Nobody begins a season in November with the end goal in mind of making the NIT. The longest running postseason national tournament has become a consolation prize to those teams not quite good enough to make the NCAA Tournament, but for teams like Liberty, it would be a huge accomplishment to play in the NIT for the first time in school history.

The Flames could secure an automatic bid to the NIT by winning the ASUN regular season title. That means earning the #1 seed in the conference tournament, not just simply ending in a tie with Lipscomb. That’s Liberty’s easiest path to ensure at least an NIT berth – win the final three regular season games and Liberty will clinch the auto-bid if the Flames falter in the ASUN Tournament.

However, if the Flames lose one of its final 3 games, that opens the door to Lipscomb possibly seizing control again of the 1-seed and NIT auto-bid, and would leave Liberty hoping for an at-large to the NIT if the Flames don’t win the ASUN Tournament.

Earning an at-large bid to the NIT from a league like the ASUN is incredibly rare. Over the past 10 years, 210 at-large selections to the NIT have been awarded, and only 16 (7.6%) of those have gone to teams outside of the top 12 conferences in the country.

No Big South or ASUN team has ever received an at-large bid to the NIT while a current member of the conference.

The 16 teams that were fortunate enough to receive an at-large to the NIT, entered that tournament with an average of 22.9 wins. Only two of the 16 failed to finish in either a first place tie or in 2nd place in their conference’s regular season race. The average final RPI for these teams is 62.8, with the best checking in at 40 and the worst at 89.

While it is rare, with a 23-5 overall record and a NET ranking of 55, the Flames have put themselves in a position to be a part of that 7.6%.

NIT Bracketology isn’t quite as popular as for the Big Dance, but most sites that provide this type of coverage currently has Liberty in their brackets including Mid Major Madness and

The Flames have a solid profile, with a very good road win at a top 50 Lipscomb, a road win against a .500 PAC-12 team in UCLA, and wins over very solid mid-major teams in Kent State and Georgia State, both of whom are fighting for conference championships.

Liberty’s losses have come against Lipscomb, Power 5 teams, and Austin Peay who is in the thick of a championship race in the OVC.

A unique characteristic of this year’s NET rankings is that there are 11 teams, outside of Liberty and Lipscomb, from one of these mid- to low-major conferences ranked in the top 80. This year could be different, but over the past 10 years, the NIT has never selected more than 3 teams outside of the top 12 conferences.

The more at-large openings there are, the better, obviously. So, in conference tournaments, we will be pulling for the likes of Gonzaga, Wofford, Buffalo, VCU, and Hofstra to win their league titles so as to not steal potential NCAA and NIT bids.

Liberty (23-5, 12-1) enters Saturday’s 5 p.m. game with North Florida (13-16, 7-7) hoping to continue its path towards securing a regular season title, but the fact still remains, to go to the Big Dance, you’ve got to win three games in a row in the ASUN Tournament.

But that hardly makes the regular season meaningless. In fact, if anything, it makes it even more important for the Flames’ postseason aspirations. After advancing to the CIT in each of the past two seasons, while appreciated, a 3rd straight CIT appearance would be a letdown after this team’s strong regular season.

While this discussion will hopefully end up point less and we win the ASUN Tournament to advance to the NCAAs, it’s important to understand what the Flames are playing for over the next week.

These final 3 regular season games won’t send Liberty to the NCAA Tournament. But it could very well send McKay and the Flames to the NIT.

And that’s something that Liberty fans everywhere should celebrate.