2011 NIT Championship: Analyzing Boston College's Path To Madison Square Garden

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 10: Reggie Jackson #0 of the Boston College Eagles smiles during the second half of the game in the first round of the 2011 ACC men's basketball tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum on March 10, 2011 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

First off, let's pay some bills:

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Unfortunately, we aren't in this year's NCAA Tournament. We are in the NIT. Time to come to grips with reality, folks, and focus on getting to Madison Square Garden. Let's take a look at the road ahead for Boston College and how the Eagles can get to MSG on March 29.

For reference, here is the official NIT bracket.

 

Game 1: at #8 McNeese State, Tuesday 9 PM

McNeese State is in this year's NIT by virtue of winning the Southland Conference's regular season title (13-6) and earning an automatic berth to this year's NIT. Without the auto-bid, it's likely that the Cowboys wouldn't have made the NIT's field of 32. If it's any indication of how good the Southland Conference is, the Southland champ -- UTSA -- is playing Alabama State in one of the NCAA Tournaments 16 seed First Four matchups in Dayton, along with UNC Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock. So we are talking about NCAA Tournament teams 65, 66, 67 and 68.  

It's certainly easy to look past a Southland Conference team that has a kenpom rating in the 190s, no quality wins and losses to the likes of Southeast Louisiana (x2), Northwestern State, Stephen F. Austin and Texas-San Antonio (x2), but the Cowboys did play majors Texas A&M and LSU relatively close this year. Then again, McNeese State also suffered blowout losses to Washington to start the season (118-64) and a 20-point loss to Miami, so there's that too. McNeese State is 21-11 (13-6 Southland) on the year, but if you take away wins over Louisiana College, Jarvis Christian, Southwest and SW Assemblies of God, the Cowboys have only won 17 games against DI opponents.

Still, I'd imagine the McNeese State home court will give the Cowboys a slight edge in this one. kenpom predicts a 76-69 victory for the Eagles.

Game 2: #4 Northwestern / #5 Milwaukee, March 18, 19, 20 or 21

Should BC advance past the First Round, its most likely opponent is the Northwestern Wildcats. kenpom predicts that NU will beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee 76-64, so let's go with that.

The funny thing about this matchup is that Boston College and Northwestern are eerily similar teams. Both have highly efficient offenses (BC 12, Northwestern 22) and don't play a lick of defense (BC 196, Northwestern 138). Bill Carmody runs a Princeton-style offense that is somewhat similar to Donahue's offense.

What I don't like about this matchup is the BC defense against the Northwestern offense. If Donahue runs a lot of zone (1-3-1 or 2-3), the 'Cats should be really successful.

This is a game that BC will likely be favored in, but if we have to go on the road to Welsh-Ryan Arena, this game becomes nothing more than a pick'em in my opinion.

Game 3: #2 Washington State / #3 Oklahoma State / #6 Harvard?, March 22 & 23

Tough to say who will come out of the bottom-half of BC's bracket. Could be Wazzu or Oklahoma State or even Harvard. Motivation could very well be a factor with Washington State, whom I'm sure had bigger plans this year than a #2 seed in the NIT. Especially after the Cougars started the season 10-1 with wins over Gonzaga and Baylor, only to limp to a 9-11 finish down the stretch.

Oklahoma State was equally unimpressive. After starting the season 13-2, including wins over Kansas State, Missouri State and Alabama, the Cowboys finished the season going 6-11.  

BC's Quarterfinals matchup could very well be against ... Harvard, in a rematch of the Eagles' January 5 loss to the Crimson. Some might shudder at the thought of a second loss to Harvard in one season (and fourth in three years), but I welcome it. I think this team would be extra motivated for a rematch with Harvard, and it would make for good college basketball press in the Boston area. I say, bring it!

Game 4: Semifinals, March 29 at Madison Square Garden 

Your guess is as good as mine as to who comes out of the bottom half of our side of the NIT bracket. Will #1 Virginia Tech play up to all the complaining they've done about their NCAA Tournament snub, and get to the Garden? My gut tells me we won't see the Hokies in NYC.

#3 seeded Dayton -- last year's NIT Champ -- could get back to MSG, but they have a tough road ahead including a first round game at College of Charleston.

My projections for this portion of the NIT bracket: (1) Virginia Tech over (8) Bethune-Cookman, (4) Wichita State over (5) Nebraska, (6) College of Charleston over (3) Dayton and (2) Cleveland State over Vermont. In the second round, I have (4) Wichita State over (1) Virginia Tech and (2) Cleveland State over (6) College of Charleston. Finally, in the Quarterfinals, I'll take Wichita State over Cleveland State, and the Shockers head to MSG.

Wichita State has some decent wins on the year, including wins over Virginia, Tulsa and two over Tournament-bound Indiana State. I think the Shockers could give BC a game, but given Boston's proximity to NYC, I'd hope that the Eagles would enjoy a home-court advantage in this one. But perhaps the opposite would happen, with fans from Big East schools going to MSG to heckle BC in only our second game in the Garden since bolting for the ACC?

Game 5: Finals, March 31 at Madison Square Garden

At this point, who knows who BC could face in the NIT Championship Game. Alabama and Colorado are the 1-seeds from the other side of the bracket, but I could just as easily see St. Mary's or Miami getting to NYC. BC would be loathe to see this game be an All-ACC final, as the 'Canes present all sorts of matchup issues for the Eagles.

Regardless of who we play in the NIT Final, I'd be pretty amped about BC getting to the Garden. A win in the Semifinals would be gravy, and an NIT Title would be pretty sweet considering where this program was 12 months ago. 

The Eagles are a top seed in this year's NIT for a reason, and it's certainly possible to find BC back at MSG in two weeks playing for a title. 

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