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CBB: Baylor vs. Penn State – NIT Championship (7:00 PM ET, ESPN)

CBB: Baylor vs. Penn State – NIT Championship (7:00 PM ET, ESPN)

CBB: Baylor vs. Penn State – NIT Championship (7:00 PM ET, ESPN)

Just 2-1/2 weeks ago, coach Ed DeChellis and his Penn State team watched the NCAA Tournament Selection Show with disappointment as they were one of the teams left out in the cold. Apparently though, the Nittany Lions took this snubbing and used it as moti


Just 2-1/2 weeks ago, coach Ed DeChellis and his Penn State team watched the NCAA Tournament Selection Show with disappointment as they were one of the teams left out in the cold. Apparently though, the Nittany Lions took this snubbing and used it as motivation to make a postseason run of a different kind, in the NIT Tournament. On Thursday night from Madison Square Garden, they’ll find themselves playing for a championship against a #3 seeded Baylor team that was overlooked as a club capable of reaching New York. The Bears have been installed as a 4-point favorite with a total of 138. See which side of the action your colleagues are backing on the BETTING TRENDS page.

The funny thing about Penn State being here, is that it was a Hail Mary type of shot away from being bounced in the first round of the tournament by George Mason. Since PG Taylor Battle’s OT forcing 3PT shot at the buzzer of that game, the Nittany Lions have gone on to three convincing wins, including twice as an underdog. The most impressive of this group has to be the 71-62 upset in Gainesville over the Gators. However, with road wins over Georgia Tech, Michigan State, and Illinois on their ledger, the Lions are no stranger to coming up big on the road. In fact, their 9-7 SU & 10-6 ATS mark away from home is the stuff bankrolls are built on.

If you consider the path that Penn State took to get to the NIT title game, it amounts nothing to how far the Baylor program has come in recent years. Since the devastating events surrounding Patrick’s Dennehy’s murder in 2003, and the follow-up uncovering of recruiting and other program violations, Baylor has clearly turned things around under HC Scott Drew. A championship here would be perhaps the final chapter in what has been a remarkable rise from NCAA purgatory.
Speaking of road success, it’s hard to top the achievements of the Baylor Bears, particularly when it comes to tourney action. In fact, under HC Scott Drew, Baylor is 16-7 ATS in all tournament games, and 40-25 ATS on the road versus teams with a winning record. That last mark improves to 19-9 ATS if you only consider the last two seasons’ games. Furthermore, the Bears got to this point by winning their last three games on foreign turf, first at Virginia tech, then at Auburn, and finally on Tuesday in the semifinal against San Diego State.

In terms of handicapping this matchup, if either team has a significant statistical edge, it would be Baylor in shooting the ball, both from the field and from the foul stripe. The Bears have been very efficient offensively in the NIT run, shooting 50% or better from the floor in all four games. They also are better than 46% from the floor and 71% from the foul line on the season. Meanwhile, Penn State shoots just 44.3% and 65.9% in those areas.

If one player were to decided this contest, it could be Penn State’s Battle, as he has proven time and again the ability to step up and lift his team from despair in the most clutch of moments. The first team All-Big Ten performer leads the team at 16.8 PPG, but don’t discount post player Jamelle Cornley (14.3 PPG), as he has enjoyed a big personal NIT tournament run of his own. Baylor boasts a balanced attack with PG Curtis Jerrells leading four double-digit scorers at 16.3 PPG.

This will be the 72nd time that the NIT has crowned a champion, and if you’re one of those who pooh-pooh’s this tournament or refers to it as the NIT-WIT bracket, don’t forget that this was once recognized as THE tournament in postseason college basketball. Also, consider the recent history of the NIT finalists and what these teams went onto the following seasons. After all, playing in and/or winning a championship boosts confidence, no matter where it is from. Take a look at the recent history of NIT finalists.

2000 Championship: Wake Forest 71, Notre Dame 61.

Following year: Both Wake Forest and Notre Dame went on to make NCAA tourney appearances in 2001, winning 19 & 20 games respectively. The Irish reached the second round of the Big Dance while Wake was upset in a first round game.

2001 Championship: Tulsa 79, Alabama 60.

Following year: Both Tulsa and Alabama used their NIT runs of 2001 as a springboard to success in ’02, as each team won 27 games the following season. Both clubs received NCAA bids and each won its first round game before falling the next time out. The Tide was a #2 seed.
2002 Championship: Memphis 72, South Carolina 62.

Following year: Memphis parlayed its 2002 NIT title into its first NCAA bid in seven years in ’03. The Tigers finished 23-7 that year and haven’t looked back since. For South Carolina, the championship experience meant little, as the Gamecocks went just 12-16 in ’03.
2003 Championship: St. John's 70, Georgetown 67.

Following year: The all-Big East NIT championship game of ’03 was at the time an anomaly as far as being a springboard for the finalists in the follow-up season. St. Johns was just 6-21 in ’04 and Georgetown just 13-15.

2004 Championship: Michigan 62, Rutgers 55.

Following year: For the second straight year, the two finalists from the NIT championship fell flat on their faces in the following season, as Michigan was just 13-18 in the 2005 season and Rutgers just 10-19.
2005 Championship: South Carolina 60, St. Joseph's 57.

Following year: Both South Carolina and St Joseph’s took their 2005 NIT championship game experience and went on to another NIT bid the following season. The Gamecocks won 23 games and a second straight NIT title, while the Hawks won 19 games, reaching the round of 16.
2006 Championship: South Carolina 76, Michigan 64.

Following year: After making its third appearance in the NIT championship in five seasons, while winning two, South Carolina’s postseason luck ran out in 2007, as the Gamecocks finished just 14-16. Michigan meanwhile, went on to a second straight NIT berth in ’07, getting one of its 22 season wins while there.

2007 Championship: West Virginia 78, Clemson 73

Following year: West Virginia’s 2007 NIT championship inspired a 26-11 season in ’08 and a run to the NCAA’s Sweet 16 round. Clemson meanwhile, took its newfound ’07 postseason success and catapulted to a first NCAA bid in 10 years the following season. The Tigers finished 24-10, winning their first 10 games of the ’08 campaign.

2008 Championship: Ohio State 92, Massachusetts 85.

Following year: The young Ohio State team of 2008 that won the NIT Championship went on to a NCAA bid this past season, going 22-10 before being ousted in the first round by Siena. The tournament experienced Buckeyes also made an appearance in the Big 10 championship game. UMass meanwhile, went just 12-18 this past season.

Only the future knows what’s in store for Baylor and Penn State for the ’09-10 season.

Tip-time for Thursday night’s championship contest is 7:00 PM ET and will be brought live to your living room by the Worldwide Leader, ESPN.

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