Where to watch: No. 5 Alabama (18-14) at No. 4 Creighton (18-14) – 8 p.m. today, CenturyLink Center, ESPN
Who to watch: Retin Obasohan. The do-everything senior guard has done less than we’ve come to expect in the first half of his last three games. He had two points at Georgia, was shut out by Ole Miss in his first SEC tournament game and only managed a free throw in the first 20 minutes of the quarterfinal loss to Kentucky. The Crimson Tide needs him at his best for both halves tonight, not only for his scoring but to stop his counterpart, Maurice Watson Jr. The Bluejays point guard led the Big East with 6.6 assists per game and scores a team-high 14.2 points per game. Creighton lives and dies with its ability to score in bunches; it averages 79.6 points per game and is 14-1 when reaching 80 points.
What to watch for: Who wants to keep playing? Especially in the first round, NIT games often hinge more on morale than talent. And while the Tide and Jays play contrasting styles, they took remarkably similar paths to get here. Both were picked to finish near the bottom of their respective conferences, both exceeded those expectations early and got into NCAA tournament bubble discussions by mid-February and then both sagged badly down the stretch. In Creighton’s case, it has lost five of its last six games, with only a blowout of sad-sack St. John’s to stanch the bleeding. Still, this is a bounce back after a rare losing season for the Bluejays and they should be energized by their home crowd. Hopefully Alabama rises to the occasion as well since few expected the Tide to be in any postseason tournament. But Bama was in this tournament last year with many of the same players, and there just may not be enough in the tank to rally one more time.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris