Bulldogs and Minutemen to Battle in NIT Tonight

Feb. 25, 2012; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs guard Jalen Steele (0) dives on a loose ball with Alabama Crimson Tide guard Levi Randolph (20) during the second half at Coleman Coliseum. Alabama won 67-50. Mandatory Credit: Kelly Lambert-US PRESSWIRE

There may not be a tougher animal to figure out than the National Invitational Tournament. In the tournament, there are a good number of teams in the field that feel as if they missed out on a chance at the NCAA tournament, and there are a good number of teams excited to participate in post season play.

Tonight's match up in Starkville features two such teams as a Mississippi State squad that has to wonder what might have been faces a UMass team that is excited to qualify for the NIT.

Earlier today on the Daily Grind, Joe Abston (@bulldawgjoe) and I caught up with Matt Vautour (@GazetteUMass) of the Daily Hampshire Gazette to break down the first round match up.

"I think Umass, both their fan base and their players, is looking at this as a potential launching pad to a pretty good future," said Vautour.

Chaz Williams, who leads the Minutemen in scoring, is a player to watch. Williams, a speedy player, finds a way to score and contribute in rebounding, even though he stands under 5-10.

"He has been a program changer for UMass, " said Vautour. "UMass has had problems with getting any kind of point guard consistency in recent years. He's come in right away, and he has been not only their best player but a leader."

Raphiael Putney, a sophomore forward, has also emerged during the season as a scoring and rebounding threat for the Minutemen. He is has the ability to play outside on offense, and with a good three point shot, he has the ability to stretch the Bulldog defense.

Other players to watch include Terrell Vinson and Jesse Morgan.

UMass coach Derek Kellogg changed the Minutemen's style of play this year, getting his squad to play more up-tempo as opposed to dribble-penetration offense.

This could be a concern for the Bulldogs, a team that has had many of its players average close to 40 minutes per contest, and Mississippi State does not have the deepest of benches.

"Umass will want to get into an up and down game," said Vautour. "Umass would like to see the points scored be in the 80s. "

Tons of pressure will rest on the shoulders of Dee Bost, Renardo Sidney, and Arnett Moultrie as they try to salvage part of the season with a victory and a run in the NIT. The experience of postseason play will also be important for players such as Jalen Steele and Rodney Hood.

All the action tips at 6 tonight at the Humphrey Coliseum. Fans can watch on The Deuce where Brad Nessler and Jimmy Dykes will have the call.


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