Utah basketball won’t get into the NCAA Tournament, but they might get an NIT invite

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes forward Timmy Allen (1) celebrates with the fans in the final seconds of overtime play as Utah beats Stanford 64-56 in NCAA men's basketball, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.

Eugene, Ore. • The University of Utah men’s basketball team does not have an NCAA Tournament resume.

That much is clear right now. The Utes’ NET, an NCAA evaluation tool used to rank teams, is just 78 following Thursday night’s 70-51 loss at Oregon State.

Utah has not beaten enough quality competition to put itself on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Within the NET, Utah is just 2-7 vs. Quadrant 1 teams, although they are 5-1 against Quadrant 2s.

However, right behind the NCAA Tournament Selection Show comes the announcement of the 32-team NIT. The Utes, even though they are 0-6 in Pac-12 road games, are still in the mix for that one.

“My basic thought on Utah is that they have a lot of good wins,” NIT bracketologist John Templon told The Salt Lake Tribune early Friday. “It’s mostly Quadrant 2, but those are good wins for the NIT. They have a number of opportunities to get more quality wins given who they have left. Oregon is a really tough ask, but USC, Colorado, Stanford, I think there’s potentially seven-to-nine good wins by the end.

“The NET doesn’t love them. They’re at 78 right now, so I wonder how much further that drops if they lose more games.”

NCAA Tournament bracketology has become a cottage industry over the past decade, but Templon has carved out his own niche by projecting the NIT over that span. Most notably, Templon’s NIT work could once be found on his popular independent mid-major college basketball blog, NYCBuckets. Nowadays, Templon does NIT bracketology for another popular mid-major outlet, SB Nation’s Mid-Major Madness.

There are very few people in the college hoops media sphere paying close attention to the NIT. Templon is one, which makes him something of an authority.

“Yes, this is an inexact science, but it’s the same idea as projecting the NCAA Tournament with automatic bids, those kinds of things,” Templon said.

Utah (14-10, 5-7 Pac-12) has six regular-season games to play. Of those six, three currently stand as Quadrant 1 opportunities, while USC’s trip to the Huntsman Center next week is slotted as a Quadrant 2 at the moment. That is four legitimate chances to improve the resume. Quadrant 3 matchups vs. UCLA and at Cal would do little to enhance the resume with a win, but would certainly damage the Utes’s prospects with a loss. Utah already has Quadrant 3 losses to Tulane (NET 186) and Coastal Carolina (NET 200).

“The Kentucky win and the BYU win is why I have them in my projections right now,” Templon said. “All of those games count, but they really struggled at the start of Pac-12-play. That hurt their resume a bit, and they haven’t beaten anyone that good lately.

“The NIT really does consider your full body of work. You don’t want to go one-and-out in the Pac-12 Tournament after you’ve struggled to win games.”

All regular-season conference champions gain an automatic bid to the NIT. That bracket wrinkle caters more to low and mid-major conferences that generally only send their conference tournament winner to the NCAA Tournament. If a regular-season champion loses in its conference tournament, it still gets a postseason bid thanks to the NIT.

To that end, if Utah stays in the NIT mix as February wears on, it needs to hope there is as little conference-tournament chaos as possible. If low and mid-major regular-season champions start getting knocked off in conference tournaments, they will head to the NIT, which means there will be less at-large bids to go around for hopeful high-major teams like Utah.

“It, of course, depends on how they do down the stretch, but my guess on Selection Sunday is that they’ll be one of those teams waiting to see how how many auto-bids are taken,” said Templon, who noted the Utes are very likely going to need a NET or RPI of 100 or better, while finishing .500 or better. “If it’s an unusually-large number, they’re going to be out of the field. If there are not that many, I could see them getting a 5 or 6-seed.”


At Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, Ore.

Tipoff: Sunday, 7 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: ESPN 700AM

Series history: Oregon leads, 21-10

Last meeting: Oregon, 69-64 (2020)

About the Utes: Utah moved to 0-6 in Pac-12 road games this season thanks to a 70-51 defeat at Oregon State on Thursday night. The Utes are 1-7 in true road games and 4-9 away from the Huntsman Center, where they are 10-1 … Utah is 3-16 against Oregon since entering the Pac-12 in 2011. That includes four straight losses, two of which came in the Pac-12 Tournament in 2018 and 2019 … In Thursday night’s loss at Gill Coliseum, Utah shot just 37.3 percent from the floor and 26.3 percent from 3-point range … Sophomore guard Both Gach returned to the lineup Thursday after missing the previous four games with a right knee injury. Gach finished with eight points on 3-for-7 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench.

About the Ducks: Down as many as 14 in the second half, Oregon rode a 42-point second half to a 68-60 win over Colorado in Eugene. The win brings the Ducks back into a tie with the Buffaloes for the Pac-12 lead at 8-4. The only two ranked teams in the conference split their season series … Prohibitive Pac-12 Player of the Year favorite Payton Pritchard had 15 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in the win, while Will Richardson led all scorers with 21 points … In the first meeting between Utah and Oregon on Jan. 4, Pritchard finished with 19 points on 8-for-17 shooting … Oregon is 5-1 against Utah in Eugene since the Utes entered the Pac-12.