While this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament is still going to be 68 teams, there's going to be less of an opportunity for teams that miss out on March Madness to continue their season. That's because the field for the National Invitation Tournament has been cut in half for 2021.
The NIT, which typically features many of the top teams left out of the NCAA tourney, will have only a 16-team field this season. Still, some teams will have an opportunity to play in this event and will be heading to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which is where every game is going to be contested.
That's also a difference from past years, as the NIT usually begins on the home courts of the top seeds before moving to New York City for the final few games. Another change for 2021 is that regular-season conference champions aren't receiving automatic invitations to the NIT, as the tournament will only be handing out at-large bids.
However, expect to see some of the March Madness bubble teams that get left out of the NCAA tournament bracket. The fields for both the NCAA tourney and the NIT will be announced Sunday evening.
With March Madness about to be in full swing, Bleacher Report has all your college hoops needs covered:
Here's everything else you need to know about this year's NIT.
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 NIT Buzz
It's not always a guarantee that a team is going to play in the NIT even if it receives an invitation. Some programs that miss out on the NCAA tournament would rather just end their season now that it no longer has an opportunity to make a run at the national championship.
Other teams want to keep playing for as long as possible. That includes Penn State this year.
The Nittany Lions were eliminated from the Big Ten tournament on Thursday, losing to Wisconsin in the second round. Before that, though, they had won four of five games, which included an opening-round victory over Nebraska in the conference tourney.
So while Penn State likely isn't going to reach the NCAA tournament, it could be asked to play in the NIT. And if that happens, Nittany Lions interim coach Jim Ferry has already made it known what his team's answer would be.
"We will absolutely play in the NIT, and we are all on the same page," Ferry said, per Daniel Gallen of PennLive.com. "School, the players, we all want to play. We want to keep this thing going. So if we get invited, we’d be more than happy. We’d be excited to play in the NIT. Absolutely."
Two other teams from top conferences that could end up in the NIT are NC State and Georgia.
NC State ended the regular season on a five-game winning streak, but it couldn't carry that momentum over into the ACC tournament. The Wolfpack lost to Syracuse in the second round, which leaves them with a 13-10 record. They went 9-8 in regular-season ACC play.
"If the NIT is ran the way it has been in the past and it's a first-class experience for our guys, I think it's a great thing," N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said, per David Kehrli of the Times-News. "But if it's not, I just don't want to go to a tournament just to say we're going."
Georgia lost to Missouri in the second round of the SEC tournament, ending its season with six losses in its last eight games. Still, the Bulldogs own a 14-12 record, and they own some quality wins over solid conference opponents, such as LSU and Ole Miss.
"I would really hope that we deserve [an NIT invitation], because I think [the SEC] will have plenty of teams in the NCAA Tournament," Georgia coach Tom Crean said, per Augusta Stone of The Red & Black. "I think the fact we beat teams that are going to be in the NCAA tournament, I think that will hopefully serve us well."
In ESPN's latest bracketology update, Joe Lunardi has Colorado State, Memphis, Boise State and Ole Miss as his first four teams out of the NCAA tournament. Then he has Seton Hall, Xavier, St. John's and SMU as the next four out.
While it's possible that these bubble teams could end up in the NCAA tourney (depending on what the selection committee decides), any of them may also be heading to the NIT. The bubble status could change, though, and it's not a given any of these teams would accept NIT invites if offered, so we won't know exactly what the NIT field may look like until Sunday night.