San Diego State a Top Seed at NIT

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

Passed over by the NCAA tournament selection committee, Saint Mary's didn't even manage a top seed in the NIT.

The Gaels and playmaking guard Patrick Mills fell to the second line Sunday for the 32-team tournament, placed in the same bracket with San Diego State.

Joining the Aztecs as top seeds were Auburn, Creighton and Florida, which earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first team to follow consecutive national titles with back-to-back NIT berths.

Other notable teams that landed in the NIT included Davidson and scoring sensation Stephen Curry, who became such NCAA tournament darlings last March, and Kentucky, which had made 17 straight NCAA fields.

Saint Mary's likely was one of the last teams left on the doorstep when the NCAA bracket was announced, even though it went 2-3 against teams in the RPI top 50 and had won five straight entering the West Coast Conference tournament.

"I was hoping common sense prevailed," said Randy Bennett, the coach of the small Catholic school near San Francisco. "Using common sense, we're one of the top 34 [at-large] teams. This was the best team we've ever had, so it's just disappointing to be in this situation."

Mills broke his hand Jan. 29 and missed a big part of the second half, rushing back for the conference tournament. After losing to Gonzaga, the Gaels played a late game against Eastern Washington trying to remind the committee what they look like with their star in the lineup.

It evidently didn't make much difference.

"We did get our hopes up a little," Mills said, "but there's a great lesson to be learned on how to handle adversity and how to handle distractions and making the most of your opportunities."

The Gaels (26-6) instead will play Washington State on Tuesday in the NIT's opening round, while San Diego State plays Weber State. The Aztecs (23-9) had the highest RPI at 34 of any team that didn't make the NCAA tournament.

Davidson (26-7), stunned by College of Charleston in the Southern Conference tournament, will be making its fifth NIT appearance. The Wildcats had hoped a tough nonconference schedule that included wins over North Carolina State and West Virginia and competitive losses to Oklahoma and Purdue might still send them dancing.

"The picture is very clear that the opportunity to go through the door for us is not as big an opportunity as for the BCS programs," Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. "The margin for error is ever so slight.

"We had a pretty good track record, but Creighton did, too, and Saint Mary's did, too. There are a lot of disappointed people tonight."

Kansas State will play Illinois State in the other game in that bracket, and the Wildcats are taking a much more positive approach to playing in the postseason.

"It's an opportunity to continue to compete, continue to practice and better prepare our basketball team for the future," coach Frank Martin said. "It's always about the future."

Auburn (22-11) will open Wednesday night against Tennessee-Martin, which lost in the Ohio Valley Conference semifinals to eventual champ Morehead State.

The winner will play fourth-seeded Tulsa, which lost to Memphis in the Conference USA title game, or Northwestern. The other games in that portion of the bracket include Big 12 tournament runner-up Baylor against Georgetown, and Virginia Tech against Duquesne.

"Just having a chance to play in the postseason is an honor and a privilege for our guys," said Dukes coach Ron Everhart, who was a senior co-captain while playing at Virginia Tech from 1981-85. "To be able to do it at your alma mater, that's as good as it gets."

Creighton (26-7), which tied Northern Iowa for the Missouri Valley regular-season title, will host Bowling Green in the opening round. The winner of that game will get Kentucky or UNLV, two teams much more accustomed to be playing elsewhere this time of year.

The Wildcats were considered a lock for the NCAA tournament in late January, but beginning with a road loss to Ole Miss, Kentucky wound up losing nine of its last 13 games.

The bottom half of Creighton's bracket includes New Mexico and talented senior Tony Danridge against Nebraska, and Notre Dame against Robert Vaden and Alabama-Birmingham.

The Gators (23-10) reached the NIT title game last season, but have arguably the toughest road to get back to Madison Square Garden. They'll open against Jacksonville, a member of the Atlantic Sun, with the chance to play Miami or Providence in the second round.

Niagara will play Rhode Island on the bottom half of Florida's bracket, while Big Ten upstart Penn State meets George Mason.

"We're very, very disappointed," said Nittany Lions coach Ed DeChellis, who watched seven other Big Ten teams reach the NCAA tournament. "Coming into this thing I thought it was going to be real hard to get eight teams into the tournament, and I thought we needed one more win."


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