NIT Season Tip-Off Bracket Finalized And ESPN Is Doing The Marathon Thing Again

The 16 teams invited to take part in the 2010 NIT Season Tip-Off have been known for a few weeks. Today, the road to Madison Square Garden became clear with the announcement of the bracket. I have more about the field of 16, and ESPN's third annual season opening marathon (which I'm likely to try to survive again), after the jump.

If the NIT Season Tip-Off bracket holds, North Region host Villanova will meet the West's UCLA  in one semifinal on the night before Thanksgiving, while South host Tennessee will face Wake Forest out of the East. However, the parirings are a bit more kind to 'Nova and UT, as the Wildcats shouldn't fear an opening round game against Marist or a regional final against George Washington or Boston U, and the Vols should feel comfortable opening with Belmont before facing either Missouri State or Arkansas State

On the other hand, the Demon Deacons and rebuilding Bruins have a more difficult path. Wake should cruise past Hampton in the first round, but VCU would be a stern test in the East Final, provided the Rams can get past defending Big South champ Winthrop themselves. On the other side of the country, UCLA takes on Pepperdine in their opener, but Nevada and Pacific both have a decent chance at grabbing a win at Pauley Pavillion, given the current state of Ben Howland's program.

Once again, the 12 teams who fail to make it to Madison Square Garden will play two consolation games at "geographically compatible" sites.

Not surprisingly, NIT action will be a key part of ESPN's third consecutive Tip-Off Marathon, scheduled for Tuesday, November 16.  However, the three selections from the event -- Marist-Villanova, Belmont-Tennessee, and the West Regional final -- are just a small sample of the games included in the 24-hour-plus festival of hoops. 

While there's the traditional 4 a.m. ET start in Hawai'i, where the Warriors will face Central Michigan as part of the Rainbow Classic, and morning games that only diehards like myself will be watching (I'm glad Monmouth got a home game this season, so they can show off their new arena to a national audience), the early and late hours of the day will feature plenty for more casual fans to enjoy.

Miami heads to Memphis to start things off at midnight Eastern. Immediately afterward, Steve Lavin's St. John's squad heads the home of the 11 p.m. PT tip, Moraga, California, where St. Mary's will hope to treat the Red Storm much like they treated San Diego State in 2009.

Teams from below the red line take center stage for the morning hours, with the BCS schools returning In the afternoon. At 2 p.m. ET, Baylor's intriguing blend of experience and youth will be tested with a home game against La Salle, just before Virginia Tech looks to grab an early win for the resume at Kansas State

The evening begins with Florida hosting Ohio State in a rematch of the 2007 National Championship game (and likely championship game for the round-robin exempt event the teams are participating in).

Butler helps Louisville open their new arena, while Michigan State hosts South Carolina in a Big Ten/SEC tilt.

Duke takes on Miami (Ohio) in the CBE Classic, while Gonzaga faces a much more difficult home game in the same event later in the night, as they host defending Mountain West Tournament champion San Diego State.

That's one massive nightcap.

I'm going to close this post with some into the future scheduling news (2011-12 and 2012-13). Indiana's three BCS conference schools and Butler will feature in a doubleheader at Conseco Fieldhouse starting next season. The initial two-year contract for the Crossroads Classic sees Indiana facing Notre Dame and Purdue taking on Butler in the 2011 event, with the two Big Ten teams switching partners for the next season.

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