The Florida Gators are the only team from the Sunshine State in The Big Dance, but they aren’t the only in-state program still bouncing a basketball.
Florida State and Florida Gulf Coast — last year’s NCAA Sweet 16 darlings — were among the 32 teams invited Sunday night to fight for a trip to Madison Square Garden and the National Invitational Tournament championship.
The Seminoles (19-13) received one of the top four seeds in the tournament and will host the Eagles (22-12) Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in a game televised on ESPN2. The winner will play the winner of Georgetown (17-14) and West Virginia (17-15).
“This is a great opportunity for our team to continue playing and to gain experience in a postseason tournament,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said in a statement released by the school. “The NIT field includes many outstanding teams that have enjoyed outstanding seasons. The field in the NIT continues to improve each season and this is quite possible the best NIT field I can remember. We really want our fans to continue to be behind our team as they have been all season long. We need the support of our fans against Florida Gulf Coast on Tuesday night.”
After winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament in 2012 and making the NCAA Tournament four years in a row, it’s the second consecutive trip to the NIT for FSU.
The Seminoles, who finished tied for seventh in the ACC, were ranked 54th according to CBSSports.com’s RPI rankings. That was sixth-best among teams not receiving at-large invites to the NCAA Tournament. Other notable snubs by the NCAA selection committee: Southern Miss (32nd, 25-6 overall), Toledo (38th, 26-6), Missouri (48th, 22-11), Minnesota (49th, 19-13) and SMU (53rd, 23-9).
Along with FSU, SMU, St. John’s (20-12) and Minnesota, coached by former FIU coach Richard Pitino landed top seeds in the NIT. Missouri, led by former Miami Hurricanes coach Frank Haith, is a No. 2 seed in Minnesota’s bracket.
FSU has never won the NIT in nine tries, but finished runner-up to Michigan in 1997 in its only trip to New York. Last year the Seminoles lost to WAC regular season champion Louisiana Tech at home, 71-66, in the opening round of the NIT.
Florida Gulf Coast won the regular season Atlantic Sun Conference championship but got knocked off by Mercer in the post-season tournament championship game.
The NIT took 13 automatic qualifiers who won their regular season conference championships but didn’t receive an invite to the NCAA tournament because they didn’t receive an at-large bid or win their post-season tournament. NIT selection chairman Carroll Williams said Indiana, Maryland, Richmond, Ohio, Marquette, UNLV and Boise State were among the tough cuts that didn’t make their field of 32.
The Miami Hurricanes, who finished 17-16 after losing to N.C. State in the ACC Tournament, finished with an NCAA RPI ranking of 110. There wasn’t a non-automatic qualifying team invited to the NIT with a lower NCAA RPI ranking than UM.
“We had a lot of arguments,” Williams told ESPN of the NIT selection process. “Lot of old coaches [on the selection committee]. Sometimes we don’t go on RPI as much as we do the eye-ball.”