NIT 2021: Complete Bracket, First-Round Schedule and Teams to Watch

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 15, 2021

NIT 2021: Complete Bracket, First-Round Schedule and Teams to Watch

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    The National Invitation Tournament can be one of the most peculiar events to predict due to the differing motivations of its participants. 

    The competition typically takes the best teams that did not qualify for the NCAA men's basketball tournament. That is still the case in 2021, but the field has been halved to 16 teams this year. 

    The Colorado State Rams and Boise State Broncos have a chance to recover from their bubble heartbreak to win the event, which will be held in Frisco and Denton, Texas. 

    However, those programs may run into a lack of motivation since they came short of their ultimate goal of being included in the NCAA tourney.

    If the NIT is treated properly, it can be a springboard to success for next season. The last two winners, the Penn State Nittany Lions and Texas Longhorns, have used the competition for that purpose. 

    From Wednesday to Saturday, eight first-round games will be played, starting with the Toledo Rockets and Richmond Spiders on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

NIT 1st-Round Schedule

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Wednesday, March 17

    Toledo vs. Richmond (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

    Saint Mary's vs. Western Kentucky (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)


    Thursday, March 18

    NC State vs. Davidson (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

    SMU vs. Boise State (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)


    Friday, March 19

    Buffalo vs. Colorado State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

    Louisiana Tech vs. Ole Miss (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)


    Saturday, March 20

    Dayton vs. Memphis (Noon ET, ESPN)

    Mississippi State vs. Saint Louis (5 p.m. ET, ESPN)


    Full bracket can be found here on

Colorado State

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    You can't blame either of the NIT's Mountain West Conference participants if they come out flat in the first round after just missing a place in the NCAA tournament field. 

    However, Colorado State should be in a better position to use a deep NIT run as a catalyst for success next season.

    Two of the Rams' top three scorers are underclassmen, while the other is a junior. David Roddy, Isaiah Stevens and Kendle Moore could use their time in Texas to build more chemistry. That motivation differs from what Boise State could be going through if Derrick Alston Jr. enters the NBA draft pool. 

    Colorado State should have the edge in its opener against the Buffalo Bulls as long as its defense contains the opposition offense. 

    Buffalo has an offense that produced over 80 points in six of its last eight games, but it has gone through some struggles when it is not ahead. The Bulls shot 26.3 percent from three-point range in the MAC tournament final loss to the Ohio Bobcats.

    If Colorado State limits Buffalo's three-point production, it could start a deep run over the coming days that opens a run to a 2022 NCAA tournament berth. 

    Penn State used its NIT win in 2018 to build toward what would have been an NCAA tournament berth in 2020, while Texas benefited from its 2019 triumph to become one of the top title contenders out of the Big 12. 

Western Kentucky

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers have arguably the best player in the 16-team field. 

    Charles Bassey averages 17.7 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. He could use his paint presence to take over games, starting with the clash against the Saint Mary's Gaels. 

    Bassey and Co. did not earn a NCAA tournament berth in the Conference USA final on Saturday, when it failed to engineer a potential game-winning possession at the end of regulation versus the North Texas Mean Green. Rick Stansbury's team went on to lose the game in overtime. 

    Western Kentucky has some of the best wins of any team heading to Texas, after defeating the Memphis Tigers, Alabama Crimson Tide and Rhode Island Rams in nonconference play.

    If the Hilltoppers correct the offensive woes they had on Saturday, they could make a run at the title with Bassey leading the way. 

    The 20-year-old should have the advantage down low in every matchup, and he has three guards around him who shoot over 30 percent from three-point range and better than 38 percent from the field. 

    Additionally, Western Kentucky has played some solid defense lately by holding four of its last seven opponents below 60 points. North Texas only managed 61 points in 45 minutes. 

    If everything comes together for the Hilltoppers, they could become the first mid-major side to win the NIT since George Washington in 2016. 


    Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

    Statistics obtained from