Virginia Tech, Arizona State get NIT top seeds as consolation prize Print
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Monday, 17 March 2008 00:00
NCAAB Headline News


 Virginia Tech and Arizona State are this year's Syracuse, and Hokies coach Seth Greenberg is suddenly sounding very much like Orange coach Jim Boeheim did last March.
The Hokies and Sun Devils were No. 1 seeds in the 32-team NIT, the traditional consolation prize for the best teams left out of the NCAA tournament. The other top seeds announced Sunday night were Ohio State and Syracuse, and all had their gripes with not playing elsewhere next week.
``All these schools had very good basketball seasons, played at a very high level,'' Greenberg said. ``I understand the committee has a tough decision. I have a tough time facing my kids. But it doesn't diminish what we accomplished this year.''
The Hokies (19-13) open Wednesday night against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season champ Morgan State, which earned an automatic berth under a rule that rewards teams from smaller conferences who lost in their league tournaments.
Arizona State (19-12), which had perhaps the strongest resume of any team that didn't get picked for the NCAA tournament, gets Alabama State for its opener. Ohio State (19-13), which played in the national championship game a year ago, will play UNC-Asheville, and Syracuse (19-13) gets a first-round date with Robert Morris.
``We've been involved in situations before today that were very difficult to swallow,'' said Arizona State coach Herb Sendek. ``Today's like the final big gulp.''
A year ago it was Syracuse that had 22 wins, finished sixth in the rugged Big East and got an NIT bid to show for it. Boeheim wasted no time in voicing his displeasure not only for the NCAA selection committee, but also the computer rankings used by the committee and that more at-large bids aren't available to teams from bigger conferences.
This time it was Greenberg with the familiar refrain of every coach whose team got left out.
``There's numerous schools for those 34 spots that are very, very equal,'' said Greenberg, whose Hokies finished fourth in the ACC, the toughest league according to the RPI, and played top-ranked North Carolina to the final second in the conference tournament.
``It's not an exact science and they have a very difficult decision to make.''
The Orange entered last week's Big East tournament teetering on the brink of an NCAA bid, but lost what amounted to an elimination game to Villanova, which earned the last NCAA tournament at-large berth.
``After last year, we probably had to win two or three games,'' Boeheim said after the 82-63 loss to Villanova. ``We had to keep winning and I don't think one win would have been enough. ... In my mind and their mind, if they're not in the NCAA tournament it's not a good year.''
Also in the NIT field is two-time defending NCAA champion Florida (21-11), which lost eight of its final 11 games and was bounced early from the SEC tournament. The Gators are a No. 2 seed and will play San Diego State in the opening round.
If everything holds, they would get Arizona State in the semifinals at Madison Square Garden, and with the Buckeyes on the other side of the bracket, a rematch of last year's NCAA title game is a possibility.
Other first-round games in Ohio State's portion of the bracket are California against New Mexico, Dayton against Cleveland State and second-seeded Illinois State against Utah State.
Also in Virginia Tech's section are Virginia Commonwealth, Alabama-Birmingham, Nebraska, Charlotte and second-seeded Mississippi, which will play UC-Santa Barbara in the opening round.
Massachusetts also got a No. 2 seed and will play Southland Conference regular-season co-champ Stephen F. Austin in the opening round. The winner advances to play either Florida State or Akron, in a rough quarter of the bracket that also includes Maryland and Minnesota.
``We're excited about the opportunity to continue to play,'' UMass coach Travis Ford said. ``We think we had a great regular season and not every team in the country has the opportunity to continue.''
It appeared the top tier of teams that weren't chosen for the NCAA tournament accepted invitations to the NIT. The others picked for the tournament were Southern Illinois, Oklahoma State, Creighton and Rhode Island.
There was some concern that a new postseason tournament set up by the Gazelle Group, which runs the 2K Sports College Hoop Classic and the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic, would snap up the best teams left out of the NCAA tournament.
NIT committee chairman C.M. Newton lauded the NIT's quality and depth the past couple of seasons, including an entertaining final two rounds last year in which all four No. 1 seeds advanced to New York with West Virginia beating Clemson in the championship game.
``I think it's viewed as a real basketball event again,'' he said. ``It's not the national championship, there's only one road to the Final Four and we all understand that. But it's a very good invitational championship for those teams.''
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AP Sports Writer Bob Baum in Tucson, Ariz., contributed to this report.
 

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