Marshall: NIT finals preview with picks

Marshall: NIT finals preview with picks
Seton Hall vs. Indiana State (-3.5, 158.5); NIT title game at Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis… Not sure old Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler has been as raucous as it could be tonight since the “original Hoosiers” (the Indians from Milan HS) won the state final in 1954 vs. Muncie Central in the same building and inspired an iconic movie 33 years later.  The old hangar will tonight be filled with Sycamores fans who are looking at their first chance at a title of any sort since the memorable 1978-79 season when Larry Bird took ISU all of the way to the Big Dance finale in Salt Lake City, only to be denied by Greg Kelser, Magic Johnson and Michigan State, 75-64.  Is this where the Sycs finally get over the hump? And will they be making a movie out of Indiana State if it wins the NIT?

As nice as the storyline reads, we’re not sure it is going to end that way tonight.  Seton Hall is also hungry for a title…it’s been 72 years since the Pirates won one of these postseason events, at the 1953 NIT.  And we dare say the Pirates have impressed a bit more along the way.

Of course, the Sycs’ 85 ppg offense (ranks seventh) has propelled them all season for HC Josh Schertz, who, if rumors are to be believed, is ready to become the next coach at Saint Louis as soon as this event concludes. The most-famous goggle-wearer since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 6-10 soph Robbie Avila (17.3 ppg), is in contention for NIT MOP honors, though it’s been a crackerjack backcourt, mostly assembled from the portal (including ex-South Florida G Ryan Conwell and ex-Indiana State G Isaiah Swope, combining for nearly 32 ppg).  ISU has been non-stop in the NIT, too, and sent another warning shot in the semifinals when outracing potent Utah, 100-90.

No matter, by us, this is well going to be ISU’s toughest challenge in the NIT after beating teams with various flaws in the earlier rounds (the first three of those played at the Sycs’ home Hulman Center, before the semifinal win two nights ago at friendly Butler).  The Pirates’ Big East pedigree has served them well in this event, and Shaheen Holloway’s side is much more hardscrabble than any of ISU’s previous NIT victims. The Hall, we think, has beaten a slightly better collection of foes, and has had no trouble since a close opening-round win over St. Joe’s, easily outdistancing last year’s NIT champ, North Texas, plus surging UNLV and Georgia, to reach the finals.

If the old axiom “good backcourts win titles,” the Pirates are well-positioned, as their three-pronged perimeter of Kadary Richmond (15.6 ppg), Dre Davis (14.9 ppg), and Al Amir-Dawes (14.7 ppg) has been leading the charge all season and into this event, with Dawes in position to win MOP of the NIT after scoring at a 21 ppg clip in the tourney.  Holloway also has a rim protector in 6-10 Santa Clara transfer Jaden Bediako, though how he might deal with the versatile Avila, who likes to float to the perimeter, remains to be seen.

Rest assured, too, that the Pirates, who won five times on the Big East trail this season, and are already 2-0 at Hinkle this season (also beat Butler on its home floor February 24), not to mention beating (convincingly so) UCcnn at the Rock in January, are not going to be spooked by the Sycamores.  Perhaps ISU can force the pace to get this one beyond the high 150s “total” but we don’t think they will outscore the Pirates.  Seton Hall 84 – Indiana State 79 PLAY SETON HALL and OVER