NIT 2021: Top Storylines and Players to Watch in Quarterfinals Bracket

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 21, 2021

NIT 2021: Top Storylines and Players to Watch in Quarterfinals Bracket

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    Matt Strasen/Associated Press

    While there won't be any NCAA men's basketball tournament games taking place Thursday, the National Invitation Tournament will help to fill the void. That's when the eight remaining teams will contest the four NIT quarterfinal matchups.

    Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year's NIT is taking place entirely in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and only 16 teams were invited rather than the typical 32.

    Of the four No. 1 seeds, Colorado State and Memphis were the only two to advance. Ole Miss was upset by Louisiana Tech, while Saint Louis was knocked off by Mississippi State. Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State will be looking to keep their runs as No. 4 seeds going in the quarterfinals.

    Here's a look at the quarterfinals schedule, along with storylines and players to watch the rest of the NIT.

Quarterfinals Schedule

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Thursday, March 25

    No. 2 Richmond vs. No. 4 Mississippi State, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2

    No. 1 Colorado State vs. No. 3 NC State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

    No. 1 Memphis vs. No. 2 Boise State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

    No. 3 Western Kentucky vs. No. 4 Louisiana Tech, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Bassey Looks to Keep Powering Western Kentucky

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    Matt Strasen/Associated Press

    When junior center Charles Bassey was named a third-team All-American this season, he became the first Western Kentucky player to receive an All-America honor since 1971 (according to Kentucky Today). And in the first round of the NIT, the 6'11" standout showed exactly why he earned that recognition.

    Bassey had 19 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 8-of-16 from the field in the No. 3-seeded Hilltoppers' 69-67 win over No. 2-seeded Saint Mary's on Wednesday. Taveion Hollingsworth sealed Western Kentucky's victory by making a pair of free throws with 3.3 seconds remaining.

    It was a typical performance for Bassey, who is averaging 17.7 points and 11.4 rebounds per game and has 17 double-doubles in 27 games this season. He'll be looking to lead the Hilltoppers to a quarterfinal win over No. 4-seeded Louisiana Tech on Thursday night.

    Western Kentucky won three games to reach the semifinals of the NIT in 2018, and it could be set up to have another strong showing in the tournament. If it does, it will likely be because of Bassey, who is capable of taking over games and providing consistent play in the post. Keep an eye on him for the rest of this tourney.

Will Thrilling Finish Give Colorado State Momentum?

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Having lost two of its previous three games heading into the NIT, Colorado State opened the tournament in thrilling fashion. The No. 1-seeded Rams held off No. 4-seeded Buffalo for a 75-73 victory, with sophomore guard Isaiah Stevens scoring a game-winning contested layup with 1.2 seconds remaining. The Bulls' ensuing inbounds pass was then intercepted to end the game.

    "This is the feeling that no one on our team has ever experienced or had," Stevens said, per Kevin Lytle of the Fort Collins Coloradoan. "We're all anxious to see what it's all about. The best teams play in March late into the season. Being able to pull out a win was definitely big for us and our program."

    Colorado State hadn't played in a postseason tournament since 2017, when it lost in the second round of the NIT. If the Rams are going to win more than one game this time, they will have to beat No. 3-seeded NC State on Thursday. Although the Wolfpack are 14-10, they are a solid team that faced some tough ACC competition before defeating No. 2-seeded Davidson 75-61 on Thursday.

    This quarterfinal matchup between Colorado State and NC State has the potential to be the most exciting of the four. And if it goes down to the wire, the Rams have experience finishing out a close game on this stage after the opening round.

Can Either Remaining No. 4 Seed Make Run to Title?

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    It's not quite the same as a low-seeded team pulling off a first-round upset in the NCAA tournament, but Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State still accomplished impressive feats in knocking off No. 1 seeds to open the NIT. But can either team continue to make a run and knock off another solid team on Thursday?

    Louisiana Tech played well throughout the second half of the season, as it had won 10 of 11 games before falling to North Texas in the semifinals of the Conference USA tournament. It bounced back with a 70-61 victory over Ole Miss to open the NIT, and it will look to beat Western Kentucky in the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs have six players averaging 8.9 or more points per game, led by sophomore forward Isaiah Crawford (11.9).

    Mississippi State was inconsistent throughout the season, entering the NIT with a 15-14 record after losing to Alabama in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. It beat Saint Louis 74-68 to open the NIT, and it will face Richmond in the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs are powered by sophomore guards Iverson Molinar (16.7 points per game) and D.J. Stewart Jr. (16).

    After barely getting into the tournament, both teams are just two wins from the NIT championship game.

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