NIT 2021: Bracket, Schedule and Tournament's Top Teams for Thursday

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 18, 2021

Boise State's Derrick Alston plays against UNLV during the first half of a Mountain West Conference tournament NCAA college basketball game Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

The NC State Wolfpack are the only one of the three power-conference teams entered into the 2021 NIT that is not a No. 1 seed.

NC State was drawn as a No. 3 seed and into an in-state matchup with the second-seeded Davidson Wildcats. 

Despite the low seeding, NC State has a chance to benefit from its five-game winning streak to end the ACC regular season and make a run in the Texas bubble. 

Thursday's other first-round game could be one of the competition's biggest mismatches, as the Boise State Broncos face the SMU Mustangs. 

Boise State just missed the NCAA men's basketball tournament and could use the NIT as a way to cap off a strong season and the career of Derrick Alston Jr. 

SMU played a single game since February 8 and was only on the floor for 16 contests this season. The lack of on-court time should play into Boise State's favor.


NIT Thursday Schedule

No. 2 Davidson vs. No. 3 NC State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 2 Boise State vs. No. 3 SMU (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)


Top Teams

NC State

NC State played some of its best basketball to wrap up ACC play. 

The Wolfpack took advantage of an easier schedule and won four games against the worst teams in the conference, but they also achieved a win over the Virginia Cavaliers. 

During that winning run, three different players led the team in scoring, which is a good sign for the tournament format. 

NC State needs at least one of Devon Daniels, Jericole Hellems and DJ Funderburk to play well to stay alive in Texas. 

All three players average over 12 points and five rebounds per game, and they all shoot over 45 percent from the field. 

If multiple members of the trio play well on Thursday, it will neutralize the impact of Kellan Grady, who is one of the best mid-major scorers in the country.

Grady averages 17.3 points per game, and he eclipsed the 20-point mark in four of his last eight games, including a 32-point outburst against the George Mason Patriots in the Atlantic 10 tournament. 

There is a correlation between Grady's offensive struggles and his team losing. In Davidson's last five defeats, Grady has been held under 15 points in three of those contests. 

NC State limited four of its last five opponents to under 70 points, so if it achieves that total again, it should contain Grady and move on. 


Boise State

For most of the season, Boise State had one of the most entertaining offenses in men's basketball, led by Derrick Alston Jr. 

However, the Broncos sputtered down the stretch, and that cost them a chance to make the field of 68. They come into the NIT on a four-game losing streak, with the last two defeats against lower-tier teams from the Mountain West. 

Boise State can still win the NIT if it refocuses and receives a handful of stellar outings from Alston, who averages 17.4 points per game and had 13 20-point performances. 

Alston has five teammates who average over eight points per game, but he is the main attraction on the Boise State offense. 

The Broncos could be poised for an extended stay in Denton and Frisco, Texas, because they could generate momentum from their opening-round matchup.

SMU played its first game in over a month in the American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals, and it needed a late surge for the game to be competitive. The Mustangs shot 35.9 percent from the field and managed just 23 points.

Teams have typically needed two games to get back into a rhythm following extended pauses this season, and the lack of game time could affect the Mustangs. 

If Boise State controls the first half against SMU, like the Cincinnati Bearcats did, it could get out to a large advantage and cruise into the next round.


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.