Beating the top seed in round one might’ve just happened for the second time ever in the NCAA Tournament, but in the NIT, the mid-majors run the show.
Upper Left Quadrant
The upper left quadrant of the NIT has the most mid majors by “region” in the tournament. Six of eight teams inside the quad came from outside the Power Five, and they showed why they belonged.
North Texas breezed by Alcorn St. to move on to a second round matchup against Sam Houston State. Both squads come into the ballgame touting top-30 defenses in the country as neither allow more than 58 points per game this season.
The Bearkats went on the road to sneak by Santa Clara in the opening round, and the path won’t get easier, as North Texas has only lost three home games all season.
The other game in the quad includes Eastern Washington. The Eagles stayed in state, taking a trip to Pullman to play Washington State. The Eagles handled their in-state foe, taking a nine-point lead into halftime and ultimately winning by seven. Sophomore Steele Venters scored 27, as they moved into the second round and another opportunity for a road upset against Oklahoma State.
Wrapping up the region, a loud Beeghly Center wasn’t enough for Youngstown State, as the Penguins closed out their best season since moving to Division I in 1981. Youngstown led for most of the first 35 minutes of the ballgame, but just didn’t have the firepower at the end to outlast Oklahoma State.
With three of the four remaining teams in the region being mid-majors, there’s a good shot we see one of them in Las Vegas in two weeks.
Lower Left Quadrant
This region isn’t quite as fun, as Oregon and Wisconsin wiped out a pair of regular-season conference champions in UC Irvine and Bradley, respectively. Neither game was very close.
Liberty did what was expected of them, beating Villanova in Lynchburg. The Flames are the No. 3 seed in the region and will need to go on the road to Wisconsin on Sunday. Liberty will look to continue the dominance of Darius McGhee, who scored 26 points in Tuesday’s win over Villanova.
Wisconsin will be just the third power conference opponent Liberty will play this season, losing the prior two to Northwestern and Alabama. If the Flames want to continue their run, they’ll have to find a way to score around Wisconsin’s defense, the 24th-best defense unit in the country.
UCF went up the road to Gainesville and beat their in-state rival Florida to advance to a date with Oregon….
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