NIT Tournament 2021: Bracket, Schedule and Semifinals Predictions
The 2021 National Invitation Tournament is quickly nearing its conclusion. With only four teams remaining, both semifinal games are set to take place Saturday, with the winners advancing to the championship game on Sunday.
It will be a No. 1 seed and a No. 4 seed playing for the tournament title. Saturday's first semifinal features a pair of No. 1 seeds (Memphis and Colorado State), while the second has a pair of No. 4 seeds (Mississippi State and Louisiana Tech). And with only 16 teams in this year's NIT, the No. 4 seeds were the lowest ones in the tourney.
So, will the NIT champion be one of the favorites, or a team that went on a surprise run to make it here? We'll soon find out.
Here's a look at Saturday's semifinal schedule, followed by predictions for both games.
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 over Colorado State
Memphis may not have made it into the NCAA tournament, but that hasn't stopped the Tigers' motivation to finish the season strong. They're looking to win the NIT for the first time since 2002 and to leave the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas as tournament champions.
"Our guys want to play well," Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said, per Field Level Media (h/t Yahoo Sports). "They know what platform we're on. They know we're on national TV."
The Tigers have been playing well since the start of the NIT. They beat Dayton 71-60 in the first round, then held on for a 59-56 victory over Boise State in the quarterfinals. In their latest win, sophomore guard Lester Quinones made a key putback with 32.5 seconds remaining to help edge the Broncos.
It's probable that Memphis will have another competitive game as it takes on Colorado State, which also just missed out on making the NCAA tournament this season. The Rams have played two close games in the NIT, pulling out wins each time, as they defeated Buffalo 75-73 and took down NC State 65-61.
Memphis's defense could give Colorado State some trouble, though. The Tigers rank 17th in the country in points allowed per game (62.5), 10th in steals per game (8.9) and tied for 25th in blocks per game (4.7).
With its defense likely to have a strong showing, Memphis will need to play well enough on the offensive end to pull out the win. And expect that to happen, as the Tigers should make key shots down the stretch to hold on for the victory.
It will be a close game, but Memphis will win and move on to the championship game, where it should then be the favorite to win the tournament.
Prediction: Memphis 72, Colorado State 69
Mississippi State over Louisiana Tech
Mississippi State didn't have the best regular season, going 14-13 while facing some tough competition in the SEC. The Bulldogs then went 1-1 in the conference tournament to remain one game above .500 at that point.
However, that was still enough for Mississippi State to earn an invitation to the NIT as a No. 4 seed. And since then, the Bulldogs have been playing some of their best basketball of the season, as they've notched a pair of victories and are one win shy of matching their longest winning streak of the year.
But if Mississippi State is going to reach the NIT championship game, it will have to take down a fellow No. 4 seed. Louisiana Tech has taken down Ole Miss and Western Kentucky to get to this point, and it has won 12 of its last 14 games (with its only losses during that stretch coming against North Texas).
It should be a competitive game, which will be nothing new for Mississippi State. In the second round, it beat Richmond 68-67, as sophomore guard D.J. Stewart Jr. hit a game-winning three-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining.
That could be beneficial for Mississippi State, as it may need to make some key shots down the stretch in order to edge Louisiana Tech. Mississippi State also went 16-for-18 at the free-throw line in their quarterfinal victory, which could help them pull away down the stretch.
Mississippi State will win and advance to the NIT championship game for the first time in program history after having lost in its two previous appearances in the tournament semifinals.
Prediction: Mississippi State 76, Louisiana Tech 68