Even though the NCAA tournament gets the most national attention, it’s not the only one around. For teams not good enough or lucky enough to make the cut, there's the National Invitational Tournament, or NIT.
Richmond’s basketball season isn’t over after being selected to compete in the NIT, despite a disappointing loss in the A-10 tournament, which booted them from contention for a March Madness bid.
Richmond enters the tournament as a six seed. They will take on three seed Alabama in Tuscaloosa tonight.
The difference between the NIT and NCAA tournament is not just the level of competition — it’s also the prestige. Most programs that find themselves in the NIT spent the season fighting to achieve the singular goal of reaching the NCAA tournament. So, to many teams, an NIT berth is no more than an underwhelming consolation prize.
Richmond’s TJ Cline said before the A-10 tournament that the team would only be satisfied if they made the NCAA tournament — a dream that was snuffed out in a painful overtime loss to rival VCU on Saturday.
“We just played a tough game in the conference semi finals which went to overtime and Alabama just played Kentucky for the championship of the tournament so it’s not just that you had a desire to make the NCAA tournament, it’s that was only two days ago,” Richmond Coach Chris Mooney said.
The good news for Richmond is that Alabama is in a similar position, having just lost in the finals of the SEC tournament.
Alabama might struggle with motivation, but it is still a formidable opponent. The Alabama team plays in one of the toughest conferences in division I basketball, the SEC, which sent five teams to the NCAA tournament. It also has the name recognition and financial support to recruit top high school players. Richmond will find itself in familiar territory playing against bigger and longer opponents.
Behind the bench, Alabama boasts professional pedigree. The head coach is Avery Johnson, who played in the NBA for 16 years and coached there for eight, winning the coach of the year award in 2006 and leading his Dallas Mavericks to the NBA finals.
Defeating Alabama will be a challenge, but Mooney and the team said they are up for it.
“The desire to be together and to keep competing is really strong with this group,” Mooney said.
A sentiment which senior guard ShawnDre’ Jones echoed, saying that the team was not ready to stop playing hard.
Making this game even more important is the fact that this could be the last basketball game senior star players Jones and TJ Cline play in a Spider’s uniform. Both have added a lot to the program, especially Cline who recently won A-10 player of the year and who has his eyes on an NBA career after graduating.
Jones said tonight’s game means a lot to him as a senior player.
“Just another opportunity to get out with the guys,” Cline said. “I don’t know how many I have left so each game is a blessing.”
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