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NIT Bubble Watch: Which Teams Have a Shot?

The NCAA Tournament is the goal for most teams in the Big Ten, but some will have to settle for the NIT, if they can even qualify.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Once upon a time, the National Invitation Tournament was kind of a big deal. Up until 1978, the NCAA Tournament invited no more than 32 teams, meaning there were still plenty of quality schools left to battle in the NIT.

But times have changed, and with 68 teams qualifying for the NCAA Tournament nowadays, many people look down on the NIT. While we won't argue that it provides the same kind of atmosphere and excitement as the NCAA Tournament, it does give some solid teams a chance to play in the postseason. More importantly, it gives basketball junkies more games to watch.

Last season, the only Big Ten team to participate in the NIT was Illinois, the conference's eighth place team. As for this season, we won't know which teams get an invite until after the Big Ten Tournament, but there's a good chance the Big Ten will be represented by a few schools. Here's a look at teams who don't have a realistic shot at making the NCAA Tournament, but could still make the NIT. I left out Ohio State, which is currently on the NCAA bubble and will definitely make the NIT if its left out of the dance.

Michigan Wolverines (20-11, 10-8 Big Ten)

Okay, so Michigan is still on the NCAA bubble and will likely make the NIT if they don't make the tournament, but we'll take a look at them anyway. It's been a frustrating year for the Wolverines, who had legitimate NCAA aspirations but struggled after losing Caris LeVert to a season ending injury. As the eight seed in the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan will get a good matchup in its first round game. Regardless, expect them to get an NIT bid if they can't go on a conference tournament run and make the NCAA Tournament.

Northwestern (20-11, 8-10 Big Ten)

Another team many people thought had a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats disappointed in conference play this season and didn't meet expectations. Still, their strong performance in non-conference play give them a pretty good chance to make the NIT, since they still have a good overall record. The ninth seed in the Big Ten Tournament, the Wildcats will play Michigan in the first round. A win or two in the conference tournament would strengthen Northwestern's argument.

Penn State (16-15, 7-11 Big Ten)

All things considered, it was a pretty solid season for the Nittany Lions, who are in the midst of a rebuild but still finished the regular season with a winning record and a bye in the conference tournament. They've got a shot at the NIT, but it'll likely take another run in the Big Ten tournament like the one they had last season, and that's going to be hard this time around. The Lions will get Ohio State in the first round, but if they can pull off an upset and keep their winning record they will have a good chance.

Nebraska (14-17, 6-12 Big Ten)

Teams with losing records face an uphill battle when trying to make the NIT, which means Nebraska will have to get hot in the Big Ten Tournament if they're going to make it. Beating Rutgers in the first round won't be too difficult a challenge, but anything after that will be tough for the Cornhuskers to pull off. While the Huskers aren't completely dead, their fans shouldn't get their hopes up.