The NIT wraps up on Thursday night with a championship game at Madison Square Garden featuring Minnesota and Stanford. Both the Cardinal and Gophers finished in the middle of their BCS conferences, but Minnesota fell short of expectations and struggled all season in a rugged Big Ten. Tubby Smith's club has a shot at some measure of consolation with an NIT title on Thursday night. It would be an impressive feat for the Golden Gophers, who have been playing without star forward Trevor Mbakwe, who tore his ACL in just the seventh game of the season.
Stanford had a relatively mediocre season in the weak Pac-12 but they're on a nice run in the month of March, reeling off four straight victories to get to the title game. The young guard duo of Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright will present a challenge for Minnesota's backcourt. The Cardinal had a relatively easy road to get here, facing lower seeds and escaping an upset bid by Illinois State in the second round. A ten-point win over UMass in the semifinals was a not the test Minnesota passed in their overtime win against Pac-12 regular season champion Washington.
The Gophers will counter with the guard duo of Andre and Austin Hollins, who combined for 32 of Minnesota's 68 points against Washington. Lengthy wing Rodney Williams is a scoring threat at all times and Tubby Smith will ride the junior for the full 40 minutes in the final game of the season. Neither team plays at a blistering pace or puts a ton of points on the board and it should be a close low-scoring game. The oddsmakers agree, and currently have the game as a "pick 'em."