While the NCAA Tournament bracket always gets it’s fair share of the headlines (and rightfully so), the post-season National Invitational Tournament (NIT) also released it’s bracket on Sunday night, which features three teams from the Pac-12 in California, Colorado and Utah.
California (21-12) was one of the last teams left to sweat out Selection Sunday but the Golden Bears overall resume was probably a long-shot for the NCAA Tournament, without enough signature wins to their name. However, the Golden Bears received a #1 seed in the NIT Tournament, where they’ll match-up with #8 seed Cal-State Bakersfield (22-9), the Regular Season Champions from the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). That game is scheduled for Tuesday (3/14) at 8:15 PM PT and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.
For California, a top seed gives the Golden Bears the potential to play in Berkeley until the NIT Final Four, which is played each year at Madison Square Garden in New York City. California will be operating in the NIT with the status of guard Jabari Bird (concussion) still unknown. The Golden Bears will also be dealing with a wealth of speculation surrounding the program, pertaining to both the likelihood of forward Ivan Rabb leaving for the NBA Draft at the conclusion of the season and head coach Cuonzo Martin potentially being involved in coaching searches at other schools.
Colorado (19-14) couldn’t overcome a slow 0-7 start to conference play to form together an NCAA Tournament caliber type of team but the Buffs are a unique mix of veterans and youthful talents, who could use to the opportunity that the NIT provides to both keep careers alive and develop future players. The Buffs drew a #5 seed in the “Illinois State Quadrant”, where they’ll play the #4 seed UCF (21-11) from the American Athletic Conference (AAC). That game will be played at UCF in Orlando, Florida on Wednesday (3/15) at 4 PM PT and will be televised nationally on ESPN3.
A win for Colorado will give them a match-up against the winner of a game between #1 seed Illinois State (27-6) and #8 seed UC-Irvine (21-14). Illinois State is renowned as arguably one of the biggest snubs from the NCAA Tournament field of 68, who had a BPI ranking of 61 overall, just two spots behind USC. UC-Irvine, despite being the Regular Season Champions of the Big West Conference, fell to UC-Davis (22-12) in the conference tournament final and lost out on an automatic bid to the big dance.
Utah (20-11) also made the NIT field, as even Larry Krystkowiak’s fourth-straight twenty-win campaign in Salt Lake City simply wasn’t enough to get the Utes on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Instead, Utah snagged a #3 seed in the “Illinois State Quadrant”, where they’ll match up with #6 seed, Boise State (19-11) on Tuesday (3/14) at 7 PM PT. That game will be played in Salt Lake City on the Utes’ home-court and televised nationally on ESPNU.
While the Broncos should be a fair test for Utah, as Boise State finished third in the Mountain West Conference, if the Utes are able to get past the “Blue Machine”, they’ll meet up with the winner of a showdown between #2 seed Illinois (18-14) and #7 Valparaiso (24-8). The Fighting Illini are an intriguing opponent, as Illinois just recently fired head coach John Groce after five seasons directing the program, as is Valpo, who will be moving into uncharted territories without star forward and NBA prospect, Alec Peters, who is sidelined with an stress fracture in his foot.
The NIT begins on Tuesday, March 14th, with the higher-seeds in each match-up serving as the host sites for each game. The #1 seeds (and proverbial favorites) from the four different regions are California, Illinois State, Iowa and Syracuse, however a top-seeded team hasn’t won the tournament since Minnesota achieved the feat back in 20014. The final rounds of the tournament will be played on March 28th and March 30th at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The reigning NIT Champions are George Washington, who as a #4 seed last season, defeated Hofstra, Monmouth, Florida, San Diego State and Valparaiso, en route to their championship finish. The last team from the Pac-12 to win the NIT was Stanford, who knocked off Miami (FL) in the 2015 Championship game.