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NIT Bracketology: Opportunities await bubble teams as conference tournaments loom large

Can the teams that are in the NIT bracket survive the threat of bid stealers?

NCAA Basketball: Dayton at Duquesne Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The bottom of this NIT bracket is a mirage. While teams like Duquesne, Loyola Chicago, Louisiana Tech, Utah and Boise St. are currently in the last few spots of the bracket, there is very little chance they stay there. The reasons are two-fold.

For one, some number of those spots (likely around 10) will go to automatic bids for teams that won their regular season conference title and lose in the cruel finality that is a one-bid conference tournament. Secondly, over the next few weeks teams will play themselves into and out of the the NCAA tournament and the NIT.

Golden opportunities await many teams (though due to the haphazard and unbalanced rules of bracketology, fewer are there for mid-majors) as you play down the stretch. Whether they’re games against the top teams in the conference, or neutral site tournament contests, there are ways for almost every team to improve their resume. The teams that take advantage of them will rise. The ones that don’t will fall.

Thus, this bracket, and the teams in it, is more a placeholder of the moment. Even though I project through the end of the season, this year’s NIT bracket still feels very much in flux. Teams like Georgetown, no longer even in the bracket, and VCU, down to a 5 seed, have seen their fortunes go in completely different directions in the past two weeks. If anyone anticipated the Rams losing to George Mason and the Hoyas winning at Butler, they should buy a few lottery tickets tomorrow. But results like that do happen in college basketball. And they create tectonic shifts of the bracketing landscape.

Conference tournaments kick off on March 3 with Atlantic Sun, Big South, Horizon League, and Patriot League games. I’ll have another NIT bracket then. At that point we should have a much better estimate of how many teams are likely to need those automatic bids and the teams that really changed the landscape over the final two weeks of the regular season.

Remember, this bracket is projected to the end of the season and what resumes will look like on Selection Sunday.

Last 8 in NCAA: Rhode Island, Wichita St., Indiana, Xavier, Georgetown, Arizona St., Utah St., Richmond

NIT Bracket (bubble teams in italics):

1. Cincinnati
8. Loyola Chicago

4. Syracuse
5. St. John’s

3. Stanford
6. Notre Dame

2. South Carolina
7. Saint Louis

1. Mississippi St.
8. Nevada

4. Oregon St.
5. Tulsa

3. Tennessee
6. UConn

2. UNC Greensboro
7. Texas

1. North Carolina St.
8. Louisiana Tech

4. VCU
5. Furman

3. SMU
6. Virginia Tech

2. Arkansas
7. Boise St.

1. Alabama
8. Duquesne

4. Memphis
5. Clemson

3. Providence
6. Mississippi

2. Minnesota
7. Utah

Also considered: Davidson, Colorado St., Belmont, San Francisco, Northern Colorado, Pittsburgh, UCLA