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2017 NIT Season Tip-Off Primer

The quartet set to take the floor for Thanksgiving Day’s semifinals in Brooklyn is among the top exempt tournament lineups of the season.

The 2017 NIT Season Tip-Off Bracket
Courtesy ESPN Events

To catch up on all of the posts in this series visit the 2017-18 Early Season Events Hub.

What Is It?

The NIT Season Tip-Off

How Long Has This Event Been Around?

Since this is one of the more longer-lived events on the circuit, and ESPN only took it over from the NCAA two seasons ago, I defer to my 2015 Primer...

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.

When And Where Is It?

For the third year in succession, the NIT Season Tip-Off and the Barclays Center Classic will make Brooklyn the place to be for college basketball fans over the Thanksgiving holidays. The NIT’s semifinals are scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, November 23rd, with the finals on Friday, November 24th.

Notably, the original plan was to hold this season’s edition at the renovated Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. That didn’t happen.

Who's Playing?

The eight NIT Season Tip-Off participants
Graphic by Chris Dobbertean using logos from

Curiously, the semifinals for this one were set both regionally and alphabetically.

Here’s the full bracket.

The full 2017 NIT Season Tip-Off bracket
Courtesy ESPN Events

Additionally, four mid-major programs join the hosts for on-campus rounds, though these games weren’t scheduled consistently this season. We even have a non-Division I team involved, which the post-2013 format was supposed to eliminate.

  • Austin Peay Governors (OVC) at Vanderbilt and Virginia; hosting UNC Asheville and non-D1 Oakland City
  • Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (NEC) at Seton Hall and only Seton Hall (C’mon, Monmouth is right there! I know don’t like them because of how the left the NEC, but seriously.)
  • Monmouth Hawks (MAAC) at Seton Hall, Virginia, and UNC Asheville (Not only are the Hawks shorted a game, they don’t even get one at home, another issue this format was supposed to eliminate.)
  • UNC Asheville Bulldogs (Big South) at Rhode Island, Vanderbilt, and Austin Peay; hosting Monmouth

So, just two of the four visitors and three of the hosts (sorry, Rhode Island) get a full compliment of games and Monmouth, the strongest program of the second tier, doesn’t get to host one at all. Got it. Maybe it’s time for more stringent scheduling regulations for these events.

Did Any Of These Teams Reach The 2017 Postseason?

All four hosts qualified for the NCAAs, but only Virginia and Rhode Island managed to win a single game. Monmouth fell to the Ole Miss Rebels in the NIT’s first round, while UNC Asheville couldn’t make it past that stage in the Postseason Tournament.

How Strong Is This Field?

Based on the average four-year rankings of the participants, the hosts’ bracket of 2017 NIT Season Tip-Off ranks 2nd of both the 24 four-team bracketed tournaments and of the 38 bracketed tournaments. I didn’t rank the visitor’s portion because of the lack of a full lineup of games.

Have Any Of These Teams Played In This Event Before?

Three of this year’s teams remember the NIT’s old format. Rhode Island (quarterfinals) and Fairleigh Dickinson (first round) both lost to the eventual champion Arizona Wildcats in the final 16-team NIT in 2013. The other finalist that season, the Duke Blue Devils, trucked UNC Asheville in round one. (The Bulldogs also fell to URI in a subregional game in Kingston.) Going back to 2007, FDU dropped both of its game in the Syracuse-hosted regional that season.

As I mentioned above, Virginia’s last appearance in 2012 was nothing to write home about. Neither was Monmouth’s 2011 trip to Virginia Tech where they lost by 45 to the hosts in the first round and by 32 to George Mason in a consolation game (failing to break 40 in the process). After suffering another blowout loss at the hands of Albany in Fairfax, Va., the Hawks (in King Rice’s first season, mind you) lost by eight to Brown.

Seton Hall defeated Manhattan by six in the first round of 2005’s edition, but lost to Duke by 53(!!) in the quarters.

Notably, there isn’t really a good source for the complete results of the pre-2002 editions of this event.

What About Other ESPN Events Tournaments?

Last season, Seton Hall went 1-2 in the AdvoCare Invitational in Florida—sandwiching a win over the Quinnipiac Bobcats between losses to the Florida Gators and Stanford Cardinal. Monmouth defeated both the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and USC Trojans in that event the season before, with a three-point loss to the Dayton Flyers in the semifinals arguably contributing to their exclusion from the 2016 NCAA field. Seton Hall finished fifth in 2015’s Charleston Classic, as they followed up a stunning quarterfinal loss to the Long Beach State 49ers with wins over the Bradley Braves and Ole Miss.

Rhode Island also made the trip to Florida, back in 2014, finishing sixth with a win over the Santa Clara Broncos sliding between losses to the Kansas Jayhawks and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. A win over the UTEP Miners prevented Vanderbilt from leaving the 2012 Walt Disney World event with a goose egg in the win column, a fate UNC Asheville couldn’t avoid in that season’s Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Seton Hall managed a 2-1 third-place finish in the 2008 edition of that event and a 1-2 fourth-place finish in the 2010 Charleston Classic. Vanderbilt defeated North Carolina to claim third in the 2010 version of the San Juan tournament.

Are There Any Other Notable Recent Meetings Between These Teams?

Seton Hall took third place in the 2012 Hall of Fame Tip-Off with a 60-55 win over Rhode Island. Going further back, the Pirates won the 2007 edition of the now-defunct Philly Hoop Group Classic by handling Virginia at the Palestra. URI won at Monmouth in the on-campus rounds of that tournament’s 2009 edition.

While both Vandy and UVa played in the 2014 Barclays Center Classic at this same venue, a Commodore semifinal loss to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights prevented a championship showdown. You might remember the title game as the one with the hideously low score.

Seton Hall has faced FDU three times in the past decade, winning two of those games (the Knights got the better of the Pirates in 2013), while the Pirates have gotten the better of Monmouth in all four of their most recent meetings, the last coming in November 2013. However, FDU hasn’t played Monmouth since the Hawks left the NEC for the MAAC after the 2012-13 season.

Vanderbilt has played in-state rival Austin Peay three times in the last 10 seasons, with the last meeting a 39-point beating administered at Memorial Gym on the opening night of the 2015-16 season.

Who Won 2016’s Edition?

You’ll never guess this in a million years. It was perhaps the early season tournament result that’s most forgettable after how the 2016-17 campaign after played out...

Give up?

The Temple Owls, later plagued by injuries, looked like a legit threat for the American Athletic title or, at the very least, an at-large bid, following wins over eventual NCAA squads Florida State and West Virginia in Brooklyn. However, the guys over at HoopsHD might be right in calling the New Hampshire Wildcats, who also went 3-1 in the 2016 NIT Season Tip-Off with a win at Temple, the rightful champs.

Did Any 2016 Teams Reach The Postseason?

Only the Seminoles (Second Round) and Mountaineers (Sweet Sixteen) reached the field of 68, while the Illinois Fighting Illini failed to reach the semifinals of the postseason NIT. The UCF Knights kept the Illini from making a return to New York with a victory in the the March event’s quarterfinals.

The Winthrop Eagles, one of the visitors in 2016’s event, fell to the Butler Bulldogs in the NCAA’s First Round. But none of the other three teams from that group—not even a 20-win UNH squad—joined the Big South champs in the postseason.

Will This Event Be On TV?

ESPNU will have the semifinals in the late afternoon/early evening of Thanksgiving on the East Coast, with the finals set for the following evening. The championship game will air first on ESPNU, with the consolation game following on ESPNews.

As always, on-campus rounds will depend on the media contract of the host school’s conference, so not every game from this event will appear on an ESPN outlet, despite the company’s ownership of the tournament.

Who’s Your Pick To Win It?

All four teams will be looking to return to the NCAAs, so this should be one of the most competitive events of Thanksgiving week. In the end, I think the pair of semi-home games might push Seton Hall over the line.


Seton Hall over Rhode Island
Virginia over Vanderbilt


Seton Hall over Virginia
(consolation) Rhode Island over Vanderbilt

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