Monday , Mar , 15 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Utah State headlines NIT field

New York, NY (Sports Network) – Utah State, snubbed by the NCAA Tournament
committee, will try to prove its worth in the National Invitation Tournament.

The 40-team field also features four teams from the Big East and four from the
Big 12, while the Big Ten, Southeastern, Atlantic-10 and Western Athletic each
sent three teams to the 67th annual event.

Utah State (25-3) is a surprise entry, however, as many observers believed the
Aggies were NCAA Tournament-worthy after being nationally ranked late in the
season. A 17-1 regular season record in the Big West earned Utah State the top
seed in the conference tournament, but Cal State-Northridge knocked the Aggies
out in the semifinals.

“You win 25 ballgames and you go 17-1 in your league and everyone says no
matter what you’re in, well, no matter what happened, were not in,” said Utah
State head coach Stew Morrill. “It really sends a tough message to mid-majors
out there. We were nationally ranked for six weeks, won 25 games and went 17-1
in our league and the bottom line is, that you need to win your tournament.

“Last time we were in this position we didn’t respond very well. We were
devastated and didn’t play worth a dang in the NIT Tournament versus Montana
State (2002).”

Utah State will host a first-round game on Wednesday against Hawaii (19-11).

Rutgers, Villanova, Notre Dame and West Virginia were the teams invited from
the Big East. With six NCAA Tournament teams the league has 10 post-season
berths.

Colorado (18-10) was also an NCAA Tournament snub after finishing fourth in
the Big 12 with a 10-6 record. The Buffaloes, who will visit Oregon (15-12) on
Wednesday, are joined by Oklahoma, Nebraska and Iowa State as Big 12 invitees.

This is the third year of the expanded NIT field, as 40 teams will compete to
make the Final Four at Madison Square Garden. An opening round featuring 16
teams will be whittled to eight, who will then join the other 24 teams in the
first round.

The opening round starts Tuesday when Nebraska meets state rival Creighton. On
Wednesday, West Virginia will visit Kent State; George Mason will host
Tennessee; Troy State will travel to Niagara; Boston University will head
south to take on Rhode Island; Wisconsin-Milwaukee will welcome Rice; Belmont
will square off against Austin Peay; and Boise State will host UNLV.

Those eight opening-round winners will then advance to the first round.

The first round actually begins Monday with Toledo taking on Marquette. On
Tuesday, Iowa visits Saint Louis and Missouri travels to Michigan.

Wednesday’s game feature George Washington at Virginia; Purdue at Notre Dame;
Temple at Rutgers; Drexel at Villanova; Florida State at Wichita State;
Georgia at Iowa State; and LSU at Oklahoma.

The second round will be held from March 20-23, with the quarterfinals March
24-26. The semifinals are scheduled for Tuesday, March 30 at Madison Square
Garden and the title game on Thursday, April 1.