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Gophers, Mustangs Challenge For NIT Title

Old school meets new school as Larry Brown's SMU meets Richard Pitino's Minnesota in the NIT Final.

Old school meets new school as Larry Brown’s SMU meets Richard Pitino’s Minnesota in the NIT Final.

While they might not have been invited to the big dance, Minnesota and Southern Methodist each has a chance to finish its season on a high when the two sides meet in New York on Thursday to contest the National Invitation Tournament final.

Tip-off at Madison Square Garden is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET.

The NIT may not come with the esteem it once did but for the Golden Gophers and Mustangs it represents the opportunity to finish the year on a positive and with some hardware. For Larry Brown’s SMU also, it represents a chance to send one more reminder to the selection committee after the team was – unfairly in many people’s eyes – left out of the NCAA tournament.

A No. 1 seed entering the tournament, SMU (27-9) will take to the hardwood in the World’s Most Famous Arena looking to earn its first NIT championship at the first time of asking.

The Mustangs – who finished their inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference with a 12-6 record, good enough for fourth in the final standings – have comfortably taken care of business for the most part this tournament.

Wins over UC Irvine, LSU and California in Dallas led to a semifinals matchup against No. 3 seeded Clemson at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

With their head coach revisiting his old stamping ground – Brooklyn-born Brown coached the Knicks for the 2005-06 campaign – the Mustangs got the better of a Tigers side missing freshman forward Jaron Blossomgame on the boards.

Forward Markus Kennedy led SMU with 21 points and nine rebounds, while the backcourt tandem of Nic Moore and Nick Russell combined for 23 points. The Mustangs out-rebounded the Tigers 35-25 and held their opponents to 40 percent shooting from the field. Ultimately SMU left the Garden with the 65-59 victory.

Now they’ll look to go one step further and walk away from Madison Square Garden with a shiny memento of what has been one of the most fascinating years in school history.

For Brown, he’ll look to become the first coach in history to have won an NBA title, NCAA title and the NIT title.

Minnesota (24-13) is no stranger to the NIT final having made four prior trips. The Golden Gophers have split those trips evenly winning two (1993, 1998) and losing two (1980, 2012).

Like the Mustangs, the Golden Gophers have taken care of business throughout the tournament. In the first three rounds, Richard Pitino’s side defeated High Point, Saint Mary’s and Southern Miss, each by no fewer than seven points, to set up a semifinal against fellow No. 1 seed, Florida State.

Tuesday’s matchup with the Seminoles at the Garden was a much closer affair. The two teams – who had met earlier in the year – forced the game into overtime, but it was the Gophers that came out on top, winning 67-64.

Deandre Mathieu and Austin Hollins each contributed 17 points from the backcourt, while fellow guard Andre Hollins added 13. The biggest difference proved to be three-point shooting, as the Gophers limited the Seminoles to just 4-of-18 shooting from beyond the arc, while shooting 9-of-20 themselves.

Now Minnesota will look to erase the memory of their last NIT final, a 75-51 loss to Stanford two years ago. For Austin Hollins and several of the other older players, that game still leaves a bitter taste.

The Gophers are likely to be without starting center Elliot Eliason, who missed Tuesday’s game with an ankle injury. Oto Osenieks is likely to deputize once more.

The final will mark the first time in history these two schools have met. It’s safe to say one will be going home much happier than the other.

Southern Methodist Mustangs vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers odds for 04/03/2014

Southern Methodist (-155) will ride its reputation into the game as the favorite over Minnesota (+135), but this is expected to be a close affair.

The spread opened at 2 but has climbed to 3 with some sportsbooks.

SMU (20-11-1 ATS) fared better against the spread than Minnesota (16-16-2 ATS) on the season, but things are a lot tighter right now, with both teams having recorded a 3-1-0 ATS record during the NIT.

Minnesota is 9-5-0 ATS over its last 14, while SMU is just 5-6-0 ATS in its last 11.

The total opened at 134 and has dropped as low as 131.5 at the time of publication.

Both the Mustangs (12-20-0) and Gophers (14-19-0) saw the under pay out more times than not this season and both have split the over/under evenly through their first four games of the tournament.

With SMU having witnessed the under pay out in eight of the last 11 and Minnesota having done likewise in seven of the last 12, the under looks like the smarter bet here.

The road to the final...

The road to the final…


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