North Carolina, UConn lend big names to NIT field
North Carolina and UConn are lending some serious star power to
Both teams went to the Final Four a year ago, and both were No.
4 seeds in the bracket for also-rans released Sunday. In the case
of North Carolina, it’s the second time in the past three years
that the defending national champion missed the NCAA tournament,
joining Florida in 2008.
“I just didn’t do as good a job with this club this year as I
needed to,” coach Roy Williams said Thursday, after the Tar Heels
lost to Georgia Tech in their ACC tournament opener.
North Carolina (16-16) hadn’t missed the NCAA tournament since
2003, before Williams arrived in Chapel Hill. And Williams hadn’t
missed the big party since 1989, his first season at Kansas, when
the school was ineligible due to NCAA violations.
“I couldn’t get the right buttons pushed,” said Williams,
whose Tar Heels were ranked No. 6 early in the season but lost 10
of 12 at one point. “I didn’t know what those buttons were.”
Jim Calhoun can commiserate, after a trying season included the
Connecticut coach missing several games with an undisclosed medical
The Huskies (17-15) made an impressive run in February to renew
their NCAA tournament hopes, but head into their NIT opener against
Northeastern coming off four straight losses, including a 73-51
rout by St. John’s in the Big East tournament.
“With a quick glance at the bracket, it looks like the field is
remarkably tough,” Calhoun said. “There are plenty of teams that
were in position to make the NCAA tournament, and I think that with
all of the parity in the field, it will be very difficult to win
The NIT begins Tuesday on campuses with the championship April 1
at Madison Square Garden.
The No. 1 seeds are Illinois, Arizona State, Virginia Tech and
Mississippi State, all teams that spent Sunday hoping for NCAA
The Bulldogs may have had the most emotional afternoon. They
blew a five-point lead with 2:28 left in the Southeastern
Conference championship game against Kentucky, eventually losing
75-74 in overtime – and with the game, their berth in the big
“We had our opportunities to close it out,” Mississippi State
coach Rick Stansbury said. “That’s part of the game.”
The Bulldogs will open the NIT against in-state rival Jackson
State, which got an automatic berth by winning the Southwestern
Athletic Conference regular-season title.
The winner will get North Carolina or No. 5 seed William &
Mary, while the other half of their bracket includes No. 3-seeded
South Florida against North Carolina State and No. 2 seed
Alabama-Birmingham against Big South regular-season champ Coastal
Virginia Tech watched its bubble burst for the third straight
year, and will open the NIT against Quinnipiac. The Hokies (23-8)
had a better record than Wake Forest, which made the NCAA
tournament, and beat the Demon Deacons in their only meeting in
“I’m very proud of my team. We’ve had a great run,” said
Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, who can point toward a weak
schedule and poor RPI for the NCAA snub. “It will be a tough job
to get my guys up and ready to play, but that’s my job.”
The Hokies could meet Connecticut in the second round, assuming
both teams win. Wichita State has the third seed in the region and
will play Nevada, while Rhode Island received a No. 2 seed and will
open the tournament against Northwestern.
“We went 12-1 nonconference, we beat teams from the Big East,
Big 12, ACC,” said Rhode Island coach Jim Baron, who hoped a
semifinal run in the Atlantic 10 tournament would be enough to make
the NCAA bracket. “We certainly worked our way in to be right
Illinois will open at Stony Brook on Long Island, N.Y., a road
trip made necessary by a scheduling conflict as Assembly Hall in
Champaign. The arena is booked Wednesday night for a performance by
Cirque du Soleil.
Elsewhere in the Illini’s region, Kent State plays Tulsa, Dayton
plays Illinois State, and second-seeded Cincinnati gets Weber
Arizona State will open against Jacksonville, with the winner
getting Seton Hall or Texas Tech in the second round. Second-seeded
Mississippi opens against Troy, while third-seeded Memphis plays
“It’s a tough field, there’s no question about it,” said
Memphis coach Josh Pastner, who took over when John Calipari left
for Kentucky. “Obviously, we wanted to be in the NCAA tournament,
but to be able to play in the postseason is a really good thing for
Associated Press Writer Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this