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NIT, CIT, CBI: A primer on the other college basketball tournaments

Minnesota Golden Gophers The thrill of victory sure seemed the same for Minnesota, which missed the NCAAs but has reached the quarterfinals of the NIT. (Paul Battaglia/AP)

In a few short days, big time college basketball will be returning to Madison Square Garden. We don't mean the East Regional, which will be the first NCAA tournament games played at the World's Most Famous Arena in over half a century, we mean the NIT semifinals, an annual Big Apple tradition. But even those two events don't represent the only college basketball being played around the country this week. In all there are four men's postseason tournaments still going on. Unless you're a fan of one of the participating teams or a serious college hoops junkie, you may not even know that the College Basketball Invitational and the CollegeInsider.com tournament even exist, much less are headed to their own conclusions. Here's a primer on what you need to know about all the  considerably smaller dances.

 

NIT

Where it stands: Quarterfinals (Clemson vs. Belmont; Minnesota vs. Southern Miss; SMU vs. California; Florida State vs. Louisiana Tech)

Where it will end: New York, April 1 and 3

Like the NCAAs, this 32-team tournament seeds teams and puts them into four regions. Two quarterfinal games tip off on Tuesday. In the first, No. 3 seed Clemson hosts No. 5 Belmont. The Tigers took care of Georgia State, the Sun Belt regular season champion, with ease in the first round and edged No. 2 Illinois 50-49 in the second round on a Rod Hall layup with 9.3 seconds left. Belmont, meanwhile, smoked Horizon League regular season champ UW-Green Bay in the first round, then cruised past No. 8 Robert Morris, which had upset top-seeded St. John’s in its opening game. The Bruins looked ticketed for the NCAA tournament just two short weeks ago, but lost to Eastern Kentucky in the Ohio Valley Conference championship game.

Tuesday’s second quarterfinal pits No. 1 seed Minnesota against No. 3 Southern Miss. Both of these teams were firmly on the bubble of the NCAA tournament, with the Golden Gophers just missing out on the field of 68. They didn’t have much trouble advancing to the second round, however, dispatching No. 8 High Point, but they had to rally in their second round matchup after No. 4 Saint Mary’s scored the first 14 points of the game. Minnesota didn’t take its first lead until the second half and went on a 12-0 run to keep the Gaels at arm’s length. Southern Miss, which lost in the Conference USA semifinals to Louisiana Tech, another team still alive in the NIT, knocked off Toledo in the first round and Missouri in the second. Both games were close, but the Golden Eagles were able to maintain control, and a safe distance, in each of the second halves to move on.

The NIT final four will be completed on Wednesday. In one of the final two quarterfinal matchups, NCAA tournament snub SMU hosts California. Even in the NIT there are seeding issues. It’s hard to fathom how these two teams, both so close to making the field of 68, ended up in the same NIT region. The winner of this game will be a favorite to cut down the nets in New York. They’ve each had no trouble reaching the quarters, as both have won their first two games in this tournament by double-digits. SMU beat No. 8 UC-Irvine 68-54, then cruised past No. 5 LSU 80-67. The Mustangs actually trailed the latter game by 10 points in the first half, but cut the deficit to five by halftime and then shot 64.3 percent in the second half to win going away. Cal, meanwhile, easily topped No. 7 Utah Valley 77-64, then held down No. 3 Arkansas for a comfortable 75-64 win. The Golden Bears haven’t been threatened in either of their first two games.

In the final region, top-seeded Florida State takes on No. 3 Louisiana Tech in another game that features two teams that just barely missed out on the Big Dance. The Seminoles were likely just one win away from the NCAA tournament, but they lost to Virginia in the ACC quarterfinals. They narrowly escaped No. 8 Florida Gulf Coast in the first round, then dropped 101 points on Georgetown in their second-round win over the Hoyas. After taking down Southern Miss in the C-USA semis, Louisiana Tech surprisingly fell to Tulsa in the conference championship game. The Bulldogs won a thriller over Iona in the first round, as Kenneth Smith put in a rebound with 2.2 seconds left to nip the Gaels 89-88. They got off to a roaring start against Georgia in the second round, taking what appeared to be a dominant 39-13 lead. The Bulldogs, who finished third in the SEC, mounted a furious second half comeback but Louisiana Tech held on for a 79-71 win.

CollegeInsider.com

Where it stands: Quarterfinals (Ohio vs. Virginia Military Institute; Columbia vs. Yale; Pacific vs. San Diego; Murray State vs. Towson)

Where it will end: April 1 and 3 on campus sites

The quarterfinals of this six-year-old event begin with three games on Tuesday. In an Ivy League battle, Yale visits Columbia. The two teams split their regular season meetings, with both teams winning at home. VMI, which, at one point, had a bead on the Big South automatic bid, takes on Ohio University in Athens. In a clash of West Coast Conference also-rans, San Diego travels to Pacific. They also split their two regular season meetings this year.

The fourth semifinal entrant will be determined on Wednesday when Towson heads to Murray State. Towson came in second place in the Colonial Athletic Association, while Murray State won the Ohio Valley West Division, only to fall to Eastern Kentucky in the conference tourney semifinals.

College Basketball Invitational

Where it stands: Semifinals (Siena vs. Illinois State; Fresno State vs. Old Dominion)

Where it will end: Best-of-three finals on March 31, April 2 and April 4 on campus sites

The four quarterfinals of the CBI, now in its seventh year, took place on Monday. Siena edged Penn State by two, Old Dominion routed fellow Virginia school Radford by 23, Illinois State beat Texas A&M by seven and Fresno State cruised to a 16-point win over Princeton. The teams have been re-seeded before Wednesday's semifinals, in which Siena will host Illinois State and Fresno State will host Old Dominion. The real twist in this tournament, however, comes in the finals, which are best two-out-of-three, with the team that hosts the second game also getting to host the decisive third game, if necessary.

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