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NIT Tournament Bracket 2015: Complete 1st-Round Predictions and More

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2015

Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright points during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Cincinnati in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament, Friday, March 13, 2015, in Hartford, Conn. UConn won 57-54. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Jessica Hill/Associated Press

There was plenty of angst on Selection Sunday, as teams with questionable resumes, like UCLA, somehow made it into the NCAA tournament field while perhaps more-deserving squads, such as Colorado State, were left out.

That may be tough to swallow for those whose bubbles popped, but the winner here is the NIT. After all, it gets to take the leftover teams after the Big Dance announced its field of 68, and there are plenty of intriguing matchups on tap as a result. 

With that in mind, here is a look at the entire bracket, via Matt Norlander of CBS Sports, as well as the first-round schedule, some predictions and the initial game to watch.

Matt Norlander @MattNorlander

For the hipsters out there, here’s the NIT field. http://t.co/zlHRloGd12

2015 NIT First-Round Schedule and Predictions

2015 NIT First-Round Schedule
DateMatchupTV InfoPredicted Winner
Tuesday, March 17
7 p.m.Rhode Island vs. IonaESPNUIona
7 p.m.Miami (FL) vs. North Carolina CentralESPN2Miami
7 p.m.Pittsburgh vs. George WashingtonESPNPittsburgh
7:30 p.m.Louisiana Tech vs. Central MichiganESPN3Louisiana Tech
8:15 p.m.Tulsa vs. William & MaryESPN3Tulsa
9 p.m.Illinois vs. AlabamaESPNIllinois
9 p.m.Murray State vs. UTEPESPN2Murray State
9 p.m.Texas A&M vs. MontanaESPNUTexas A&M
11 p.m.Stanford vs. UC DavisESPN2Stanford
Wednesday, March 18
7 p.m.Temple vs. BucknellESPN3Temple
7 p.m.Connecticut vs. Arizona StateESPN2Connecticut
7:15 p.m.Old Dominion vs. Charleston SouthernESPN3Old Dominion
7:30 p.m.Richmond vs. St. FrancisESPN3Richmond
8 p.m.Illinois State vs. Green BayESPNUGreen Bay
9 p.m.Saint Mary's vs. VanderbiltESPN2Saint Mary's
10 p.m.Colorado State vs. South Dakota StateESPNUColorado State
ESPN.com

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Printable NIT bracket is also available on NCAA.comAll NIT games will be available to live stream at WatchESPN.

Intriguing First-Round Matchup to Watch: UConn vs. Arizona State

Fred Beckham/Associated Press

The most exciting part of the NCAA tournament is when lower seeds from smaller conferences pull upsets over brand-name schools. However, when two power-conference programs meet up in the NIT, it makes the contest feel a bit more important than it may have otherwise.

That is exactly the case here, as the defending national champions, Connecticut, will take on Arizona State in the best first-round game of the NIT.

It has been a disappointing season for the Huskies considering they missed the tournament entirely after winning the championship last year. They lost to West Virginia, Texas, Yale and Duke within a five-game stretch during the nonconference portion of the schedule and never really bounced back during the rest of the season.

Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Connecticut showed some sparks of life down the stretch, though, when the team went all the way to the American Athletic Conference championship game before ultimately falling short against a dangerous SMU squad. 

Ryan Boatright has a championship pedigree and will look to carry over the momentum from the conference tournament run into the NIT. He averaged 17.4 points per game this season and was a one-man show during a dramatic comeback against Tulsa in the AAC semifinals, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Ryan Boatright scored 21 of Huskies 47 pts. Could UConn have found its new elite guard to go with Kemba & Shabazz? http://t.co/QMeX295unA

Boatright was a major part of last year's championship-winning team alongside Shabazz Napier, and he helped shut down the opposing guards throughout the Big Dance with lockdown defense. He will do the same during the NIT to put the exclamation mark on an impressive career.

If the Huskies are not only going to beat Arizona State but also win the entire NIT, they will need some help for Boatright.

That will come in the form of Rodney Purvis, who poured in 29 points in the AAC championship game against SMU when Boatright was dealing with an injury. Purvis averaged 11.4 points per game on the season, but he demonstrated his explosiveness by topping the 20-point mark in three different games.

That combination of Purvis and Boatright will be too much for Arizona State's defense to handle. After all, the Sun Devils finished No. 90 in the country in kenpom.com's pace-adjusted defensive efficiency rankings.

While Arizona State's defense was ugly in an 83-41 loss to Utah and a 73-49 loss to Arizona, the Sun Devils also managed to beat the Wildcats in the rematch, take Oregon to overtime and knock off UCLA. If they can play like they did in that magical victory over Arizona, then they can challenge the Huskies and perhaps earn a victory.

Matt York/Associated Press

Arizona State coach Herb Sendek discussed that win over Arizona in the aftermath, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com: "It's a great day for our guys. I'm so happy for these players."

Imagine how happy he will be if his players knock off Connecticut and go on to challenge for an NIT crown in Madison Square Garden.

If Arizona State is going to do just that, it will need a monster game from forward Savon Goodman, who is a double-double threat every time he takes the floor. He averaged 11 points with 7.1 rebounds per game this season and plays much taller than his 6'6" frame would suggest.

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

The Sun Devils will also need leading scorer Shaquielle McKissic to carry some of the offensive load. He averaged 12 points per game during the season and scored more than 20 in two of the team's final three contests.

Ultimately, Arizona State won't have enough answers for Boatright and Purvis. This Connecticut team is battle-tested, won a national championship last season and seemed to have turned the corner during the conference tournament. 

That spells trouble for the Sun Devils.

Prediction: Connecticut 81, Arizona State 75

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