I have told this story to friends before, but it bears repeating as we roll into a week when both Ole Miss and Mississippi State are playing in the NIT.
It was in the 1990s, and I was waiting for a flight at DC's National Airport. There was a men's basketball team there, waiting for a flight to take it on to an NIT first-round game. Just looking at the body language of that team as the players got up and trudged to the boarding gate, you could just tell they did not want to be there.
I went back to the office and told some friends I was certain that team was going to lose. And it did.
There's the challenge for many of the coaches whose teams are in the NIT field who thought they belonged in the NCAAs. Having been snubbed, will they play hard to prove the selection panel "wrong," or will they go through the motions?
On paper, both Mississippi State and Ole Miss look like favorites in their respective games, but that's mainly a function of being on home courts for the NIT openers. The art of coaching will be to get those teams ready to play, perhaps in gyms that are not as enthusiastic as for some recent SEC games.
As a No. 2 seed in its bracket, Ole Miss would have another home game if it beats Illinois State, entertaining the Stanford-Cleveland State winner. If it's Stanford, that would appear to be a tossup on paper, with a slight edge to the home team.
Arizona is the top seed in the Ole Miss bracket.
Mississippi State, as a No. 4 seed, would have to travel to top-seeded Seton Hall if both win first-round games. The Bulldogs would be 5-point underdogs at Seton Hall.