UNC Greensboro coach Wes Miller and his Spartans were dealt a double dose of disappointment this past week, losing to Wofford in the championship game of the Southern Conference Tournament and missing out on the NCAA Tournament.
Now it’s on to the NIT.
“We talked all week there was no guarantee we were going to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Miller said Sunday night. “We can’t let that disappointment affect us.”
Even with the heartbreaking championship loss last Monday night, UNC Greensboro (28-6) was hoping to give the Southern Conference its first at-large NCAA Tournament bid and appeared to be in the field until Oregon upset Washington for the Pac-12 title on Saturday night.
The Spartans were forced to settle for the top seed in the National Invitation Tournament.
“It’s been an emotional couple of hours,” Miller said. “Obviously, we felt like we deserved to be in the tournament. We felt like we were good enough. To find out that you don’t get in is heartbreaking, and to find out that you were one spot away, maybe one day that’ll be something that makes it feel a little better, but right now it makes it feel a little bit worse.”
Indiana, Alabama and TCU are the other No. 1 seeds for the 32-team tournament, which begins Tuesday on the campuses of the higher seeds.
The Spartans, who open against Campbell, lost to Wofford for the third time in the championship game of the league tournament. Greensboro’s other losses this season were a six-point setback at LSU, a 17-point loss at Kentucky and a conference loss at Furman.
This is the school’s first at-large bid to the NIT, and that was not lost on Miller.
“That’s really, really special. We’re excited about the opportunity,” he said. “It’s a big-time deal to be part of the NIT. It was a lot easier to say on Wednesday or Thursday, but I do think we have the type of group that’s going to wake up tomorrow really excited to play basketball, even if it’s not in the Big Dance. We’ve got to switch gears, be excited to play at home on Tuesday.”
Among the second seeds is North Carolina State of the Atlantic Coast Conference, which was disappointed at being snubbed by the NCAA Tournament despite a strong resume. The Wolfpack meets Hofstra of the Colonial on Tuesday.
The Wolfpack (22-11) was 33rd in the NCAA’s new NET rankings, a more analytical system that incorporated factors such as game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin and net efficiency at both ends of the court.
In a statement, athletic director Deborah Yow said she was “disappointed” that “our total body of work was not rewarded” with an NCAA invitation. She pointed out that the Wolfpack beat eventual Southeastern Conference Tournament champion Auburn while playing five games against ACC peers Duke, North Carolina and Virginia, which all ended up with No. 1 seeds for the NCAA tourney. But N.C. State went just 3-9 in Quadrant 1 games and had the nation’s worst nonconference strength of schedule.
Indiana (17-15) was 54th in NET, but owned six Quadrant 1 wins to keep itself in the running amid all its losses, while Alabama (18-15) was 59th in NET and just 3-10 against Quadrant 1 opponents.
Alabama, led by 17-year-old point guard Kira Lewis Jr., failed to make a second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Tide has lost four of its last five games, but coach Avery Johnson said he thinks his team was only one victory away from an NCAA bid.
“We don’t have anyone else to blame,” Johnson said. “We’re playing in the NIT because we just weren’t good enough during the regular season, and we weren’t consistent enough.”
Also in the field are Clemson, Nebraska, Butler, Memphis, Georgetown, Arkansas, Providence, and Wichita State.
The NIT will feature two of the top-10 leading scorers in NCAA history — Campbell’s Chris Clemons , fourth all-time with 3,193 points, and Mike Daum of South Dakota State at 3,042.
“I’m just going to try to play the game the way I always play the game and hope for the best,” said Clemons, who leads the nation in scoring at 30 points per game.
Loyola-Chicago (20-13) lost its chance to make another impact on the NCAA Tournament when it fell to Bradley in the Missouri Valley Conference semifinals. The Ramblers are seeded seventh in the NIT and will face Creighton in the first round.
Last year the Ramblers and their 99-year-old team chaplain, Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, helped make the NCAA Tournament one of the most memorable in recent years, going on an amazing 14-game winning streak to reach the Final Four before losing to Michigan.
AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard in North Carolina and Sports Writer John Zenor in Alabama contributed.