The 2023 National Invitational Tournament (“NIT”) got started earlier this week and the Big Ten rolled into the action on Tuesday night. Michigan, Rutgers, and Wisconsin all hosted home games and hoped to advance.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-No. 3 Michigan Wolverines 90, Toledo Rockets 80
After last week’s demoralizing effort against Rutgers, Michigan entered the NIT with mixed expectations. Some thought the Wolverines would thrive against what projected as weaker competition, while others speculated Michigan would fold with the season off the rails. It’s never easy to tell how NIT performances will go and this team was particularly inconsistent.
Fortunately for Wolverine fans, things came out well on Tuesday night.
While Michigan struggled out of the gate and trailed Toledo for most of the second half, the team used a great push out of halftime to cruise to a 10-point home win over a feisty Rockets squad. It was Michigan’s highest scoring total in over a month and was led by 23 points from guard Kobe Bufkin. Joey Baker also had 21 points, who was inserted into the starting lineup with Jett Howard sitting out.
Michigan improved to 18-15 overall and will now prepare for a road game against Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon. KenPom projects the Wolverines as mild underdogs in the game, largely because of what’s anticipated to be a road environment. However, it’s almost impossible to know what to expect out of crowds in the NIT, so we’ll have to wait and see if that ends up being the case.
-Hofstra Pride 88, No. 1 Rutgers Scarlet Knights 86 (OT)
After days of discussion about how Rutgers should have made the 2023 NCAA Tournament and plenty of fire out of Scarlet Knight fans, many were expecting Rutgers to come out and make a statement about its season. Instead, the team fell flat on its face and blew its opener as a top seed in the NIT. The game was competitive throughout, but Rutgers’ highly regarded defense played terribly and allowed 1.22 points per possession.
The loss ends Rutgers’ season at 19-15 overall. Obviously, it was a failure of a season for the Scarlet Knights. Making the NIT is never something to celebrate, even for a program that went through the turmoil Rutgers did over the last few decades. Fans will have to hope Steve Pikiell and his staff can get things back on track this offseason.
-No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers 81, Bradley Braves 62
The Badgers were another team with mixed NIT expectations, but performed well in their opener, scoring a 19-point win over Bradley. Steven Crowl led the way with 36 points and nine rebounds. Max Klesmit also had 16 points. Wisconsin was eventually able to unload the bench in this one as it got out of hand.
Wisconsin improved to 18-14 overall with the win and will now prepare for a matchup against Liberty at home on Sunday. The Badgers are projected as mild favorites.