NIT 2021: Updated Format, Latest Bracketology Predictions and Insight

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 11, 2021

Xavier's Zach Freemantle (32) and Dwon Odom (11) react after losing to Butler in overtime of an NCAA college basketball game in the Big East conference tournament Wednesday, March 10, 2021, in New York. Butler won 70-69. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

There have been 11 teams secure automatic bids to the 2021 NCAA men's basketball tournament so far, with 20 more set to do the same by Sunday.

Some programs don't have to worry about that, as they are already locks to at least receive at-large bids from the selection committee for March Madness. But there are quite a few teams on the bubble, and while some of them will push their way into the tourney, others will be left out. For those teams, it could mean they'll end up playing in the National Invitation Tournament later in March.

The NIT usually features some of the top teams that just miss out on March Madness. This year's tournament won't have the typical 32-team field, though, with only 16 taking part. Another change is that the entire NIT will be occurring in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

In past years, teams that win their conference's regular-season championships but not their conference tourney titles automatically receive invitations to the NIT. However, that won't be the case this year because of the smaller field, and there will only be at-large invites sent out.

Here's the full schedule for this year's NIT, followed by a breakdown of the most recent bracketology updates.


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


Latest Bracketology Predictions

Just because a bubble team doesn't make the NCAA men's basketball tournament doesn't necessarily mean they will play in the NIT. There have been teams in the past that have opted to decline their invitations and end their seasons without playing another postseason game.

However, bracketology projections can give us an early idea of which teams could end up playing in the NIT.

ESPN's Joe Lunardi has Utah State, Saint Louis, Xavier and Memphis as his first four teams out of the March Madness field. Xavier's resume took a hit Wednesday, when the Musketeers lost to Butler in overtime in the first round of the Big East tournament.

At one point this season, Xavier was 11-2 and off to a strong start in Big East play, winning four of its first six conference games. Since then, the Musketeers have lost six of their past eight games, which could have them destined for the NIT for the second time in three years.

Lunardi then projects Ole Miss, Duke, Seton Hall and St. John's as his "next four out." But Duke is doing everything it can to try to make its way into March Madness despite having had a down season.

The Blue Devils ended the regular season with an 11-11 record and a 9-9 mark in ACC play. However, they have started strong in the conference tournament, beating Boston College 86-51 in the first round Tuesday and notching a 70-56 victory over Louisville in the second round Wednesday.

If Duke can upset Florida State in the quarterfinals Thursday, it could be on its way to the Big Dane. If not, the Blue Devils may end up playing in the NIT for the first time since 1981.

Jerry Palm of CBS Sports had Saint Louis, Syracuse, Ole Miss and Utah State as his first four teams out of the men's NCAA tournament. However, because his projections hadn't been updated after Xavier's loss Wednesday, that could change considering the Musketeers were one of his last four teams in.

Scott Gleeson of USA Today had similar bubble projections Wednesday morning, with St. John's, Utah State, Syracuse and Saint Louis his first four teams out. He had SMU, Memphis, Seton Hall and Duke as his next four teams out.

With numerous conference tournaments still playing out over the coming days, it's possible bubble projections could greatly change. Accordingly, it's tough to predict the teams that will end up in the NIT, especially because some programs may opt to decline.

It will be exciting to see how everything unfolds and how these bracket projections continue to change ahead of Selection Sunday.