Recent history reveals that over the last six seasons, every NIT champion has reached the NCAA tourney in the following season, but none has advanced beyond the third round. The Hokies are dangerous, but the Road to their Final Four might still have a few too many potholes.
Why will Brigham Young plague Ute coach Rick Majerus even when the Utes aren't playing the Cougars?
Back in the mid-19th century, Brigham Young, the Mormon leader for whom Utah's archrival school would later be named, urged his followers to go on missions to help recruit followers to the church. These days that means Majerus, who recruits many Mormons, is one of the few coaches in the nation who hates to hear one of his players say that he's "on a mission." Those dread words were uttered again last spring when 6'9" Ute forward Alex Jensen, who led the team in field goal percentage and was second in rebounding, informed his coach that he would perform his Mormon mission over the next two seasons. Said Majerus, "I was sadder to see that kid walk out of my life than anybody I've ever dated."
Cheer up, Coach, you've still got the two finest players in the WAC. Keith Van Horn was the conference Player of the Year as a sophomore last season, averaging 21 points and 8.5 rebounds a game. Senior guard Brandon Jessie, whose father, Ron, played in the NFL for 10 seasons, scored 16.1 points per game.
Utah will dominate the WAC this season and could be an NCAA tournament sleeper. For Majerus, that would mean one thing: Mission accomplished.
What happened in Puerto Rico on May 9, 1975, that will make this season in Amherst?
A backcourt was born. UMass starting point guard Edgar Padilla and shooting guard Carmelo Travieso arrived in this world just a few minutes and a few miles apart on the north shore of Puerto Rico. Travieso's family moved to Boston when he was 11 years old, while Padilla came to Springfield, Mass., as a teenager. The two first met at a basketball tournament during high school. Both decided to go to UMass, and while rooming together as freshmen, they discovered the unlikely coincidence of their births. "I told Carmelo my birthday, and he told me his was the same day, so naturally I thought he was joking," Padilla recalls. "I made him show me his driver's license."
The key in Amherst is, of course, junior Marcus Camby, the center who blocked 103 shots last season, more than five Atlantic 10 teams did. But it falls to Padilla to fill a gaping hole in the UMass attack, replacing point guard Derek Kellogg, a three-year starter who had a remarkable assist-to-turnover ratio of 128-54 last season. And Travieso, who launched a three-pointer every four minutes in limited time last season, should help restore the scoring punch lost when forward Lou Roe left for the NBA.