Published March 27, 2012
| Sports Network
New York, NY – The semifinals of the 75th annual Postseason National Invitational Tournament will begin this evening when the fifth-seeded Massachusetts Minutemen look for yet another upset when they take on the third-seeded Stanford Cardinal at Madison Square Garden. The winner of this game will take on either Washington or Minnesota for the NIT championship.
UMass has been going up against higher seeds in every round of this tournament but that has yet to stop the Minutemen. After dropping fourth-seeded Mississippi State in double overtime in the first round, the Minutemen then took down Seton Hall and Drexel in consecutive rounds, eliminating the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds on their side of the NIT bracket. UMass is now 25-11 overall this season and is the only Atlantic-10 team still playing in the postseason. The Minutemen are 13-12 in the NIT all-time and have now made three Final Four appearances (1991, 2008, 2012).
Conversely Stanford has yet to face a higher seed due to a tumultuous first round on the Cardinal's side of the bracket. After taking out sixth-seed Cleveland State in the first round the Cardinal outlasted seventh-seeded Illinois State in overtime and then took care of fifth-seeded Nevada in an 84-56 blowout to punch its ticket to Madison Square Garden. Stanford is now 24-11 on the season. The Cardinal hold a 10-4 record in six NIT appearances, capturing the tournament title in 1991.
The all-time series between these squads is tied 2-2. After losing in the first two matchups, UMass has won the last two although this is the first meeting since 1996.
UMass had its work cut out for it at the half on the road against two-seed Drexel in the quarterfinals. The Dragons led 41-31 at home going into halftime and with the Dragons' strong defense, it looked like it might be over, especially as the Dragons pushed that advantage to as many as 17 in the second half. UMass then went on a 26-7 run to take a 62-60 lead with 7:18 remaining which the Minutemen would cling onto until the final buzzer, escaping with a 72-70 win.
Chaz Williams (16.9 ppg, 6.3 apg) has been sensational in the NIT for UMass and came through yet again in the quarterfinals, notching 20 points and hitting some clutch shots down the stretch. Williams has now scored at least 20 points in every round of the tournament and is also averaging 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game through the first three rounds. The sophomore guard was the team's leading scorer this season and also finished as the conference's leader in assists. Raphiael Putney (10.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Jesse Morgan (10.1 ppg) and Terrell Vinson (10.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) are all capable scoring options. As a team, the Minutemen ranked at the top of the conference in scoring (77.3 ppg), while also taking the top spot in assists (15.4 pg) and rebounds (39.3 pg). Defensively, UMass has been generous in allowing 72.4 points per game.
Stanford shot at a 53.4 percent clip and held Nevada to just 38.8 percent, en route to a lopsided win over the Wolf Pack in the quarterfinal round.
The Cardinal are more of a balanced squad than the Minutemen, scoring a respectable 71.7 points per game, while surrendering 63.5. Stanford should be able to hang around in terms of rebounding with UMass, as the Cardinal finished the season as the second ranked team in the Pac-12 on the glass (36.7 pg). Freshman guard Chasson Randle (13.9 ppg) was the team's leading scorer this season and tied for that spot in the quarterfinal win over Nevada by netting 15 points. After being held to a single digit effort in the first round against Cleveland State, Randle has bounced back and scored in double- figures in each of the past two rounds and has now been in double figures in seven of the last eight games. Josh Owens (11.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is the squad's leading rebounder and second option at the offensive end and tied with Randle for the team lead with 15 points against Nevada. Aaron Bright (11.6 ppg, 3.6 apg) is a decent third option and capable distributor.