Baylor and Iowa are both a long way from New York City.
They’re also both one win away from an NIT title.
Neither team has won this tournament before. The Bears and Hawkeyes are trying to make history, and finish their seasons on a winning note.
Baylor advanced first, defeating BYU 76-70 in the first game of Tuesday night's doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. The Bears led by just two at halftime, and three with just under five minutes remaining, before Pierre Jackson scored seven straight points to help Baylor pull away.
The electrifying 5-foot-10 senior scored a game-high 24 points -- 15 of them coming in the second half -- and also had 10 assists. "Pierre is like a time bomb," said Baylor coach Scott Drew. "You just wait for him to go off. He had a nice spurt there and that gave us a cushion."
Iowa won the nightcap, taking a 14-point first-half lead against Maryland, and then holding off a Terrapins rally in the second half to win 71-60. Junior forward Roy Devyn Marble scored a game-high 21 points, and nine of the 10 Hawkeyes who got into the game also got into the scoring column.
"I thought one of the keys to the game was how we came out, in particular with Dev offensively," said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. "We got into a flow early, and then the same thing late, kept everything going."
What we're left with is a championship game in midtown Manhattan between schools from Waco, Texas and Iowa City, Iowa -- 1,627 and 995 miles away, respectively.
It's also a matchup between one of the best offensive teams in the country and one of the best defensive teams. Baylor entered Tuesday night's game ranked 21st in the nation in scoring, at 76 points per contest. Iowa was ranked 18th in defensive field goal percentage, at 38.8.
Makes for an intriguing matchup Thursday night at MSG.
Both these teams dealt with disappointment this year. Baylor was picked to finish second in the Big 12, but ended up in sixth. Iowa finished ahead of Illinois and Minnesota in the Big Ten standings, yet those schools went to the Big Dance, while the Hawkeyes were left out.
Nevertheless, Baylor and Iowa are two of the last college teams still in action in the first week of April. And the players sound pumped up about it.
"It feels good. We've got one more," said Jackson. "If we win on Thursday, I’ll probably be shaking because I’m too excited."
"It means a lot to me and the team and our program," said Marble. "A lot of teams look down upon [the NIT] because they didn't get into the other tournament, but we just looked at it as another opportunity to win a championship."