NIT Season Tip-Off Returns After Brief Absence

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – After a one-year absence from the college basketball landscape things take a giant step in a return to normal with the 2021 NIT Season Tip-Off.

The popular event, now in its 30th year in New York City, will get underway Nov. 23 when Iowa State (Big 12) takes on Xavier (Big East) in one game while Memphis (American Athletic Conference) tangles with Virginia Tech (Atlantic Coast Conference) in the other contest. 

This year’s tournament field brings a combined record of 16-1 into the event.

The Cyclones and Musketeers tipoff at 7 p.m. in a game that will be broadcast on ESPNU with the Tigers and Hokies squaring off at 9:30 p.m. in an ESPN2 telecast.

Xavier, Memphis and Virginia Tech all advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season.

The NIT Season Tip-Off has been played in New York City since 1985 and this year’s event is the sixth year at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Oklahoma State won the tournament in 2019 before last year’s planned event was cancelled. 

Iowa State (0-0 Big 12/4-0 Overall) vs. Xavier (0-0 Big East/4-0 Overall)

THE CYCLONES

The excitement surrounding basketball at Iowa State is returning to Hilton Coliseum with the arrival of personable coach T.J. Otzelberger who has the Cyclones off to an impressive 4-0 start in his first season in Ames.

Now ISU is hoping to bring some of that Hilton Magic to the Big Apple as the Cyclones hit the road for the first time this season.

A former assistant coach at the school Otzelberger served two stints under former coaches Greg McDermott, Fred Hoiberg and Steve Prohm. He left ISU in 2016 to become the head coach at South Dakota State and left after three seasons to take over at UNLV before becoming the 21st coach in ISU men’s basketball history and was tasked with restoring some of the luster to a program that lost all 18 games in Big 12 play last season and ended the year with just two wins in 24 games.

The new-look Cyclones are averaging 73.5 points per game through their first four games ahead of their matchup with Xavier. They are also outscoring their opponents by an average of 16 points and holding a plus-4.8 rebound margin so far this season.

Iowa State is being led by a trio of guards with Izaiah Brockington (6-4, 196, Sr.) leading the way. He is averaging 13.5 points per game and is shooting a respectable 46 percent (19-41) from the floor. He has also been successful on 15 of 18 attempts from the foul line to account for his scoring production while topping the team with 8.3 rebounds per game.

Tyrese Hunter (6-0, 178, Fr.) and Gabe Kalscheur (6-4, 198, Sr.) are the other two guards off the strong starts in Ames this season. Hunter, was ranked as the No. 7 player at his position as the 2020-21 prepared to get underway,  ranks second on the team with 12.8 points per game after connecting on 16 of 44 (.364) field goal attempts, including five of 20 from behind the arc, and adding 14 of 18 (.778) foul shooting. He is averaging 12.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Kalscheur, meanwhile, is averaging 11 points by hitting on 15 of his 46 (.326) field goal attempts and 11 of 17 (.647) shots from the charity stripe.

Iowa State Results

W-KENNESAW STATE 84-73
W-OREGON STATE 60-50
W-ALABAMA STATE 68-60
W-GRAMBLING 82-47

THE MUSKETEERS

Xavier, which returns its top seven scorers from last season, is off to a perfect start on the season after winning all four of its games so far and will bring a No. 25 national ranking into the game against the Cyclones.

And the Musketeers are getting solid play all over the court with four players averaging in double figures and fifth player just off that threshold as they begin the season with the team’s leading scorer from a year ago. 

Zach Freemantle (6-9, 220, Jr. F) who led Xavier in scoring (16.1) and rebounding (8.9) last season,  has yet to see any action so far this season while recovering from an injury.

Paul Scruggs (6-5, 198, Sr., G), a unanimous Big East preseason selection, is averaging a team-high 15.8 points per game so far and tops the team with 16 assists on the season. He has connected on 22 of 49 (.449) shots from the floor, including seven of 11 (.333) from long range, and is 12 of 15 (.800) from the free throw line.

Scruggs, who scored 10 of Xavier’s final 12 points in the recent win over in-state rival Ohio State, has moved into the top 25 on the school’s all-time scoring list with his 1,309 points.

Colby Jones (6-6, 207, So., G) comes into the game with an average of 13.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest. He is shooting 47 percent (18-38) from the floor and is 12 of 16 (.750) from the foul line. Jones has added a total of 38 rebounds with 18 of those caroms coming on the offensive end of the floor. Jones’ 9.5 rebounds per game is the best among all Big East players on the young season. He was voted to the conference’s all-freshman team last season.

Adam Kunkel (6-4, 180, Sr., G) and Nate Johnson (6-4, 192, Sr., G) also come into the game averaging in double figures in scoring. Kunkel, a standout at Belmont before transferring Xavier, has connected on 15 of his 34 (.441) attempts from the floor as a Musketeer, including 11 of those connections coming from long range to account for his 11.3 scoring average. Eight of those 3-pointers helped Kunkel to 26 points in the win over Norfolk State. Johnson, meanwhile, brings a 10.0 points per game average into game. He has made 16 of his 37 (.432) shots from the floor, including eight of 21 (.381) from behind the arc, including four shots from long range as part of his 20-point effort against Norfolk State.

Jack Nunge (7-0, 245, Jr., F) is filling in nicely in Freemantle’s absence in the middle. He has averaged 9.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game so far this season after spending the first four years of his collegiate career at Iowa. He averaged 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game as a redshirt sophomore for the Hawkeyes last season before joining the Musketeers.

Xavier Results

W-NIAGARA 63-60
W-KENT STATE 73-50
W-OHIO STATE 71-65
W-NORFOLK STATE 88-48

Memphis (0-0 AAC/4-0 Overall) vs. Virginia Tech (0-0 ACC/4-1 Overall)

THE TIGERS

One of the most electrifying collegiate players of his time, Penny Hardaway is introducing college basketball fans to two freshmen who are expected to help Memphis to a return to the NCAA Tournament.

Hardaway, who spent two seasons (1991-93) as a standout at Memphis, returned to his alma mater as coach in 2018. He scored 1,319 points in just two seasons of college basketball before entering the NBA Draft in 1993. In his time as coach at Memphis the four-time NBA All-Star and 1996 gold medalist has guided the Tigers to a 67-32 overall record and an NIT championship to close the 2020-21 season.

Talented newcomers Jalen Duren (6-11, 250, Fr., C) and Emoni Bates (6-9, 190, Fr., F) are proving they are more than ready for the college game and are both averaging in double figures through the first four games of the season. Duren, who has connected on 21 of 28 (.750) field goal attempts and 18 of 27 (.667) foul shots, is averaging 15 points per game so far this season to lead the Tigers as they prepare for a tough test against Virginia Tech. He is also averaging 10.8 rebounds per game and has already recorded 19 blocked shots in his first few weeks of his collegiate season.

Bates is contributing with 13.3 points per game of his own on 17 of 36 (.472), including 10 of 24 (.417) from behind the arc, along with nine of 14 (.643) free throw attempts.

The strong performance from that talented freshmen duo is one of the big reasons the Tigers are averaging 85.8 points per game while limited the opposition to just 63 points per game. Their scoring margin of plus-22.8 points is among the best in the nation so far this season.

Two college basketball legends are on Hardaway’s coaching staff as assistants. Larry Brown began his coaching career as an assistant at North Carolina (1965-67) and later coached at UCLA (1979-81), Kansas (1983-88) and SMU (2012-16) along with several stops as a coach in the NBA. His 1998 Kansas team won the NCAA championship in 1988.

Rasheed Wallace, a former standout at North Carolina, later went on to a 14-year career in the NBA, most notably with the Detroit Pistons before ending his career after one season with the New York Knicks (2012-13).

Brown and Wallace both joined Hardaway’s staff prior to the start of the 2020-21 season.

Memphis Results

W-TENNESSEE TECH 89-65
W-N.C. CENTRAL 90-51
W-SAINT LOUIS 90-74
W-WESTERN KENTUCKY 74-62

THE HOKIES

Success has not been a stranger to Virginia Tech coach Mike Young. Now, as he enters his third season as the leader in Blacksburg, the two-time national coach of the year is looking to take the Hokie program to a new level.

He appears to be on his way as Tech is a perfect 5-0 on the young season after outscoring the opposition by 28 points per game on the young season.

Young’s squad is being led by four players who are averaging in double digits in scoring so far this season with Keve Aluma (6-9, 235, RS-Sr., F) leading with way with 12.4 points while also topping the Hokies with 4.4 rebounds per contest. He has connected on 21 of 38 (.553) shots from the floor and added 20 of 24 (.833) foul shots to account for his scoring production and has recorded seven blocked shots, which also tops the team’s chart.

Storm Murphy (6-0, 185, Grad., G), Nahiem Alleyne (6-4, 195, Jr., G) and Justyn Mutts (6-7, 230, Grad., F) are also averaging at least 10 points per contest for Tech. Murphy has connected on 20 of 37 (.541) field goal attempts, including 10 of 22 (.455) from behind the arc, and has drained four of seven (.571) free throw attempts to average 10.8 points per game.

Alleyne, meanwhile, is right behind with an average of 10.6 points per game. He has made 18 of 44 (.409) shots from the floor and is shooting 39 percent (7-18) from 3-point range while being successful on all 10 of his four shot attempts. He is also pulling down 3.6 rebounds per contest for the Hokies.

Mutts is sitting right at 10 points per game with his 23 of 44 (.523) shooting from the floor, including 40 percent (4-10) from beyond the arc. He has yet to get to the foul line.

Young has a 36-23 overall record in his time at the helm of the Tech program and is 335-267 in his coaching career. He spent 17 seasons (2002-19) and Wofford before taking over at Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech Results

W-MAINE 82-47
L-at Navy 77-57
W-RADFORD 65-39
W-ST. FRANCIS (Penn.) 85-55
W-MERRIMACK 72-43

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