NIT Season Tip-Off host schools might back out

College basketball’s NIT Season Tip-Off has not announced whether its field will shrink from 16 to eight schools in light of a recent report that it can’t garner enough interested teams to fill out the field. But one of the tournament’s flagship teams made scheduling moves Tuesday that indicate changes might be ahead.
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The Minnesota Golden Gophers attempted Tuesday to schedule a new non-conference basketball game for Nov. 20 just one day after ESPN’s Andy Katz reported the team was one of several schools reconsidering participating in late November’s NIT Season Tip-Off. 

Minnesota Director Of Basketball Operations Josh Adel wrote on the Basketball Travelers college basketball scheduling board that the Golden Gophers, one of the NIT’s four “host” teams, are looking to add a guarantee game on Nov. 20. College basketball teams frequently use the Travelers website to communicate with one another and coordinate potential matchups. The school said Tuesday it could not comment on the NIT field and that its basketball schedule was still being finalized.

Minnesota’s scheduling request could be unrelated to its status in the NIT, or the number of early rounds the tournament will end up including. But the Travelers posting remains a late-in-the-game scheduling request conspicuously close to a time window seemingly reserved for NIT action.

As the NIT is currently scheduled, host schools like Minnesota will host a first and second round game across two nights between Nov. 17 and 19. The winners of these rounds then play for the tournament championship in Madison Square Garden later that month.  

A proposed plan for shortening the tournament, Katz said, involves host schools only hosting one game during that time span, followed by a three-game final round in Madison Square Garden.

Katz first reported last week the annual November contest is struggling to find enough teams to fill out its 16-team format. Two other host teams, the respective Bulldogs of Georgia and Gonzaga, are also reconsidering whether to remain in the tournament if its field dwindles. Only four non-host schools, including Saint Joseph’s and Western Kentucky, are currently slated to participate.

1500ESPN Minneapolis reporter Darren Wolfson reported Friday the Gophers were “probably” staying in the NIT despite the field being in flux, and had not yet addressed other options. 

While it is unlikely Minnesota would schedule three consecutive nights of home games so early in the season, it is not unprecedented. Gonzaga is scheduled to face the newly Emmanuel Mudiay-less Southern Methodist Mustangs on Nov. 17, then host two schools in its opening NIT games Nov. 18 and 19, assuming the NIT goes off as currently scheduled. 

The two most likely outcomes are that Minnesota will either host two first-round NIT games as planned or drop out of the tournament altogether. If the tournament is reduced to eight teams, NCAA scheduling rules would still limit the Gophers’ schedule to 27 total non-NIT games, meaning the reduction of two first-round games to one would not open up a new non-conference scheduling opportunity.

Minnesota’s season starts Nov. 14 in Puerto Rico when second-year Gophers coach Richard Pitino will face his father Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals in the Armed Forces Classic. Minnesota won the 2014 postseason NIT last April.

- Will Green