March 15, 2009

Huskers earn NIT berth, will face New Mexico

Moments after returning to his office following Nebraska's practice Sunday night, head coach Doc Sadler finally learned what his team's postseason fate would be.

During the National Invitation Tournament selection show on ESPNU, the Huskers found out they had been selected to take on New Mexico Tuesday night in Albuquerque, N.M. Nebraska (18-12) was picked as a No. 6 seed, while the Lobos (21-11) earned a No. 3 seed.

The game is scheduled to start Tuesday night at 9 p.m. CST and will be aired on ESPNU.

After the announcement, Sadler said he was just happy that his team - which surpassed the expectations of many with their 8-8 record in the Big 12 Conference - had a chance to play at least one more game together as a reward for their hard work.

"We're just excited about still playing," Sadler said. "At the beginning of the year, if you would have told me that we were going to have 16 games against teams in postseason play, I'd tell you we were going to have our work cut out for us. I think we did have our work cut out for us. But this team has been a team that deserves to continue to play, and we're happy to continue to play."

Nebraska will be making its second straight postseason berth for the first time since Danny Nee did it from 1997-99.

When asked what he knew about New Mexico, Sadler said he didn't know much at all aside from the Lobos' history of success on their home court. New Mexico posted an impressive 16-2 record in "The Pit", including winning its past eight home games.

"If you look over the years, they don't lose many games at home," Sadler said. "Probably if you look at the tournament as far as difficult places to play, we got one of them. But that's OK. That's OK."

Sadler threw out an interesting nugget during after the selection show when he noted that Nebraska has already played 13 games against teams that qualified for either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT.

The Lobos will bump that list up to 14 on Tuesday night, but Sadler said the Huskers are used to playing against top-level competition by this point.

"If you look at the teams that are in the NIT, there are some games that might be tougher games than maybe some of the first-round games in the NCAA," he said. "That's just the way it's set up. I think one of the things people must understand is that (the NIT has) cut that thing back 16 teams to 32, and this is the second year of that. We're just happy to still be playing.

"I mean, there's a lot of good teams that are still playing in this thing, and unfortunately there's a lot that's been left out. We're just happy to be one of those teams that gets to continue to play."

For the players, the chance to go out and prove themselves at least one more time in the postseason is all they could have asked for, especially considering their less than ideal end to the Big 12 Tournament with a loss to Baylor in the first round.

"Me personally, I don't like the way we finished out the season," senior guard Ade Dagunduro said. "I felt like that wasn't a good way for our seniors to go out. I'm glad we got a chance to play in the NIT and get a chance to redeem ourselves."

Dagunduro said even though they fell short of their original goal of making the NCAA Tournament, an NIT berth doesn't seem nearly as shabby as it might have used to be in previous years.

"There's been so much parity over the last couple years that you can't really look at the NIT as the "Not Invited Tournament" the way guys used to look at it in years past," he said. "It's going to be a pretty good tournament. You've got a lot of quality teams that should've been in the NCAA Tournament, so it should be fun."

Including Nebraska, the Big 12 ended up with nine teams advancing on to postseason play. Sadler said that number in itself makes that fact that the Huskers were able to pull off a .500 record in the league and earn an NIT bid is a testament to just how successful this season actually was.

"One of things that people write about or whatever is your schedule," Sadler said. "I think if you look at a lot of the teams that are still playing and see the number of games they have against tournament teams, you'd find us up there having played as many as anybody."

Should Nebraska find a way to knock off New Mexico on Tuesday, it will advance to take on the winner of No. 2 seed Notre Dame (18-14) and No. 7 Alabama-Birmingham (22-11). The Huskers would be on the road again should Notre Dame win, but would be the host team if UAB is able to pull off the upset.

The date and time of the second-round game will be announced following Tuesday night's game, but would be held sometime before Monday, March 23.

The Huskers are scheduled to go through a brief practice Monday morning before heading to Albuquerque later that day.

"I'm not going to sit here and say we aren't disappointed," Sadler said of Nebraska's postseason fate, "but at the same point in time, if you would've told me that I would've coached in two postseasons in my first three years, I'd say I'd take it every day."

***Other Big 12 teams to qualify for the NIT included Kansas State (No. 4 seed, 21-11) and Baylor (No. 3 seed, 20-14). The Wildcats are set to take on No. 5 seed Illinois State on Wednesday at 7 p.m., while the Bears drew a first-round match-up with No. 6 seed Geaorgetown (16-14) on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

***In-state rival Creighton also earned an NIT berth, as the Bluejays (26-7) are a No. 1 seed and will take on No. 8 seed Bowling Green (19-13) on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

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