KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kareem Richardson will never confuse the NCAA Tournament with the CBI, one of the myriad other postseason tournaments that doesn’t even rise to the level of the NIT.
He was an assistant under Chris Mack at Xavier when the Musketeers went to the Sweet 16. He was on Rick Pitino’s staff a few years later when Louisville beat Michigan to win the national title.
So yes, Richardson knows there’s a difference between the NCAA Tournament and the CBI.
He’s darn happy to be playing in the CBI, though.
“Not every team gets to play in March — this deep in March. So we are certainly fired up about it,” said Richardson, who these days is the head coach at Missouri-Kansas City. “I met with our senior crew, they are certainly excited and they’re going to try and help lead the way.”
But why is the lower-tier tournament such a big deal for Richardson and the Roos? It’s quite simple: The program has never been to a postseason tournament in 30 years of Division I basketball.
Not the NCAA Tournament. Not the NIT. Not even the CBI.
“It’s the first opportunity in school history at the Division I level to play in the postseason,” Richardson said. “Our guys aren’t taking it lightly, and I am very proud of the accomplishment.”
So, considering this is the first time the Roos — short for Kangaroos, a mascot dreamed up in the studios of none other than Walt Disney — will be playing this late in the season, it seems like a fine time to offer up a primer for the uninitiated.
The program was founded in 1954 and joined the NAIA in the late 1960s, where it would become a regional powerhouse. It moved to the Division I level in the 1980s, when civic leaders thought it would make sense to have a program in Kansas City playing at the highest level of college hoops.
Its standing has always been tenuous, though. UMKC began playing in the Mid-Continent Conference, bounced through the Summit League and landed in the WAC, where the Roos are now one of the outliers for a league that is located primarily in the West and Southwest.
Success has been hard to come by for a school with much bigger neighbors. Top talent from the metro areas tends to head to Kansas, Kansas State or Missouri, or even Creighton or Wichita State, and rarely are the Roos able to convince local products to stay at home.
It is also hard to lure prospects to a school that plays most of its games off campus at the downtown Municipal Auditorium, and the remainder at the on-campus Swinney Recreation Center, which has a capacity of 1,500 — making it one of the smallest arenas in Division I basketball.
If you consider all that, the Roos’ 17-16 record — the third-most wins in their history at the Division I level — coupled with an invitation to the CBI is a big deal.
Arguably the biggest deal to happen to the school in years.
The Roos have embraced their first postseason game, which they’ll host Wednesday night against Green Bay in a rematch of a game they lost earlier this year. They’ve been running a social media campaign in an attempt to build some buzz and perhaps even sell out their building.
“It would mean a lot,” Richardson said. “I think it’s not only obviously about our players and our team, but about the community and the students. To get it rocking and rolling in here would be awesome, and I know our team would be very appreciative.”