NIT 2021: Updated Bracket, Schedule and Predictions Heading into Semifinals

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 26, 2021

NIT 2021: Updated Bracket, Schedule and Predictions Heading into Semifinals

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The championship game of this year's National Invitation Tournament is going to feature a No. 1 seed facing off against a No. 4 seed.

    After Thursday's quarterfinal action, there are only four teams remaining in the NIT, which started with 16 teams (rather than the typical 32) and is taking place entirely in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The remaining schools will face off in the semifinals, which are set for Saturday.

    The first semifinal will be a matchup of two No. 1 seeds, as Memphis and Colorado State go head-to-head. Then the No. 4 seeds, Mississippi State and Louisiana Tech, will face off.

    Here's a look at Saturday's semifinal schedule, followed by predictions for both games.  

Semifinal Schedule

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Saturday, March 27

    No. 1 Memphis vs. No. 1 Colorado State, noon ET, ESPN

    No. 4 Mississippi State vs. No. 4 Louisiana Tech, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN

Memphis Will Edge Colorado State in Competitive Matchup

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Memphis and Colorado State were both bubble teams heading into Selection Sunday for the NCAA men's basketball tournament, but both missed out, falling short in their respective conference tourneys. However, the Tigers and Rams have gotten things back on track in the NIT.

    After beating Dayton in the first round, Memphis held on for a 59-56 victory over Boise State in the quarterfinals. The Tigers improved to 18-8 as sophomore guard Lester Quinones scored a key bucket with 32.5 seconds to go that sealed the win and allowed them to advance to the semifinals.

    Colorado State has played two close games, holding on for a 75-73 win over Buffalo in the first round and then notching a 65-61 victory against NC State on Thursday. The Rams are 20-6, and sophomores David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens continue to power them through the tournament.

    When Memphis and Colorado State meet Saturday, it should be a competitive game. Both teams are playing well, and either could end up on top depending on which team has the hotter shooters.

    However, the Tigers' balanced scoring attack could be difficult for the Rams to stop—especially with the way they've been playing since the start of the NIT.

    "I am proud that they've progressed in the right direction," Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said, per Jason Munz of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "We've learned how to win. Like, we got down two points with under two minutes, and we went on a 7-0 run. That's just growth in the team."

    Memphis will make too many key shots down the stretch, and while Colorado State will have a chance to win at the buzzer, it will be the Tigers who advance, reaching the NIT championship game for the first time since they won the tournament in 2002.

    Prediction: Memphis 72, Colorado State 69

Mississippi State Will Take Down Louisiana Tech to Reach Championship

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Mississippi State hasn't won more than three games in a row all season. And the last time the Bulldogs even won three straight was from Dec. 16-30. But if they can win a third straight game in Saturday's NIT semifinal, they will reach the championship game of the tournament for the first time in program history.

    However, in order for Mississippi State to get there, it will have to take down Louisiana Tech, another team that has defied the odds in the NIT and reached the semifinals as a No. 4 seed.

    Louisiana Tech has won 12 of its past 14 games, and the only team it has lost to during that stretch was North Texas. It knocked off Ole Miss in the first round of the NIT and then defeated Conference USA rival Western Kentucky in the quarterfinals.

    Meanwhile, Mississippi State has taken down Saint Louis and Richmond in the first two rounds. On Thursday, sophomore guard D.J. Stewart Jr. hit a game-winning three-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining to lift the Bulldogs to a 68-67 win over the Spiders.

    In that victory, Mississippi State was without one of its best players, with sophomore forward Tolu Smith out because of COVID-19 contact-tracing protocols. But the Bulldogs still managed to win, with Stewart coming through and carrying the team late.

    Whether or not Smith is back in the lineup for the semifinals, Mississippi State is playing well and appears to be learning from the experience it gained while facing some tough competition in the SEC. It will keep it going with a win over Louisiana Tech, and it will be playing in the NIT championship game come Sunday.

    Prediction: Mississippi State 76, Louisiana Tech 68