a rich tradition in this event, sporting a 22-11 record in non-vacated games and a 28-12 record overall. The team won a pair of NIT championships in 1993 and 1998, although the 1998 championship was vacated. This is the fourth NIT championship game appearance for Minnesota all-time (lost to Virginia in 1980). Washington went on a 12-4 run with under three minutes to play in regulation and forced overtime against Minnesota on Tuesday, but the Golden Gophers finally got the job done in the extra session, posting the one-point victory. The Golden Gophers are not the most explosive offensive team out there, but they are efficient, converting 46.5 percent from the floor, while putting up 68.1 ppg. Strong defensive play is also an asset for this team, with Minnesota allowing just 64.5 ppg this year and owning a +4.0 rebounding margin. Losing its top player early on to injury (Trevor Mbakwe) and the recent loss of Ralph Sampson III (doubtful/knee) certainly has left the team thin along the frontline. Williams has done his best to handle the brunt of the workload and currently leads the team in both scoring (12.2 ppg) and rebounding (5.6 rpg). Perimeter help comes in the form of Julian Welch (9.6 ppg), Austin Hollins (9.1 ppg) and Andre Hollins (8.9 ppg). The Cardinal are 25-11 on the season and played to mixed reviews in the Pac-12 this year. Johnny Dawkins' squad finished seventh in the conference standings at 10-8. Stanford is 6-1 in the month of March however, and is seeking a school-record seventh win this evening. Stanford, which won the 1991 NIT title, improved to 11-4 in six NIT appearances with its 74-64 victory over Massachusetts on Tuesday. In a game when neither team shot particularly well, the Cardinal were able to keep UMass at bay thanks to advantages both on the boards and at the free- throw line. Stanford grabbed an impressive 54 rebounds compared to 45 for UMass, while holding a 21-13 edge in points from the charity stripe. The Cardinal are fueled by a solid inside-out game. Randle and Bright handle things along the perimeter, while Owens takes care of the dirty work down low. Randle, who leads the team at 13.8 ppg, is one of the top three-point shooters in the country, hitting 43.4 percent from beyond the arc. Bright (11.6 ppg) can also fill up the basket from long range, combining with Randle for 151 of the team's 246 total three-pointers. The 6-8 Owens converts a team-best 57.3 percent from the floor and nets 11.8 ppg. He is also the team-leader in rebounding (5.9 rpg) and steals (44). The Cardinal scores 71.7 ppg, while allowing just 63.5 ppg on the year. Stanford is just the fourth team to play at New York’s Madison Square Garden in both the Preseason and Postseason NIT during the same season. Minnesota has won all four previous meetings with Stanford. However, it has been 37 years since the school's last met (1975).
Free Pick: Gonna look to the Cardinal in this one. For Stanford they not only have motivation to win the NIT, but with all the flack the PAC-10 has received this year, a win by Stanford would bring a little respectability back to the conference. Plus I do feel that Stanford has the overall talent edge in this one led by Randle and Bright on the perimeter (151 of the team's 246 total three-pointers), while Owens has been solid on the inside (57.3% , 5.9 rpg and 11.8 ppg). Stanford is in the top 89 in both offensive and defensive scoring , while Minnesota is 100th in scoring defense and 178th in offense. The defenses are fairly even, but Stanford has a good edge at the offensive end of the floor. The Cardinal is not just playing for themselves, but for a whole confrerence and while Minnesota continues to win without being at full strength, it is the Cardinal who will get the win here.
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