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Three things to know before IU men’s basketball plays Saint Francis in the NIT



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Senior forward Evan Fitzner watches the ball after Ohio State shoots a free throw March 14 during the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament in Chicago. Ty Vinson Buy Photos

Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall is set to be the venue for a National Invitational Tournament game for the first time in 14 years.

After declining to play a 2017 NIT game at home as a higher seed, IU will look take full advantage of its No. 1 seed in the 2019 NIT.

The Hoosiers begin play in their sixth NIT at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Assembly Hall. IU’s opponent is No. 8 seed Saint Francis University.

Based in Loretto, Pennsylvania, Saint Francis competes in the Northeast Conference and won the regular season title with a 16-13 overall record and a 12-6 mark in conference games. Saint Francis had a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament as an automatic qualifier by winning the NEC Tournament, but lost the championship game at home to Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Here are three things to know before the Hoosiers and Red Flash play each other for the first time.

1. The last NIT game in Bloomington was forgettable for IU.

Mike Davis’ penultimate season as IU head coach during the 2004-05 season ended with a first-round home loss in the NIT. IU lost its lone game of the 2005 tournament to Vanderbilt University in front of a record-low crowd of 5,113 people in Assembly Hall.

In the 2019 version of the NIT, Assembly Hall could be the site for as many as three games. IU would play at home for the first three rounds of the NIT, assuming the team advances, before the semifinals and final, which will be played April 2 and 4 respectively at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

IU’s last appearance in the NIT was two years ago. Six players from that 2016-17 team, including forwards senior Juwan Morgan and junior De’Ron Davis, are on this season’s roster.

“We all know what we have to accomplish,” Morgan said. “We just have to echo that to the young guys.”

Conversely, this is Saint Francis’ first NIT since 1958.

2. There are several rule changes for this season’s NIT.

There are four rule modifications for the 2019 NIT.

Those changes include the 3-point line being extended by about 20 inches to the same distance used internationally by the International Basketball Federation and the free-throw lane being widened from 12 feet to 16 feet, the same width as NBA games.

“Players won't even realize it,” IU Head Coach Archie Miller said.

Additionally, after an offensive rebound the shot clock will reset to 20 seconds instead of 30, and team fouls will reset at the 10-minute mark of each half.

Miller said those two rule adjustments are something both his team and fellow coaches will have to be mindful of during NIT games.

3. IU is considered a heavy favorite for Tuesday night’s game.

The end of season statistical metrics for Saint Francis are not good. The Red Flash finished No. 261 out of 353 Division I teams in the Ken Pomeroy rankings and failed to beat a team in the top 200 of the rankings.

KenPom has the Hoosiers listed as a 20-point favorite for the game, but there are still dangers posed by the Red Flash.

Saint Francis junior guard Keith Braxton is the NEC Player of the Year and leads the team with 16.2 points per game. One of his backcourt teammates, senior guard Jamaal King, is the team’s second-leading scorer with 15.4 points per game. The two players are the only ones in Red Flash history to rank in the top 10 in both career scoring and assists.

“There’s two types of teams in postseason play,” Miller said. “There’s one that’s excited to keep playing, there’s one that’s, whether it be down or out or not as excited. Those teams get eliminated very fast.”

Tuesday night’s game will be broadcast on ESPN with Dave Feldman and Dan Dakich commentating.

All seating in the main and balcony levels will be general admission. Tickets are free for students and parking is free for all NIT games played at Assembly Hall.

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