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Thursday, March 31, 2011
W2W4: NIT championship game

By Kieran Darcy

Here are three things to watch in Thursday night's NIT championship game between Alabama (25-11) and Wichita State (28-8) at Madison Square Garden.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m., and the game will air on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com.

D UP! Expect a tight, relatively low-scoring affair on Thursday night. Alabama is one of the top defensive teams in the country -- ranked third in defensive field goal percentage (38.3), and seventh in points allowed per game (59.2). Wichita State is No. 53 in defensive field goal percentage (40.9), and No. 28 in points allowed (61.8) -- and the Shockers absolutely suffocated Washington State in their semifinal Tuesday night, holding the Cougars to a season-low 44 points, and holding star guard Klay Thompson to a season-low six.

BROADWAY SHOW: Both teams feature pretty balanced attacks offensively -- question is, who will step up on the big stage Thursday night? Alabama's JaMychal Green (15.6 ppg) had 22 points on 11-for-16 shooting against Colorado on Tuesday, before fouling out with 2:27 remaining -- can he stay out of foul trouble and have another big game? No one on Wichita State averages more than 11 points per game, but 7-foot junior Garrett Stutz came off the bench on Tuesday and had the best game of his career, with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Could he have a similar impact against an Alabama front line over which he'll have a definitive height advantage? Or, will someone else step up, for either team?

GLASS WORK: Wichita State is No. 6 in the country in rebounding margin, outboarding opponents by an average of 8.4 per game. And the Shockers destroyed Washington State on the glass Tuesday night, by a tally of 52 to 25. The Crimson Tide are a pretty good rebounding team themselves (No. 79, plus-3.0), but they must crash the boards on Thursday night -- if not, they're in trouble.

Both of these teams played very hard on Tuesday -- clearly winning the NIT means something to each of them. For Wichita State, it's the Shockers' first-ever NIT championship game. Alabama has been here once before, losing to Tulsa in the 2001 title game.

Alabama had a win over Kentucky, an NCAA Final Four participant, this season. Wichita State had very close losses to two other Final Four teams -- by four against UConn, and by one against VCU. These are two very good teams that will take the floor at the Garden on Thursday night. Enjoy the game.