NIT 2021: Memphis vs. Mississippi State Championship Schedule and Predictions

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 28, 2021

Memphis forward DeAndre Williams (12) and guard Landers Nolley II (3) celebrate a 3-point basket made by Nolley II in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Colorado State in the semifinals of the NIT, Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

The 2020-21 season is set to come to an end for both Memphis and Mississippi State on Sunday. But only one of the two will get to celebrate winning this year's men's National Invitation Tournament.

The Tigers and Bulldogs were impressive in their respective semifinal victories Saturday. Memphis is a No. 1 seed that narrowly missed out on reaching the NCAA men's basketball tournament, while Mississippi State only just made the NIT as a No. 4 seed.

With only 16 teams in this year's NIT instead of the typical 32, it took only three wins for each of these teams to reach this point. But they have proved they deserve to be playing for the tournament title over that stretch.

Here's everything else you need to know about Sunday's NIT championship game.


NIT Championship Game Information

Date: Sunday, March 28

Start Time: 12 p.m. ET



Preview, Prediction

Memphis and Mississippi State recorded statement wins Saturday to get to this point.

The Tigers had to defeat one of the other No. 1 seeds in Colorado State. That didn't end up being a problem, though, as they had a big second half en route to a 90-67 win.

Memphis made 14 three-pointers in that victory, seven of which came from sophomore guard Landers Nolley II, who had a game-high 27 points. He led an impressive shooting performance for the Tigers, who shot 55.7 percent from the field and 51.9 percent from beyond the arc.

"I'm proud of the team," Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said, per Stephen Hawkins of the Associated Press. "Our most complete game all year was today, even though we started off kind of slow, still scored 90 points. For multiple guys to get hot on the same night, I've been asking for that all year and today's game was one of those games."

The Tigers also defeated No. 4-seeded Dayton and No. 2-seeded Boise State during their NIT run. Their closest game was against the Broncos, with Memphis holding on for a 59-56 win in the quarterfinals.

While Memphis was expected to be a top contender in the NIT as a No. 1 seed, it's a surprise that Mississippi State has reached this point. Entering the tournament, the Bulldogs were 15-14 and hadn't won three games in a row since December.

However, Mississippi State is now having one of its best stretches of the season. It beat No. 1-seeded Saint Louis and No. 2-seeded Richmond in the first two rounds of the NIT before notching an 84-62 win over Louisiana Tech, a fellow No. 4 seed, in the semifinals.

The Bulldogs never trailed against Louisiana Tech, and they shot 55.8 percent from the field (as well as 50 percent from three-point range). If they beat Memphis in the championship game, they would end the season with their first four-game winning streak of the campaign.

"The beauty is you get to keep playing," Mississippi State coach Ben Howland told reporters after Saturday's game. "Here we are, almost at the end of March, and our guys have had a very good finish to the season."

Memphis is looking to win the NIT for the second time in program history and for the first time since 2002. Mississippi State, meanwhile, has never previously played in the NIT championship game.

Although the game should be competitive at the start, it's likely that Memphis will start to pull away in the second half. The Tigers are allowing only 61 points per game, and their defense could shut down the Bulldogs late.

Memphis is the stronger team, and that will show when the stakes are raised. The Tigers will top the Bulldogs to finish the season with a 20-8 record and an NIT title.

Prediction: Memphis 72, Mississippi State 64