While 68 teams square off for the NCAA tournament title in the biggest college basketball tournament of the season, 32 will vie for the less-publicized NIT Tournament Championship that culminates in New York City and Madison Square Garden.
Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, Southern Mississippi, Baylor and Alabama headline a group of March Madness snubs that are lucky enough to get a chance to play in this tournament, and each of those top seeds should be motivated to avoid getting snubbed again by losing to a lower seed.
Mid-majors Charlotte, Stony Brook, Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana Tech all made it to the NIT after strong seasons, and will also look to take this tournament title back to their school's trophy case by going 4-0 over the next couple of weeks.
Three of the four teams from last year's NIT Final Four (Stanford, Massachusetts and Washington) also received a bid and will participate in this year's tournament, scheduled to be hosted by the higher seed for the first three rounds and move to New York City after the last four teams remain.
The coverage is running rampant for the NCAA tournament (as expected), but don't fall asleep or fail to switch over to ESPN's family of networks to catch these teams that just missed the Big Dance. Highly motivated and with a chip on their shoulder, these 32 NIT squads can still put on a good show in March.
For a printable version of the NIT tournament bracket, click here (courtesy of NCAA.com).
2013 NIT Bracket Draw
Region 1 (Upper Left)
No. 1 Kentucky (21-11) vs. No. 8 Robert Morris (23-10)
No. 4 Providence (17-14) vs. No. 5 Charlotte (21-11)
No. 3 Arizona State (21-12) vs. No. 6 Detroit (20-12)
No. 2 Baylor (18-14) vs. No. 7 Long Beach State (19-13)
Region 2 (Upper Right)
No. 1 Alabama (21-12) vs. No. 8 Northeastern (20-12)
No. 4 Stanford (18-14) vs. No. 5 Stephen F. Austin (27-4)
No. 3 Denver (21-9) vs. No. 6 Ohio (24-9)
No. 2 Maryland (22-12) vs. No. 7 Niagara (19-13)
Region 3 (Lower Left)
No. 1 Southern Mississippi (25-9) vs. No. 8 Charleston Southern (19-13)
No. 4 Florida State (18-15) vs. No. 5 Louisiana Tech (26-6)
No. 3 BYU (21-11) vs. No. 6 Washington (18-15)
No. 2 Tennessee (20-12) vs. No. 7 Mercer (23-11)
Region 4 (Lower Right)
No. 1 Virginia (21-11) vs. No. 8 Norfolk State (21-11)
No. 4 Saint Joseph's (18-13) vs. No. 5 Saint John's (NY) (16-15)
No. 3 Iowa (21-12) vs. No. 6 Indiana State (18-14)
No. 2 Massachusetts (21-11) vs. No. 7 Stony Brook (24-7)
Teams to Watch
Freshman phenoms worked last year for the Wildcats in the 2012 NCAA Tournament (Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), taking John Calipari and the team all the way to its 8th national championship.
This season was the flip side of that strategy.
Plagued by inconsistent play from freshmen Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein while also dealing with the loss of center Nerlens Noel to injury, Kentucky appeared poised to earn an NCAA tournament bid with a late-season SEC win over Florida.
However, its hopes were dashed after an embarrassing 10-point loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament. Which Kentucky team will show up? The good one has a chance to win the entire tournament, the bad one has a chance to lose to Robert Morris in Round 1 (which will host Kentucky because of an NCAA tournament scheduling issue with Adolph Rupp Arena).
Like Kentucky, the Terps have the talent (Dez Wells and Alex Len) to contend with any team in the country. They didn't, though, on a game-to-game basis, and the double-digit losses cement the fact that they had trouble focusing in the ACC.
However, the Terps were playing their best basketball of the season as the ACC came to a close, managed to beat Duke twice this year and came within 3 points (vs. North Carolina) of making it to the ACC tournament title game (which might have earned them a spot in the Big Dance).
As it is, Mark Turgeon's squad has a lot to prove—and it starts with proving it to each other. The flashes of brilliance Maryland has shown will have to be on full display to get out of a region that includes Alabama, Stanford and Denver.
Led by marksman Dwayne Davis, the Golden Eagles are fuming mad about not getting an NCAA tournament bid.
Davis, who averages over 16 points a game and shoots 43 percent from the three-point line, headlines a group of Golden Eagles that had the highest RPI (31) of any team that did not make the tournament.
Sure, the biggest wins of the season included Denver and UTEP but Southern Miss took Memphis to overtime in the Conference-USA title game and played Arizona, New Mexico State and Wichita State (all NCAA tournament teams) within 10 points before eventually losing.
If there's a No. 1 seed that you should be worried about coming in pissed off and ready to take it out on someone, it's Southern Mississippi. A team that refuses to quit, the Golden Eagles have broken the 100-point mark twice this season and have six guys that score more than eight points per game.
Louisiana Tech had a case at the Big Dance without winning the Western Athletic Conference tournament, but a loss to UTSA in the quarterfinals paved the way for New Mexico State to earn the WAC's bid to March Madness.
The Bulldogs don't have a very complete tournament resume, but they are fun to watch and went on an 18-game winning streak before faltering to a three-game losing streak to close out the 2012-13 regular season.
Refreshed from a layoff of about a week, the Bulldogs draw Florida State in the first round of the NIT. If the Bulldogs show they can hang with a team from a power conference, don't be surprised if Southern Miss (who Louisiana Tech beat earlier this season) starts to sweat a little bit in the Round of 16.
Players to Watch
G Pierre Jackson, Baylor
What's not to like about Pierre Jackson?
Scouts say size, but I love his tough demeanor, ability to step up and knock down clutch shots at any moment and his ability to get other teammates open.
Jackson averages 19.8 points and 6.5 assists per game while shooting 43 percent from the field. He's the veteran leader of a Bear team that has comically underachieved this season, and gets to play with athletes Isaiah Austin (poor man's Anthony Davis) and Cory Jefferson when he attacks the paint.
Jackson reminds me of Orlando Magic guard Jameer Nelson, and he can make one final push to impress NBA scouts in game action by pushing the Bears to Madison Square Garden with his play.
G Joe Harris, Virginia
Speaking of talented guards, Joe Harris of Virginia is one of the best in the nation.
He put himself on the map statistically with a 16.9 points-per-game regular season, highlighted by 36 points against Duke in Virginia's upset win over the Blue Devils.
Harris has size (6'6", 223) and body control that makes scouts drool, and he's a sneaky pick to move up draft boards with a good performance. Additionally, the Cavaliers rely on his playmaking and leadership to win games.
Virginia has lost three of its last four since that win over Duke, and Harris has struggled (17-of-47) since then. He needs to get back in a good shooting groove for the Cavaliers to emerge from their portion of the bracket.
F Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
Jordan McRae is Tennessee's leading scorer, but a highly-motivated Stokes has been a scary thing in the SEC.
Stokes averages a near-double-double (12.3 points, 9.5 rebounds) and does so despite only getting roughly 7-10 shots per game. The Vols work more outside-in than the opposite, but they have a low-post threat in Stokes that works extremely hard on the glass.
Look for Tennessee to try and establish its big man early on in this tournament. A matchup between Stokes and BYU's Brandon Davies would be one of the better one-on-one matchups of the second round, assuming both teams can make it that far.
G C.J. Wilcox, Washington
Like former Washington guards that have moved on to the NBA before him (Terrence Ross, Brandon Roy, Tony Wroten, Isaiah Thomas), Wilcox has had a strong season for the Huskies, scoring 16.7 points per game and adding 4.4 rebounds, at that.
He has tapered off after a strong start to the regular season, but will have to play an efficient game to get past No. 3 BYU and the talented guards that it employs.
Washington had a rough go in the Pac-12 this season, but has the kind of big-game experience that should make for an interesting first-round game against the Cougars in which Wilcox needs to show up and play his best basketball.
NIT Bracket Predictions
No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 1 Southern Mississippi
No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 3 Iowa
No. 1 Southern Mississippi vs. No. 2 Maryland
Remember, for a complete look at the 2013 NIT tournament bracket, check out NCAA.com's printable version. For dates, times and television information, refer to the listings on the actual bracket.
NCAA Tournament fans: Stay up-to-date with March Madness by following along with the live tournament bracket, and by printing out a PDF of this year's draw. Make your picks for the 2013 NCAA Tournament here with the Bracket Challenge Game.