Most people look at the NIT as the “other” tournament.
That’s not necessarily the case for Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, who looks at it as a learning experience as well as a chance to play at a legendary arena.
We’re really excited to have had this opportunity to compete in New York again at the NIT. We were here in the preseason NIT and I thought it was a great springboard for our season,” Dawkins said during a press conference at MSG yesterday. “I think the game versus Syracuse was a terrific game for us, for our team to grow. We realized our potential, that we could compete with teams, and we carried that forth into the season.”
Dawkins led the Cardinal to a 24-11 mark. Stanford, considered an NCAA bubble team, fell to California in the second around of the PAC-12 Tournament.
Chasson Randle (13.9 ppg) and Josh Owens (11.7 ppg) will lead Stanford against Massachusetts in the first NIT semifinal on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Led by coach Derek Kellogg, the Minutemen (25-11) made a spirited run in the Atlantic-10 tournament, beating Duquesne and Temple, but came up short against St. Bonaventure in the semifinal.
Kellogg was also appreciative of the opportunity to come to New York.
“To get the ability to take your team to the Big Apple, the greatest show on earth and come to Madison Square Garden…You know we all wanted to get Chazz [Williams] home,” said Kellogg. “And I think the guys on the team from the seniors on down wanted to give him the opportunity to get back to New York City and play in Madison Square Garden.”
Williams, a Brooklyn native who played his freshman season at Hofstra, transferred to Massachusetts after coach Tom Pecora left the Pride for Fordham.
Washington vs. Minnesota 9 p.m.
The Washington Huskies (24-10) are looking for a bit redemption after falling to Duke at the Garden in December and getting snubbed by the NCAA despite winning the PAC-12 regular season championship.
“We were here in the Garden playing in December,” said Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar. “We didn’t fare too well back then, but we’re back again and our guys are looking forward to playing in this tournament.”
Washington is led by its talented backcourt duo of Terrence Ross (16.3 ppg) and Tony Wroten (16.2 ppg).
As for Minnesota (22-14), a late season slump that included a six-game losing streak led it missing the NCAA Tournament. But there’s nothing wrong with playing in the NIT, according to Golden Gophers coach Tubby Smith.
“I was telling my team, we only have about three or four kids on our team who actually knew where New York was, so they’re glad to be here. They were out all last night. I had to go find them around the city,” Smith joked. “No, it’ s good to be here.”
Rodney Williams (12.1 ppg) has had the hot hand lately for Minnesota. The Junior forward has averaged 21.5 points his last four games, including a 24-point effort in a 78-72 win over Middle Tennessee State in a quarterfinal.