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NIT 2018: Complete Bracket, 1st-Round Schedule and Teams to Watch

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 12, 2018

SOUTH BEND, IN - FEBRUARY 28: TJ Gibbs Jr. #10 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish drives to the basket against Shamiel Stevenson #23 of the Pittsburgh Panthers at Purcell Pavilion on February 28, 2018 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The programs that experienced the heartbreak of missing out on the NCAA men's basketball tournament take the court for the first round of the National Invitation Tournament on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Notre Dame, USC, Baylor and Saint Mary's earned the four No. 1 seeds in the 32-team bracket that is split into four groups of eight teams.

The first three rounds of the competition are played at the home of the higher seed, with one exception coming in the first round as Boise State's court is prepared for the opening weekend of the Big Dance.

This week's first-round action will show which teams recovered from the emotional hangover the best and who is best equipped to fight for a trip to Madison Square Garden for the NIT Final Four.

           

1st-Round Schedule (All Times ET)

Tuesday, March 13

No. 8 Wagner at No. 1 Baylor (7 p.m., ESPN2)

No. 7 Northern Kentucky at No. 2 Louisville (7 p.m., ESPN)

No. 6 Vermont at No. 3 Middle Tennessee (8 p.m. ESPNU)

No. 5 Boston College at No. 4 Western Kentucky (8 p.m.)

No. 8 Hampton at No. 1 Notre Dame (9 p.m., ESPN)

No. 7 Florida Gulf Coast at No. 2 Oklahoma State (9 p.m., ESPN2)

No. 8 Southeastern Louisiana at No. 1 Saint Mary's (10 p.m., ESPNU)

No. 6 Rider at No. 3 Oregon (10 p.m.)

No. 8 UNC Asheville at No. 1 USC (11 p.m., ESPN2)

        

Wednesday, March 14

No. 7 Harvard at No. 2 Marquette (7 p.m., ESPN2)

No. 6 Louisiana at No. 3 LSU (7 p.m.)

No. 5 Temple at No. 4 Penn State (8 p.m., ESPNU)

No. 5 Nebraska at No. 4 Mississippi State (9 p.m., ESPN2)

No. 7 UC Davis at No. 2 Utah (9 p.m.)

No. 6 BYU at No. 3 Stanford (10 p.m., ESPNU)

No. 4 Boise State at No. 5 Washington (10 p.m.)

*All games can be live-streamed on WatchESPN)

            

Teams to Watch

Notre Dame

If Rhode Island had defeated Davidson in the Atlantic 10 tournament final, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish would have been in the field of 68 for the NCAA tournament, per The Athletic's Nicole Auerbach:

Nicole Auerbach @NicoleAuerbach

Notre Dame got knocked out of the NCAA tournament by Davidson today.

Instead, Mike Brey's team hosts Hampton in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday at the Joyce Center.

The matchup with the MEAC regular-season champion could be hard to get up for after suffering the disappointment of missing out on the Big Dance.

If the Fighting Irish approach the NIT in the proper manner, they have the potential to win the tournament with a healthy Bonzie Colson in the fold.

The return of Colson at the end of the regular season spurred a late push for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, as the Irish advanced to the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament before falling to Duke.

Colson recorded a double-digit point total in the five games he returned for, including a 24-point performance against Virginia to close out the regular season.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

The senior forward isn't the only star on the Notre Dame roster, as Matt Farrell and T.J. Gibbs are key contributors who could lead Notre Dame to the NIT Final Four.

In order to achieve that goal, the Fighting Irish have to come out strong on Tuesday and avoid a letdown like they almost suffered in their ACC tournament opener against Pittsburgh.

              

Middle Tennessee

Instead of sliding into the role of Cinderella for the third consecutive season in March Madness, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders are a No. 3 seed in the NIT.

Kermit Davis' team appeared to be on track to clinch a spot in the field of 68, but it slipped up in the Conference USA tournament quarterfinals to Southern Miss.

A defeat to surprise Conference USA tournament champion Marshall in their regular-season finale set the Blue Raiders back as well.

Middle Tennessee wasn't handed a favorable first-round draw in the NIT, as it hosts No. 6 Vermont, who won the America East regular-season title.

Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

Both the Blue Raiders and Catamounts were seen as programs capable of pulling off upsets in the NCAA tournament, but neither could avoid losses to lower seeds in their respective conference tournaments.

Nick King is the star on the Blue Raiders, as he averages 21.1 points per game, while Giddy Potts is no slouch either with 13 points per contest.

With tournament experience from the last two years under their belts, the Blue Raiders will attempt a run to Madison Square Garden, a trip they will have to earn with Louisville and Baylor being the top-two seeds in their bracket.

             

Penn State

If you're looking for an under-the-radar power-conference team looking to set itself up for next season with success in the NIT, Penn State is perfect for you.

The Nittany Lions surprised everyone with an appearance in the Big Ten tournament semifinals following a quarterfinal win over Ohio State.

Sophomores Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens are stars on the rise, and they should gain more traction on the national level next season.

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

As for this season, Carr and Stevens, who are the team's top two scorers, have a chance to make a statement alongside senior Shep Garner, who helped the Nittany Lions improve immensely in the first years of Pat Chambers' tenure as head coach.

Penn State proved throughout February it is capable of stringing together consecutive wins, as it won four games in a row from February 3-15.

With the momentum gained from the Big Ten tournament behind them, the Nittany Lions should defeat Temple in the first round before challenging Notre Dame in the second round.

           

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90

Statistics obtained from ESPN.com

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