Monday, March 7, 2022

Crucial NIT Games In Major Conference Tournaments

While No. 1 seeds losing in their conference tournaments creates automatic bids to the NIT, the at-large bids that are earned during the second week of Championship Fortnight are typically found in major conference tournaments. The opening rounds offer some intriguing games. Here's a look at all the ones I'll be keeping my eye on.

(Want to see where these teams stand? Check out my current NIT bracket.)

Big Ten Tournament

Northwestern needs to beat Nebraska and Iowa in order to have any chance at making the NIT, considering the Wildcats are currently 14-15 overall. The chances of that seem slim. Maryland is in a similar situation of needing to go at least 2-1, but the Terrapins made it even harder on themselves by finishing 10th in the league standings. The Terrapins would have to beat Michigan St. and Wisconsin to start thinking about the NIT.

The big game though is on Thursday at 11:30 am ET. Indiana and Michigan will play a contest that will likely decide IU's NCAA Tournament fate. A win there and the Hoosiers will have a chance. A loss and they're destined for the NIT. Michigan has a little more breathing room, especially after beating Ohio St. to close the regular season, but the Wolverines would feel much safer with a win.

That's about it from the Big Ten unless Rutgers ends up having to play Nebraska. (Or what people in the New Jersey area are calling the "nightmare scenario".)

Pac-12 Tournament

The 8-9 game to open the tournament on Wednesday is a huge one for the NIT bubble, as Stanford needs a win against Arizona St. in order to stay in consideration for a spot in the tournament. The next game features Oregon, which is likely playing for NIT seeding unless the Ducks make a deep tournament run. If Oregon was to beat Oregon St. in the 5-12 game the Ducks would advance to take on Colorado in a game with all sorts of NIT seeding implications (though I think Colorado would be safe even with a loss).

On the other side of the bracket, Washington St. has to beat Cal in order to have any chance of making the NIT. The Cougars just can't afford another bad loss and the Golden Bears are 143rd in the current NET rankings. A win means WSU gets to play UCLA and a win there would be a huge boost to any NIT hopes.

SEC Tournament

Vanderbilt opens the SEC tournament against Georgia. The Commodores have to win in order to finish the season with an above .500 record, which still appears to be a baseline requirement for NIT consideration. Vandy would then get to play Alabama on Thursday, which would be another chance for a statement win.

Thursday's noon opener is the 8-9 game between Texas A&M and Florida. That game is essentially an NCAA bubble buster game. Neither team can likely play their way into the Big Dance with just that win, but they can definitely play their way out of the NCAA Tournament and into the NIT. South Carolina takes on Mississippi St. in the 7-10 game at 6 pm that same day. While I think both of those teams are most likely safe even with a loss, the winner could lock up a home game in the NIT.

Big 12 Tournament

Even going 2-1 to get to .500 is probably not going to be enough for West Virginia to make the NIT after going 4-14 in the Big 12, but it's their best shot. The opportunity starts with the 8-9 game on Wednesday night against Kansas State. The only other game of relevance to the NIT bracket is Oklahoma's opener against Baylor on Thursday at 6 pm. If the Sooners win that they could be a serious NCAA at-large contender. If OU loses they'll probably get a nice NIT seed for their efforts.

Big East Tournament

Xavier probably can't afford a loss to Butler in the tournament opener at 4:30 pm on Wednesday afternoon. Otherwise the Musketeers, and their rather uninspiring profile, will most likely be dancing. St. John's follows in the 7-10 game against DePaul. The Red Storm have to win that game in order to stay in NIT contention. Theoretically the Blue Demons — who are 101st in NET — could also try and get into the NIT picture, but it would likely take a deep-ish run at Madison Square Garden. The only other real game of note is Creighton's opener against Marquette. But are the Blue Jays really going to get left out of the NCAA Tournament because they lost to the Golden Eagles?

Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament

First off, the ACC Tournament starts on Tuesday! Just a reminder. The biggest game on the first day? Clemson versus N.C. State. The Tigers are 16-15 and 86th in the NET, but have as many Q3/4 losses as Q1/2 wins (4 each). A loss to the Wolfpack and there's no chance. A win though sets up an intriguing matchup against a Virginia Tech team that the Tigers just beat to close the regular season. The Hokies need to win that game on Wednesday and the next one against Notre Dame to have any hope of making the NCAA Tournament. Of course, the Irish have a sneakily light profile for being the No. 2 seed in the ACC, and should probably win that game as well. The other team to watch at the bottom of the bracket is Virginia. The Cavaliers will get a useless game against either Louisville or Georgia Tech before taking on North Carolina. Beating Duke probably sealed UNC's NCAA fate, while UVA needs a big run in Brooklyn to get into the NCAA picture.

The top of the bracket holds a bit less intrigue. The Syracuse-Florida St. 8-9 game at noon on Wednesday is the biggest one. Both teams are hanging around the NIT bubble. Though Syracuse needs to go 2-1 in the tournament, which would mean beating Duke, in order to get to .500 overall. The Seminoles are in a much safer position at 17-13, but a loss would come at a time when they don't have much margin for error. Wake Forest's NCAA profile can't afford a loss to either Boston College or Georgia Tech, but the next game against Miami FL would only offer upside.

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