Arizona and Duke, a pair of probable preseason Top 5 teams, headline the field for the 2013 NIT Season Tip-Off.
Organizers of the event, who finalized the skeleton of the bracket over the weekend, have also designated Alabama and Rutgers as the remaining two host schools. The Crimson Tide return four of five starters from last year’s 23-win bubble team, which fell to Maryland in the postseason NIT quarterfinals. The turbulent Scarlet Knights, meanwhile, hope to start anew in the wake of the firing of former head coach Mike Rice. Rice’s replacement — longtime NBA assistant Eddie Jordan — will be charged with reassembling a broken puzzle without corner pieces Dane Miller and Austin Johnson (graduation) and centerpiece Eli Carter (transfer), the outbound combo guard who led the Knights in scoring last year.
Arizona is making its first cameo at the hallmark tournament since 2004, when Lute Olson’s Cats fell to Chris Paul and Wake Forest in the title game. The Wildcats have won the event three times (1990, 1995, 1999), finishing either first or second in the Pac-12 (then Pac-10) in all three years. Arizona will boast a roster expected to follow that same trajectory next season, what with a heralded incoming freshman class and the addition of Duquesne transfer point guard T.J. McConnell. The preseason Pac-12 favorite will have to fend without departing seniors Mark Lyons, Kevin Parrom and do-everything swingman Solomon Hill, but the expected maturation of last year’s young and talented frontcourt (sans Grant Jerrett) plus the instant impact potential of Aaron Gordon, a teenage Blake Griffin clone, should present one of the nation’s fiercest front lines.
Duke last played in the NIT Season Tip-Off in 2009 — a prelude to their 2010 national championship run — when it defeated Connecticut to capture the title. Duke has won the annual tournament a record four times (1985, 2000, 2005, 2009), never losing fewer than 32 games in any of those seasons. The Blue Devils have twice won national championships after conquering the early-season tournament. They made the national championship game in 1986 after winning the inaugural NIT Season Tip-Off as well. What talent Sean Miller will deploy in the frontcourt, Mike Krzyzewski should match on the perimeter. Duke figures to wield the best perimeter convoy in college basketball next season — between returning guards Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, not-forgotten sharpshooter Andre Dawkins, Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and incoming freshman phenom Jabari Parker.
The first two rounds of the NIT Season Tip-Off, which began in 1985 under a modified format, play out on the campuses of the four host schools . The four regional winners convene at Madison Square Garden for the semifinals and championship game. This year’s Final Four is earmarked for Thanksgiving weekend.
Michigan defeated Pittsburgh to win last year’s tournament crown. Three of the last four event winners (Michigan ’12, Syracuse ’11, Duke ’09) have gone on to win at least 30 games in the same season.