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With three brackets at the Boys HS NIT, there’s a lot to look at this weekend (well, long weekend, as the game begin Thursday).
So, since the action in Elkhart, Ind. begins tomorrow, let’s get to it.
Jesuit v Brownsburg
Xavier v Greenwich
Penn v St. Thomas Aquinas
Notre Dame de la Salette v Gonzaga
The great thing about this NIT is that the games are (almost) full-length. The halves are 30 minutes each, leaving time for an overtime, and at the same time reducing the chances for a tie game by making it all last longer.
The tournament is still a grind, as the teams play three games in three days (although the sub rules are relaxed a little bit in the first two games to help with that).
What does this all mean? It means that we’re unlikely to see a good team undercut by penalty kicks. We might, however, still see an upset.
Jesuit v. Brownsburg – this is a very strong Jesuit team and not the strongest Brownsburg team. Jesuit should win comfortably.
Xavier v Greenwich. This is the biggest pick ‘em of the bracket. Xavier has played superbly well but is reportedly dealing with a few injuries. Greenwich graduates some strong players, but, as often happens, is playing more as a team as a result. Xavier should win.
Penn HS v St. Thomas Aquinas. STA will hang in for a while, but Penn is bigger and more powerful and of all of these teams perhaps benefits the most from not having shortened games.
La Salette v Gonzaga. Gonzaga could win the whole thing. They look very good this year.
So that should set us up for semis as follows:
Jesuit v Xavier
Penn v Gonzaga
Jesuit has to be favored over Xavier, but Penn and Gonzaga will be a nice clash of different styles and different types of athletes. Gonzaga has the best goalkicker in the business playing for them, which will help.
Cathedral v Sierra Foothills
United v Danville
KC Jr. Blues v San Diego
Charlotte v Santa Monica
Cathedral is as strong as ever and while Sierra Foothills has played well, they will have all sorts of trouble with the Royal Irish.
United could be doing what they did last year, which was trip up in some games in April and then surge in mid-May to win it all. But … can they get it together enough to beat Danville? Danville, which beat Hayward (which is a really, really good team), Lamorinda (ditto), in going 7-0 in Northern California. They can beat United.
KC Jr. Blues are good, so is San Diego, but we think the Blues are slightly stronger … maybe.
Santa Monica is favored over Charlotte after winning Southern California over San Diego.
That gives us an intriguing semifinal grouping:
Cathedral v Danville
KC Jr. Blues v Santa Monica
This should give us a new team for the final, but San Diego or United could also get in here. Still it won’t be Cathedral v United in the final as it has been the last two years.
Brother Rice – bye
North Bay v Maryland Exiles
Orlando v Westerville
Fishers v Jesuit B
Fascinating group here. Brother Rice gets the bye as they only have seven teams in the bracket, and Rice is a) defending Tier II champs, and b) lives nearby so missing out on one game isn’t as harsh a blow for them.
Maryland Exiles have had one of their best season, and look like they should get by North Bay. Orlando is a solid team, but Westerville will not want to lose on Midwest ground. Jesuit B won their division in NorCal’s Single-School league, and should beat Fishers.
So that sets up these semis:
Brother Rice v Maryland Exiles
Westerville v Jesuit B
This is a tough pick. The Exiles might well take this whole thing.