Thursday, March 30, 2006

NIT Championship Preview

South Carolina (22-15) vs. Michigan (22-10)

DATE/TIME: Thursday, March 30th, 7:00 PM

FACTS/STATS: Site: Madison Square Garden (19,876) -- New York, New York. NIT Record: South Carolina 20-8, Michigan 24-5. Series Record: Michigan leads, 2-1.

GAME NOTES: The last two NIT champions will meet up in the tournament title game this evening, when the South Carolina Gamecocks take on the Michigan Wolverines at famed Madison Square Garden. The Gamecocks took the NIT title last year and are trying to become just the second team ever to win back-to- back tournament crowns and the first since St. John's (1943 and 1944). Dave Odom's squad has won nine straight NIT games and advanced to this championship game with a rather easy 78-63 rout of Louisville in the semifinals on Tuesday. The Gamecocks' NIT record has been pushed to 20-8 overall, as the team has navigated the tournament field with additional wins over Western Kentucky (74-55), Florida State (69-68 in OT) and Cincinnati (65-62). Odom will be seeking his 100th victory with South Carolina in this game. The Wolverines are no strangers to successful tournament runs, as they have moved to an impressive 24-5 (19-5 with NCAA sanctions) in this event. Michigan opened up NIT play with a rout of UTEP (82-67), followed by narrow wins over Notre Dame (87-84 in 2OT) and Miami-Florida (71-65). In Tuesday's semifinals, the Wolverines destroyed Old Dominion (66-43). Michigan has won this event three times (1984, 1997 and 2004), although the 1997 title was vacated due to NCAA sanctions. These two teams boast the longest active winning streaks in postseason national tournaments, standing at nine straight victories. These two teams haven't met since 1977.

Renaldo Balkman was outstanding on Tuesday night, as he erupted for 23 points, going 11-of-14 from the floor. Balkman got plenty of offensive support, as Tarence Kinsey and Brandon Wallace also posted impressive games, finishing with 21 and 19 points, respectively. Tre' Kelley added just seven points, but did dole out a game-high 10 assists. The Gamecocks played an almost perfect game against Louisville, shooting a scorching .600 from the floor (33-of-55), amassing 21 total assists and turning the ball over a mere seven times. On the season, South Carolina's numbers have been somewhat lower, but still solid. The team is netting 67.5 ppg and is getting it done on .459 shooting. Kinsey paces the team in scoring at 15.7 ppg. Kelley follows with 12.3 ppg and is the team's top distributor (4.5 apg). Balkman is almost at the double-digit mark, with 9.6 ppg.

The Wolverines completely shut down the Monarchs on Tuesday to advance to the championship game. Michigan held Old Dominion to a mere .278 shooting performance (15-of-54), while forcing 16 ODU turnovers. Defensively, the Wolverines were smothering, while offensively, the team was paced by Courtney Sims. The 6-11 junior hit 8-of-10 shots and posted 18 points in 22 minutes off the bench. Senior guard Daniel Horton chipped in with 10 points, while senior forward Chris Hunter just missed a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds. Horton was just 4-of-11 from the floor and has been much more reliable offensively on the year. He leads four players that are averaging double digits, with 17.6 ppg. Horton is much more than a potent scorer, also leading the team in assists with 170. Dion Harris is a solid backcourt partner with 11.3 points and 2.8 assists per game. Sims (11.2 ppg, 5.9 apg) and Lester Abram (10.3 ppg) provide balance in the frontcourt.

Both of these teams have plenty of experience in this type of atmosphere, as evidenced by a pair of semifinal routs. Michigan did it with defense, while South Carolina was unstoppable offensively. Balkman will need to step up again and produce up front and if he can, the Gamecocks should be able to celebrate their second straight NIT title.

The Sports Network
Predicted Outcome: South Carolina 73, Michigan 67

I don't completely agree with the write-up provided by The Sports Network (final score included). The main concern with Michigan is their neutral/away court record and playing performance. ODU was a depleted and injured team, and Michigan did not have many problems taking that victory. However, The Gamecocks are looking for that repeat title and have been getting quality wins against tough competition. My suggested wager is USC -3

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