The Toledo Rockets, co-MAC regular season champions and 2014 MAC Tournament runners-up, have found out their fate this March, and it's not in the Big Dance. The Rockets, who finished the season with a record of 27-6 (14-4 MAC) were not selected for the 2014 Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament, but they did get an at-large bid in the 2014 National Invitational Tournament.
The Rockets are a 6-seed in the 32-team tournament and will face off vs. No. 3 seed Southern Miss (27-6, 13-3 C-USA) in the opening round of the Minnesota Quadrant of the 2014 NIT bracket Wednesday, March 19 at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN3. If Toledo wins in the first round it advances on to the round of 16 to face the winner of Missouri (2) and Davidson (7). Other teams in Toledo's leg of the bracket include Minnesota (1), St. Mary's (California, 4), Utah (5) and High Point (8).
Southern Miss & Toledo are the 2 highest RPI teams in the NIT field. They play each other in the first round.— Jordan Strack (@JordanStrack) March 17, 2014
The Rockets finished the regular season as co-MAC Regular season champions and earned the No. 2 seed in the 2014 MAC Tournament. Toledo finished the season ranked No. 37 in the nation in RPI, and started the season off 12-0, with wins over Boston College, Arkansas State, Robert Morris and Cleveland State, before falling to then No. 16 Kansas (at the Allen Fieldhouse) by 10 points in the non-conference season finale. Toledo followed up by falling to WMU in the conference opener 87-76 on Jan . 8. UT had little trouble with the rest of the MAC schedule, though it did lose three more times, all in February.
Ohio outlasted UT 95-90 in overtime on Feb. 1 in Athens, then Eastern Michigan's stifling zone defense caught the Rockets off guard two weeks later, beating them 65-44 in the worst game of the Rockets season. UT fell one more time, to NIU, the conference's second-best defense, before getting revenge on EMU and WMU in the final weeks of the regular season and tying WMU for the MAC lead. The Rockets beat EMU for a second time in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament before falling to No. 1 seed Western Michigan in a lopsided MAC Championship game, 98-77.
Toledo features a high-octane full-court offense that is among the best in the nation. The Rockets averaged a shade under 80 points a game, good enough for 21st in the nation, and have four starters averaging double-figures. The team's offense is also among the most efficient in the nation, and led the MAC with an average field goal percentage of 46.7 percent. Toledo's defense is ultimately what did it in. The Rockets struggle to contain opponents and don't have much defense to speak of.
UT will face former Rockets PG Neil Watson, a Cross recruit.— Ryan Autullo (@AutulloBlade) March 17, 2014
Starting point-guard Juice Brown was named first-team All-MAC, while senior forward Rian Pearson snagged second-team honors. Junior guard Justin Drummond earned third-team honors and junior forward J.D. Weatherspoon earned honorable mention. Brown is a fantastic point guard with excellent court vision who at times struggles to shoot. Pearson is the swiss army knife of the team, capable of slashing through the lane, or stepping outside and draining a 3. Drummond is probably the most naturally gifted scorer on the team and is capable of lighting teams up from outside on any given night. Weatherspoon and sophomore center Nathan Boothe hold down a front court that averaged more than 20 points a game during the season, but was not incredibly defensive focused.
This is the eighth time in UT men's basketball history that the team has participated in the NIT. The Rockets last played in the tournament in 2007 losing in the first round to Florida State 77-61. Toledo is 5-8 all time in the tournament, but reached the Championship Game in 1943, falling to St. Johns.