The NIT will win big in 2021.
As 2021 looks more and more like a simple continuation of 2020 everything in the world still seems upside down, college basketball just feeds that narrative. As we get ready to turn the calendar to February, some very prominent names are absent from the NCAA Tournament discussion all together including a couple of blue bloods.
A few years ago, when Texas Christian and Georgia Tech played in the championship game of the postseason NIT, the tournament put up its best rating in three years. The game pulled in a 0.7 share and 1.1 million viewers.
The scenario currently unfolding in the 2020-21 season is that Duke, Kentucky, Indiana, Stanford, Auburn, and Memphis could all be heading towards an invite to college basketball’s secondary postseason tournament.
Now obviously, those first two names stand out among the group as the Blue Devils and Wildcats are two of the most prominent and historically decorated programs in the history of the sport.
With all of that notoriety comes a national following and, of course, television ratings. In a season when people simply aren’t allowed to attend sporting events, the inclusion of those two programs into this 32 team tournament could mean a number that obliterates all previous rankings for the “almost made it” tournament.
Duke is currently just 5-5 on the season with a NET ranking of 89 and a strength of schedule of just 84. If we are considering teams solely on their merits, the Blue Devils would never get a second look from most people in the country.
However, due to the name on the front of their jersey and the high profile nature of the recruits on their roster, they are still one of the most talked-about teams in the nation.
Kentucky has better peripherals but a 5-9 record on the season. They have a slightly more legitimate excuse for such a poor record though as they have a national strength of schedule of 18.
Their current net ranking is just 80, though they did just pick up a nice win against a borderline top-25 team in LSU.
Now, the other above mentioned teams are all in a slightly better place as far as the actual tournament goes but it’s not by a lot. Indiana is just 9-7 on the season with a NET ranking of 45 and a Q1 record of 1-4 and a quad three loss.
Six of Stanford’s nine victories have come against quad three and four teams which results in a NET ranking of 58. Memphis is similar to Stanford as six of their eight victories have come against quad three and four teams but they lack any quad one victories. Auburn simply may not be good enough to win enough games in the SEC.
The NIT has become a tournament that likes to reward mid-majors that fall short in their conference tournaments or simply didn’t have the metrics to support a bid despite the eye test. In 2021, they may have the ability to put big-time names in their tournament such as future first-round picks Jalen Johnson, B.J. Boston, and Zaire Williams.
Duke and Kentucky fans will watch their team regardless of where they play and both teams have the talent to make a deep run in this tournament.
With the opportunity to stock your pond with this many big fish, does the NIT dare pass up the opportunity to potentially put up a historic number in the television ratings spreadsheet?
Given the amount of revenue that was most likely lost in 2020, it would be surprising if they did. 2020 was the year of surprises, yet 2021 continues in that same path. The NIT will win big in 2021 if all goes right.