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2015 NIT Season Tip-Off: Primer And Bracket (Update)

As the college basketball offseason—and summer—drags on, scheduling news provides fans with a little taste of what's to come between November and March. In this series, Blogging the Bracket's Chris Dobbertean examines this season's exempt tournaments, providing facts that will probably only be interesting to him. For the fields that will announce their brackets in August, Chris will provide his own suggested bracket for the purposes of later mocking. The NIT Season Tip-Off used to offer its non-major participants a unique opportunity. It appears that all ended with the 2013 edition.

The 2015 NIT Season Tip-Off bracket
The 2015 NIT Season Tip-Off bracket
ESPN Events

To catch up on all of the posts in this series, visit the 2015-16 Early Season Events hub.

What is it?

The NIT Season Tip-Off, at least that's what it should be. Georgia Tech's latest schedule update (from June 30th)—and the Yellow Jackets are strongly thought to be a participant—only refers to their participation in "a yet-to-be announced Thanksgiving week event."

(Update 08/09/2015) And it indeed remains the NIT Season Tip-Off, though it is now managed by ESPN Events instead of directly by the NCAA.

Where is it?

After spending its entire history at the home of the postseason National Invitation Tournament, Madison Square Garden, the NIT Season Tip-Off is relocating to a different borough in 2015. According to Villanova, this will be the event's first season at Brooklyn's Barclays Center.

When is it?

This is where things get interesting. Villanova's release indicated that the semifinals and finals would take place on Thanksgiving Day, November 26th and Black Friday, November 27th. However, the Barclays Center Classic is tentatively scheduled for November 27th and 28th, while Louisville and Saint Louis are supposed to play in the showcase game for the new Brooklyn Hoops Classic on Sunday, November 29th. That's a whole lot of basketball for a four-day span, and the Nets' schedule isn't even out yet!

Each power conference semifinalist will host two mid-majors at some point during the exempt tournament's two-week window, while the four visiting teams will also play two squads from their own group. That way everyone gets the full quartet of games allowed under the exempt tournament rule. On August 6th, ESPN Events released the full schedule.

When did this event begin?

The Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association (MIBA), a consortium of five New York City schools and former owner of the postseason NIT, started the preseason edition in 1985 as a way to provide the season with a proper start. The format was rather simple-16 teams from 16 conferences would play a single-elimination tournament with the semifinals and finals at Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately, this setup was inherently uneven, as only the four teams that made it to New York would play four games. The eight first-round losers, who likely had to travel, would only play once.

In 2006, the NCAA assumed ownership of the preseason and postseason NITs to settle an antitrust lawsuit brought against it by the MIBA. It then attempted to tinker, first by changing the name from the "Preseason NIT" to "NIT Season Tip-Off." Preliminary rounds were moved to four neutral site, mirroring the NCAA Tournament (though Gonzaga and Butler both ended up playing in their home cities), and each participant was guaranteed at least two games. The experiment lasted for a year before games returned to campus.

Between 2007 and 2013, four power teams hosted regionals, which were individually contained four-team, two-round tournaments. Most of the time, the hosts advanced to New York. The exceptions came in 2008 (UAB won at Arizona), 2010 (VCU toppled Wake Forest), 2012 (Delaware stunned Virginia), and 2013 (Drexel got past Rutgers). Yes, three CAA members pulled off upsets in a four-year span.

Starting in 2008, the teams that were eliminated in the regional round were grouped into subregionals, where they would play two games against other eliminated squads, guaranteeing four games to every participant.

Despite the success CAA schools experienced and the potential of a pair of nationally-televised games at MSG, the NCAA increasingly experienced difficulty in filling the field, needing to dip into the Division II ranks to fill the 2012 and 2013 tournaments. The 2014 edition became a real mess, as only the St. John's-hosted regional was set to be filled. So, the NCAA automatically advanced the four hosts to MSG and built a patchwork schedule that included Division II schools and showcase games between the four Division I non-host schools at MSG on Thanksgiving Day, between the host schools' semifinals and finals.

This year, it looks like the NCAA has accepted that a 16-team preseason tournament simply won't work in this competitive environment.

Will it be on TV?

ESPN's rights to the NIT Season Tip-Off are part of its larger package with the NCAA for the postseason NIT and other championships. That means on-campus games will more than likely appear on ESPN network or be streamed on ESPN3, unless some sort of sublicensing deal is reached.

Jog my memory. Who won in 2014?

Gonzaga won a virtual road game over St. John's to claim last season's title by a 73-66 count.

Who is participating in 2015?

The four teams that will take the court in Brooklyn are the Arkansas Razorbacks (SEC), Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (ACC), Stanford Cardinal (Pac-12), and Villanova Wildcats (Big East). The Akron Zips (MAC), Charleston Southern Buccaneers (Big South), ETSU Buccaneers (SoCon),  and Green Bay Phoenix (Horizon) will each visit two of the hosts and play two from their group of visitors, presumably splitting home and away duties.

The Savannah State Tigers (MEAC) were originally rumored to be a participant, but they aren't to be found on the schedule.

Have any of these teams played in this event before?

Since the exempt rules changed in 2006, Stanford finished as runner-up to Syracuse in 2011, while Villanova fell to Tennessee in the 2010 final. Ohio State blew Green Bay out in the first round in 2007.

No participant has won the title previously. Stanford has lost three finals, while Arkansas, Georgia Tech, and Villanova have each dropped one.

Have any of these teams met in other recent exempt tournaments?

Off topic slightly, this will be Villanova's second trip to Brooklyn in as many seasons, as the Wildcats won last season's Legends Classic. The same goes for Stanford, who fell to Duke in what appears to have been the final Coaches vs. Cancer Classic championship game. (Hey, I can say that I was there.) Plus, the Cardinal won their third postseason NIT title with a win over Miami on April 2nd.

Otherwise, pickings are slim. Going all the way back to 2009, ETSU won at Arkansas in a Hall of Fame round-robin event, while Georgia Tech and Villanova avoided each other in that season's Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Akron and Stanford were in separate CBE Classic regionals in 2006.

That's it. That's the list.

So, what would your ideal bracket look like?

Since it looks like the format I pitched in a previous post is a non-starter, I'm going to set up a bracket with an East vs. West flavor.

Villanova-Georgia Tech

Arkansas-Stanford

These pairings have the added benefit of looking like a 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 bracket.

I'll compare this bracket with the real thing when it's released in August.

So, what does the real bracket look like?

(Update 08/09/2015) Once again, my pairings were off by just a bit, as the graphic below illustrates.

NIT Season Tip-Off

The 2015 NIT Season Tip-Off bracket, courtesy ESPN Events

(end update)

Tomorrow, we head to the Lone Star State.

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