By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Madison Square Garden (19,763) -- New York, New York. Television: ESPN. NIT Record: Iowa 9-6, Baylor 8-4. Series Record: Iowa leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: Two teams on an obvious roll collide at Madison Square Garden on Thursday evening, as the Iowa Hawkeyes and Baylor Bears square off with the 2013 National Invitation Tournament title on the line.
This will be just the second meeting in history between these schools. Iowa defeated the Bears, 67-44, on Dec. 2, 1983, in the first round of the Hawkeye Invitational in Iowa City.
Iowa has won seven of its last eight games heading into the championship round. Coach Fran McCaffery's squad downed Indiana State, Stony Brook and Virginia by double-digit margins in its first three games of the NIT. Iowa then coasted to a 71-60 victory over Maryland in the semifinals on Tuesday. The Hawkeyes' last loss was a hard-fought, 59-56 battle with Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa's win over the Terps improved them to 3-2 all- time at Madison Square Garden.
Roy Devyn Marble has been the go-to-guy for Iowa down the stretch. The junior swingman is averaging 24.3 points and 4.9 assists per contest so far during the NIT. He has hit on 50 percent of his field goal tries in each of his last three games and is coming off a 21-point, nine-rebound performance in the semifinal win over Maryland. Eric May contributed 12 points and five assists, while Aaron White made 8-of-10 from the foul line for 10 points. The Hawkeyes were very controlled offensively as they committed just eight turnovers in the victory. White is the second leading scorer (13.2) and top rebounder (5.9) on the season. Iowa has just one scholarship senior on its roster, so its late- season surge is building some optimism for the future.
Baylor has made its journey to the championship game behind the strong play of senior point guard Pierre Jackson. The floor general has scored in double figures in 42 of his last 43 games and led the Big 12 in scoring (19.8) and assists (6.5) this year. No player from a power six conference has led their league in points and assists since Arizona's Jason Terry led the Pac-12 in both in the 1998-99 campaign. Scott Drew's Bears have beaten Long Beach State (112-66), Arizona State (89-86), Providence (79-68) and BYU (76-70) during their NIT run.
Against the Cougars, Jackson produced a double-double with 24 points and 10 assists to keep Baylor's season alive. Cory Jefferson tallied 21 points for the Bears, who have averaged 89 points per game in four tournament wins thus far. Isaiah Austin registered a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while A.J. Walton added 10 points. Austin is an NBA prospect due to his rare combination of shooting touch and 7-foot frame. Jefferson has scored 21 points or more in each of his last three games. He has shown tremendous improvement this season, raising his scoring average from 3.6 ppg as a sophomore to 13.0 ppg. Walton is a strong on-ball defender who will be given the task of slowing down Marble.
The Bears have an athletic edge which should help them defensively against Iowa. Their forward tandem of Jefferson and Austin has helped Jackson find open lanes and rack up assists. Iowa is going to be very tough to beat as Marble seems unstoppable at this point.