NIT 2021: Eligible Teams, Tournament Format and Schedule

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 9, 2021

Mississippi coach Kermit Davis holds the ball as he talks to a referee during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Missouri on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

Last year, the men's college basketball season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. That meant many top conference tournaments weren't completed and March Madness was canceled.

Although the sports world isn't completely back to normal in 2021, this year's season will have a conclusion.

On Sunday, the 68-team field for the NCAA tournament will be set, with 31 teams having won automatic bids with a conference tournament championship and the other 37 receiving at-large bids from the selection committee.

For the teams that get left out, though, that may not be the end of their season.

The National Invitation Tournament is back this year, albeit with some changes. Instead of inviting 32 teams to compete, there will only be 16 in the 2021 field. And every game will take place in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at either Comerica Center in Frisco, Texas, or UNT Coliseum in Denton, Texas.

Here's a look at the full schedule for the upcoming NIT, followed by a preview of which teams could be in this year's event.


2021 NIT Schedule

Wednesday, March 17

First-round matchups, 7 and 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2


Thursday, March 18

First-round matchups, 7 and 9 p.m. ET, ESPN


Friday, March 19

First-round matchups, 7 and 9 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN2


Saturday, March 20

First-round matchups, noon and 5 p.m. ET, ESPN


Thursday, March 25

Quarterfinal matchups, 7 and 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

Quarterfinal matchups, 6 and 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2


Saturday, March 27

Semifinal matchups, noon and 3 p.m. ET, ESPN


Sunday, March 28

Championship game, noon ET, ESPN

Third-place game, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN


Potential Teams

If Duke misses out on the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995, would it accept an invitation to the NIT and add at least one more game to its season? That remains to be seen. But there's a strong chance the Blue Devils are going to receive that invite.

Typically, it's an easy decision for the NCAA tournament selection committee to put Duke in the 68-team field (assuming it doesn't win the ACC tourney championship). But this season, the Blue Devils are 11-11 heading into the ACC tournament, and they're the No. 10 seed after going 9-9 in conference play.

Duke opens the ACC tourney with a matchup against Boston College, but it will likely need at least a couple wins to convince the selection committee it's deserving of being in March Madness.

If the Blue Devils end up playing in the NIT, it would be their first appearance in the tournament since 1981, which was their first season under current coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Teams that win their conference's regular-season championship but end up missing the NCAA tournament are automatically invited to the NIT. This year, that list already includes Belmont (Ohio Valley Conference) and Texas State (Sun Belt).

The NIT will also likely send invitations to the best teams that just miss out on the NCAA tournament. So teams currently on the wrong side of the bubble watch could end up being the top seeds in the NIT.

Joe Lunardi of ESPN currently has Utah State, Saint Louis, Syracuse and Seton Hall as the first four teams out of the NCAA tournament, followed by Memphis, Ole Miss, SMU and St. John's. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has Saint Louis, Syracuse, Ole Miss and Utah State as the first four teams out.

So, if these teams don't force their way into March Madness, they could be heading to the NIT this year. But, of course, anything can happen in these conference tourneys, so the potential NIT field could look a lot different later this week and into the weekend.

Ole Miss could be a team to watch in the NIT if it ends up in the 16-team field. The Rebels have been playing well of late, winning seven of their past nine games, and they have some momentum heading into the SEC tournament, in which they're the No. 6 seed.

However, Ole Miss may have trouble trying to get past top SEC teams such as Alabama and Arkansas (or the teams right below them, like LSU and Tennessee). So, the Rebels may end up on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble and into the NIT for the first time since 2017.