This year, the National Invitation Tournament has a different vibe surrounding it.
The NIT is still a secondary tournament for those teams that did not make the Big Dance. It still features 32 teams. Some may even skip out despite an invitation.
But changes to how seeding works and rule changes that impact the future of college basketball as a whole go into effect as those 32 teams fight for postseason footing and a chance to play on a grand stage in Madison Square Garden.
Selection Sunday houses the NIT Selection Show, too. Until then, when all comes to light, let's take a look at the must-know information and the details that make this year's spectacle a must-see event.
2015 Men's NIT Selection Show
When: Sunday, March 15, 2015
Start Time (ET): 8:30 p.m.
2015 NIT Men's Early Schedule Info
|March 17-18||First-Round Games|
|March 20-23||Second-Round Games|
|March 24-25||Quarterfinal Games|
|April 2||NIT Championship|
|NCAA.com (times/TV info not yet available)|
Let's cut right to it—the rule changes.
This is a whopper. In theory, if all goes well, these changes will at some point make their way into the permanent rulebook, impacting both the regular season and Big Dance.
The most important is an alteration to the shot clock. Gone is the sometimes-tedious 35-second clock in favor of one reduced by five seconds. It sounds minimal, but ball-control offense becomes more difficult, and five seconds per possession means more opportunities for each team to touch the ball.
NCAA Vice President of Men's Basketball Championships Dan Gavitt says the NIT serves as the perfect testing ground for the drastic change, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com):
Without actually implementing it in a game, you're just talking about it in theory. By actually putting it in a game with good teams, great coaches, competitive situations over a three-week time period, you'll actually get results and data that can either verify some of your theories or dispute them.
Again, a whole five seconds shaved off each possession bumps the tempo of the game, which might lead to even higher point totals.
The new seed format is worth a serious gander, too. In past years, the first few teams to miss out on the Big Dance would land as No. 1 seeds in the NIT by sheer coincidence.
Now, those teams are a lock. Adam Zagoria of SNY provides the details:
Call it the best the NCAA can do for those heartbroken teams that watch their bubbles burst on Selection Sunday in the most brutal of fashions.
Remember, seed decides where the first three rounds of the NIT take place. Grabbing a No. 1 seed and playing at home is a big deal.
As things stand now, it's impossible to know which teams will take part in the NIT.
For some, it's a disappointment. Murray State seems a lock, as does Iona, as Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports points out:
This doesn't mean those teams won't come out motivated and gun for the title, but it's a disappointment nonetheless.
Look at Iona. A popular bracket-busting pick out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the Gaels missed the automatic bid by way of a 79-69 upset loss at the hands of Manhattan.
Instead of busting brackets in the Big Dance, a team with a pair of elite scorers in A.J. English (19.9 points per game) and David Laury (19.6) instead figures to only make the NIT. Now, it'll put on a show in the 32-team field—even more so with more chances to score thanks to a reduced shot clock—but it was not the desired end result.
For others, the NIT is that desire.
Take the SEC tournament, for example. There, Vanderbilt (19-12) and Tennessee (15-15) meet in the first round. As Don DeVoe, an NIT selection committee member, tells Adam Sparks of The Tennessean, it's a pseudo-elimination game.
"Well, if Tennessee doesn't win the game, that certainly hinders their chances," DeVoe said. "Without saying anymore, if you have a losing record—and we've never ever selected a team with a losing record for the NIT—it stands to reason we probably wouldn't do it this time."
The same goes for a team such as Oregon State in the deep Pac-12, a conference that slots six teams ahead of the Beavers in the standings.
First-year coach Wayne Tinkle's team is as intriguing as it gets, with no seniors on the roster and led by a recognizable name in one Gary Payton II (13.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists).
If the young team doesn't hit on a strong run in the Pac-12 tournament, though, even its NIT bubble figures to burst. Guard Langston Morris-Walker details what the NIT means to a young team such as the Beavers:
"It'd mean a lot to me," Morris-Walker said, per The Oregonian's Connor Letourneau. "I have never played in a tournament like that. The NIT is not an easy tournament anymore, so that'd definitely be an accomplishment for us. It'd be just a great way to build for next year."
The NIT is both a letdown and a goal depending on a team's situation.
This year, it's only a viewing goal for fans as widespread changes to the selection process and basic rules of the game will provide some interesting test results that may bleed to the broader sport as a whole.
Stats and info are courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.