Baylor Bears

Big 12 NIT First-Round Preview

NCAA Basketball: NIT Championship-George Washington vs Valparaiso

Baylor and Oklahoma State are the two Big 12 teams that will play in the NIT, which tips off early this week. Baylor is a one seed and Oklahoma State is a two seed. We preview both match ups ahead of this week’s games.

(8) Wagner (23-9) at (1) Baylor (18-14), 6 p.m., ESPN2

How they got here: Wagner earned an automatic berth in the NIT after winning the Northeast Conference regular-season title, but failing to win the NEC Tournament title, which would have led to an automatic NCAA Tournament berth (LIU-Brooklyn claimed that berth). Baylor, out of the Big 12, was the “First Team Out” in the NCAA Tournament and was selected to the NIT as a No. 1 seed in the Lower Left Bracket. This is the first meeting between both teams.

Expected starters and head coach

Wagner — G Blake Francis (17.1 ppg), G Romone Sanders (14.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg), G JoJo Cooper (14.5 ppg, 6.3 apg), G Devin Liggeons (6.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg), F A.J. Sumbry (6.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg). Head coach — Bashir Mason (110-78 overall).

Baylor — G Manu Lecomte (16.0 ppg, 3.5 apg), F Jo Lual-Acuil (14.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg), F Terry Maston (10.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg), F Nuni Omot (9.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg), G Jake Lindsey (4.7 ppg, 3.3. apg). Head coach — Scott Drew (315-205 overall).

About Wagner: The Seahawks are making their second NIT appearance in three seasons and fourth appearance all-time. Wagner’s only NIT win came in 2016 as a No. 8 seed against St. Bonaventure. Three of Wagner’s expected starters on Tuesday — Sanders, Cooper and Liggeons — played a role in that victory. Wagner made its first NIT appearance in 1979 under then-head coach P.J. Carlesimo. The Seahawks play with a guard-driven lineup that is highly productive, led by Francis, Sanders and Cooper, all of which average double figures. The Seahawks’ top bench player is Elijah Davis, who scores 7.2 points and averages 4.3 rebounds per game. What the Seahawks lack in interior presence they make up for in scoring from outside.

About Baylor: Baylor is making its seventh straight postseason appearance (NCAA or NIT) and won the 2013 NIT title. The Bears are one of the most experienced programs in the NIT, with 10 postseason appearances in the last 11 years. Baylor is 9-4 all-time in the NIT, 9-1 under head coach Scott Drew and is 51-1 in its last 52 non-conference home games in Waco. It’s hard to complete with Baylor’s length inside, with Lual-Acuil (7-foot), Maston (6-foot-8) and Omot (6-foot-9) giving the Bears one of the tallest starting lineups in the tournament. The Bears have been better with Lindsey in the starting lineup to help Lecomte with ball-handling duties, which is part of the reason the Bears surged in February and were considered for the NCAA Tournament. With Maston now a full-time starter, Mark Vital is the team’s top bench player, a dirty-work guy who is one of Baylor’s toughest rebounders.

Prediction: Baylor’s dominance at home (its only non-conference loss in its last 52 games at home is to Wichita State) should allow the Bears to ride to an NIT-opening win over Wagner, which can’t match Baylor’s side inside or on the wing.

Next up: The winner faces either Mississippi State or Nebraska in the second round.

(7) Florid Gulf Coast (23-11) at (2) Oklahoma State (19-14), 8 p.m., ESPN2

How they got here: Florida Gulf Coast won the Atlantic Sun regular-season title to earn its NIT berth. The Eagles lost to Lipscomb in the A-Sun championship game, missing out on a trip to the NCAAs. Oklahoma finished seventh in the Big 12 and lost in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament to Kansas. The Cowboys, which lost in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament, are the No. 2 seed in the Upper Right Bracket.

Expected starters and head coach

FGCU — G Brandon Goodwin (18.6 ppg, 4.8 apg), G Zach Johnson (15.9 ppg, 3.0 apg), G Christian Terrell (12.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg), F Antravious Simmons (7.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg), G Dinero Mercurius (8.0 ppg). Head coach — Joe Dooley (171-109 overall).

Oklahoma State — G Kendall Smith (12.9 ppg, 2.9 apg), G Lindy Waters III (10.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg), G Jeffrey Carroll (15.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg), F Cameron McGriff (8.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg), F Mitchell Solomon (8.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg). Head coach — Mike Boynton (19-14 overall).

About FGCU: The Eagles became eligible for the postseason in Division I seven years ago, but they have made six straight postseason appearances (NCAA or NIT), including its magical run to the Sweet 16 in the 2013 NCAA Tournament as a No. 15 seed. This is the Eagles’ first trip back to the NIT since 2014, when the Eagles lost to Florida State. They’re a dangerous offensive team with Johnson and Goodwin the primary focus. In the A-Sun title game the Eagles fell behind by 34 points and nearly came back to beat Lipscomb, as Johnson scored 37 points and Goodwin scored 34 points. The Eagles have also set program Division I records for points per game (81.7), rebound margin (+5.8), scoring margin (+10.1) and free-throw percentage (.742). The Eagles also shoot nearly 50 percent from the floor.

About Oklahoma State: OSU is making its 40th postseason appearance all-time and its 12th in the NIT. The last time the Cowboys reached the NIT was 2011 and they have a 7-12 all-time NIT record. The Cowboys have been a No. 2 seed one other time (2007). The Cowboys have reached Madison Square Garden, the site of the NIT’s Final Four, four times and has a 3-5 record. But, OSU has never won the NIT, with its best finishes being third place in 1938 and 1940. The Cowboys will be a hard team to deal with. No team in the NIT field has more wins over NCAA Tournament teams this season than the Cowboys’ eight. Smith and Carroll drive the offense from the perimeter while Solomon is the Cowboys’ chief inside presence. McGriff is the wild card. When he has a big game, the Cowboys tend to have a big game offensively.

Prediction: FGCU will be a tough matchup for the Cowboys, so they’ll need to be sound defensively. But the Cowboys are 4-1 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in the NIT and the Cowboys should make it 5-1 by late Tuesday night. But don’t expect it to be easy. FGCU’s Dooley is a former Kansas assistant coach and he knows the Big 12 ropes well.

Next up: The winner faces Stanford or BYU in the second round.

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