The NIT semifinals at MSG: A preview

Last week, three top-25 teams called Madison Square Garden home for two nights in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. This week two more top-25 teams are in town, along with two other quality squads, as part of the NIT Season Tip-Off at MSG.

I'll be at both semifinal games Wednesday night -- here are three items on each game:


HIGH SPEED: This game will almost certainly be played at a fast pace -- meaning it will be fun to watch. Tennessee likes to go up and down, and VCU employs a full-court press. Both teams are 3-0 -- Tennessee got to the semis by surviving Missouri State 60-56, while VCU overwhelmed Wake Forest 90-69.

WHO TO WATCH: On Tennessee, freshman Tobias Harris -- from Dix Hills on Long Island -- is off to a great start, leading the Volunteers in scoring at 16.3 points per game, and also averaging 5.3 rebounds. The 6-foot-8, 226-pound forward and McDonald's High School All-American has already been named the SEC Freshman of the Week. On VCU, keep an eye on Joey Rodriguez -- the 5-foot-10 senior point guard is averaging 18.3 points, 10.3 assists (leads the nation) and 2 steals per game, while shooting 48 percent from 3-point range.

DISTRACTION? This will be Tennessee's first game since the SEC announced that Vols coach Bruce Pearl will be suspended for the team's first eight conference games this season, for recruiting violations and misleading NCAA investigators. Pearl will be on the bench Wednesday night, but we'll see if the all the turmoil affects his players, who face a tough game against a team picked to finish second in the Colonial Athletic Association by Blue Ribbon.


CONTRAST OF STYLES: Villanova (4-0) likes to play fast -- the Wildcats are averaging 80 points per game, and their average margin of victory this season is 28.5 points (albeit against Bucknell, Marist, Boston U. and Lafayette). UCLA (3-0) will try to keep the score down and rely on its defense -- in the Bruins' last game, a 57-44 win over Pacific, they limited their opponents to 25 percent shooting from the field. Under coach Ben Howland, UCLA is 80-3 when holding its opponent under 60 points.

WHO TO WATCH: With Scottie Reynolds gone, Corey Fisher is now the main man for Nova. The 6-foot-1 Bronx native -- who made waves in the offseason by scoring 105 points in a summer league game -- is averaging 16.5 points and 4 assists per game for the Wildcats. For UCLA, 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Reeves Nelson has led the Bruins in scoring in each of the team's first three games -- he is averaging 19.3 points per game. He's also averaging 9.7 rebounds.

LOCAL PRODUCE: Besides Fisher, there are several other players on the Villanova roster with New York/New Jersey roots. Starting guard Corey Stokes (12.5 ppg) is from Bayonne; starting forward Antonio Pena (10.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg) is from Brooklyn; and reserve guard Dominic Cheek (7.8 ppg) is from Jersey City.