There aren’t many things better than hunkering down and splashing bets all over the college basketball card on Black Friday. If Thanksgiving is for football, the day after is most certainly for hoops with tons of games on the docket today. Only one boasts two top-five teams, though.
Kansas and Tennessee will play for the NIT Tip-Off Championship from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the Jayhawks are modest 3.5-point favorites over the seasoned Vols.
Kansas came back to beat Marquette in one of the semifinals on Wednesday just after Tennessee controlled things against Louisville.
KU looked like it was in trouble in the first half. Marquette is an excellent team and the Big East Player of the Year candidate Markus Howard was lighting it up in the first half before Bill Self assigned freshman Devon Dotson to man him in the second.
Dotson hounded Howard for twenty minutes and forced him into a 1-for-10 shooting half. The Jayhawks put together a jaw-dropping 22–0 run and ended up coming back from down nine at the half to win by nine.
But while Marquette is a little light on physicality, Tennessee is one of the most experienced, roughest and most intimidating teams in the entire country. UT starts two seniors and three juniors and returns over ninety percent of its scoring from a team last year that won twenty-six games and the SEC Championship.
The headliner is Grant Williams, a junior forward who played with Dotson in high school. Williams isn’t a sharp-shooter but he’s developed into a proficient outside shooter and he’s a load from anywhere closer, where he can put it on the deck, rise above defenders and finish in all sorts of ways around the rim. He’s physical, draws a ton of fouls and really runs the floor. Ask Bill Self and he’ll tell you that’s the kind of guy the young Jayhawks may not be ready for this early in the season. He’s made comments about his team lacking toughness in the first two weeks of the season and you have to know he’ll challenge his team before the tip.
Speaking of tough, Admiral Schofield is a senior and the heart and soul of the Volunteers. He can guard one through four on the perimeter and rebounds at way above his size (6’6″). The Vols also got the reigning sixth-man in the SEC back before this tournament started. Lamonte Turner made three three-pointers on Wednesday to fuel a 14–0 Tennessee run that put the game away against Louisville.
I lean Tennessee because I see this game as a coin flip between two fantastic teams. Kansas has more raw scoring talent but Tennessee makes up for it with toughness and experience that I’m skeptical Kansas can match. Rick Barnes and Bill Self have seen plenty of one another from their time shared in the Big-12 (Self owns a commanding lead in the head-to-head matchups).
Even more than Tennessee, though, I like the over. There will be some excellent defenders on the floor but even more shot-makers. What’s more, both teams played super fast in the semifinals and I’d be surprised if this game wasn’t up in the eighties. Will both teams score efficiently? I doubt it, but the pace will get this one over. Enjoy the game, everybody.
Play: Over 150.5
Barclays Center • kansas jayhawks • NIT Tip-Off • Tennessee Volunteers