March 12, 2009

Huskers hoping for NIT berth after Big 12 tourney loss

OKLAHOMA CITY - As Nebraska walked off the Ford Center court following its first-round loss to Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament on Wednesday, it knew that it had just failed two of its biggest preseason goals.

There would be no run at a conference championship, and - probably even more upsettingly - any hopes the Huskers had for an NCAA Tournament bid were erased completely.

So along with dealing with the disappointment of all of that in the locker room following Wednesday's loss, a question began circling around NU's players and coaches - now what?

Despite their less than ideal finish in the conference tournament, the Huskers have still built up a resume worthy enough of some further postseason attention, even if it isn't for the Big Dance like they had hoped.

The most realistic scenario appears to be another trip to the National Invitation Tournament, in which Nebraska will be looking to make its fourth appearance in the past 10 years.

However, even with 18 regular-season wins and a .500 record in the Big 12, there's still no guarantee the Huskers are a shoo-in to make the "other" tournament. After Wednesday's loss, head coach Doc Sadler made his case for why NU has the credentials to make its second straight NIT appearance.

"This league finished up the third rated league in the country, and the teams have done what they're supposed to do," Sadler said. "We finished 8-8 and as I said in there, if this team doesn't get in the NIT then the conference office needs to look at themselves. You play in the third-toughest league and you go .500 in it, I don't think there's ever been a team to not make it."

Should Nebraska somehow get left out of the 32-team NIT field, the final option would be to play in the College Basketball Invitational - a 16-team tournament similar to the NIT format, but with a best-of-three series in the championship round.

Sadler was asked after the game if the Huskers would ever consider competing in the CBI should they be left out of the NIT, and he said it has never even come up this season, and that he hadn't even thought about the CBI as an option.

Nebraska won't officially learn its postseason fate until the NIT Selection Show on Sunday, which will be aired on ESPNU at 8 p.m. CST following the NCAA Tournament selection show.

When the players were asked about their postseason preference, though, it was clear that their sights were set on the NIT and the NIT alone.

"I think we did well enough, particularly in the Big 12 Conference, to earn the right to go to the NIT," senior guard Ade Dagunduro said. "One of our goals was to make the NCAA Tournament, and we let that slip up today. So we've got to get ready for the NIT."

While the best-case scenario for Nebraska at this point would be a successful run through the NIT, the reward in doing so would be somewhat of a mild consolation.

The Huskers had a goal of going to the NCAA Tournament this season, and though they came closer than many ever expected, they still know they let that goal slip away when they walked off the Ford Center court with a first-round Big 12 Tournament exit.

"I wish we could get it back, but can't," sophomore guard Cookie Miller said. "We've got to look to the future and hopefully get in the NIT. We just have to leave it up to Sunday."

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