While Purdue and Northwestern sit at the conference equivalent of Harry's, throw back shots, and talk about the times they were above .500, and Indiana locks its cell phone in the glove compartment and runs from the car, avoiding yet another desperate call from the CBI, the rest of the teams are off for Fun Times. Six of them are playing in an actual tournament, with the other three playing in I Used to Be a Contending Tournament. One teams [ED: team! I meant team!] is in action tonight, so I guess we'd better get started.
NIT First Round: #1 Minnesota (20-13, 57) vs. #8 High Point (16-14, 248) in Minneapolis, 8:15 PM Tuesday
The Gophers didn't get jobbed by the selection committee - believe it or not, there were a few other teams in front of them who deserved those spots - but they got a nice reward anyway, getting a top seed in the NIT and at least one favorable matchup. (Their potential second-round opponent, #5 Utah, is the third-highest-ranked team on kenpom not to make the NCAAs ... bad luck for both Minnesota and #4 St. Mary's.)
High Point, on the other hand, qualified solely by having the best regular-season record in the Big South (that 12-team conference is split into two divisions; High Point topped the North at 12-4 while Coastal Carolina, the tournament champ, went 11-5 to lead the South). The Panthers are ... not good. Games against top-100 kenpom competition: lost by 3 to Stephen F. Austin at home, lost by 35 (!!) at Georgetown, lost by 21 at Syracuse, lost by 41 (!!!) at Arkansas.
High Point's offense is basically two things: John Brown inside and Devante Wallace outside. Brown is covered in national-leaderboard rankings, playing 81% of Panther minutes, taking 30.2% of their shots with an ORtg of 118.2 (second to Wallace's 123.8), rebounding everything he can reach, especially on the offensive boards (12.9%, 72nd), and even leading the team in steals (2.8%, 266th). Collapsing on Brown leaves Wallace open to rain threes from above: he shoots just .393 inside the arc but .507 (!!!!) outside it, for an eFG of .598 (61st). Thanks to these two, PG Jorge Perez-Laham is 74th in ARate (30.1) ... and that's basically the High Point offense. Everyone else is on the floor because you have to play five at a time or something like that.
Despite the shot-blocking presence of Brown and Wallace (presumably the 6-5 Wallace is blocking outside shots), High Point games feature excellent shooting percentages at both ends. The Panthers allow an eFG of .536, 321st in DI, and despite Brown's rebounding, they allow 33.5 OReb%, so if you don't make your first shot, don't worry, another good one is right behind it. Oddly, they're exactly at the DI average for turnover % on both offense and defense, 18.3% ... and don't expect a lot of fouls in their games, as they're well below average at both earning free throws and giving them (32.1% FTA/FGA, 337th on offense, and 33.9%, 50th on defense).
That matches up closely with what Minnesota's done, so don't expect too many turnovers by the Gophers (they're at 18.2% on both offense and defense) or free throws unless the game somehow is close near the end (38.1% FTA/FGA offense, 245th, and 39.3%, 150th on defense). The one problem area could be that Minnesota is really good at getting their own shots blocked: the Gophers had a block % of 12.6 on offense, 334th in DI, and the Panthers were blocking an above-average 10.0% on defense, 158th. High Point only got 6.8% blocked on offense, 10th in the country ... but Minnesota blocked 11.8% on defense against an entirely different level of competition. If Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker can stay out of foul trouble, expect Brown to work harder for his points, and watch Austin Hollins limit Wallace's effectiveness from the perimeter.
These two teams had plenty of common opponents, which is kind of surprising. High Point split two games with Wofford, winning by 10 at home and losing by 28 on the road, and won their lone game against Coastal Carolina, 77-74 away. Minnesota beat Wofford by 22 at home, Coastal Carolina by 10 at home, and lost to Syracuse (by 8) and Arkansas (by 14) on neutral courts.
kenpom has this game as basically a cakewalk for the Gophers, at 93%. Expect nothing different.