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Northwestern basketball postseason: With NIT unlikely, season probably over

The Vegas 16, a new Tournament, wants Northwestern, but it has one major flaw.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — Tre Demps sat at the podium with tears in his eyes. Alex Olah fought them back. Chris Collins, his voice gone, balanced his raw emotion with veiled frustration.

All three not only spoke as if a 72-70 overtime loss to Michigan was the end of the 2015-16 road — and the end of the Northwestern road for Demps and Olah — but acted as if it was.

"If we don't win, it's going to be my last game," Olah said of his mentality during the game. "I wanted to win this game and keep playing." Of the moment when the final buzzer sounded, Olah said, "everything came back, that it's going to be my
last game."

In the locker room, there was a sense of finality as well. Multiple players said the team hadn't yet decided on its postseason options, but their faces told their own story.

Northwestern's NIT résumé appears to be lacking. According to most projections, the Wildcats needed a win over the Wolverines to be in contention. They didn't get it.

When asked if he thought his team had a shot at the postseason, Collins said, "Well, I hope so. I hope so. I hope the league will fight for us the way they fight for other teams." He was likely referencing the NIT.

If the NIT Selection Committee passes on Northwestern, Collins and the program have two other options. One is the College Basketball Invitational, or CBI. The CBI is a 16-team tournament that originated in 2008. It's widely considered the third most prestigious postseason tournament, after the NCAA Tournament and the NIT. Northwestern declined a bid to the CBI last season.

The other option is a bit more intriguing, and is not totally out of the question. The Vegas 16 is in its inaugural year in 2016. It's a 16-team tournament that takes place over a five-day period, with games on consecutive days. It has a TV deal with CBS Sports Network. The Vegas 16 is even trying to recruit Northwestern on social media:

The Vegas 16 is more attractive to Northwestern than the CBI, but the major drawback is its timing. The Vegas 16 doesn't tip off until March 26. That means Northwestern would have 16 days off in between its Big Ten Tournament exit and the Vegas opener. That would force the Wildcats to practice during Northwestern's final exam week, and then play during the University's spring break.

It is more than likely that Northwestern's season is over. But the Wildcats do have options that they will consider over the next few days.