NIT says no to Bulls, yes to McDonald

The preseason National Invitational Tournament was waiting for USF with open arms, but the Bulls promptly had the door shut in their faces. Due to a NCAA ruling limiting teams to competing in two exempted tournaments in four years, the Bulls had their invitation to the NIT yanked away from them.

“South Florida was originally in (the field),” said John J. Powers, executive director for the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association. “They didn’t realize that the NIT had the same exemptions as everyone else. South Florida must have thought we had some special exemptions.”

Powers and the MIBA are responsible for selecting the NIT field and had picked the field with the intention that USF would be in the tourney. But by playing in the Top of the World Classic in Alaska in 2000 and the University Hoops Classic in Pittsburgh in 2001, USF exhausted its participation in exempted tournaments.

USF coach Seth Greenberg said the Bulls scheduled their spot in the NIT six years ago and had intended to play last year but were pushed back to the upcoming season. Then the 2-in-4 rule was enacted two years ago, further complicating matters.

“When they didn’t change the rule (back), we had to do what’s best for the team,” Greenberg said.

So, the Bulls played in the University Hoops Classic, where they were assured of playing four games as opposed to only one if they lost in the first round of the NIT.

USF, therefore, had to forfeit a berth in the 2002 Preseason NIT and a first-round matchup with Kansas. The Jayhawks, who went 33-4 in 2001-02 before falling to Maryland in the Final Four, are the most successful team since the NIT started its preseason tournament in 1985. KU has a 15-1 record in four prior appearances, winning the title three times, plus a runner-up finish.

“We play high-profile games every single day,” Greenberg said. “But, the preseason NIT is very prestigious. In New York, I grew up with the NIT. It has a tremendous tradition.”

Should the ongoing court battle over the 2-in-4 rule see the measure rescinded in the next week or so, Greenberg said USF would look at other opportunities to play in an exempted tournament this year.

USF has never participated in the Preseason NIT, but the Bulls have made seven appearances in the postseason NIT. The preseason version limits teams to one appearance every four years and one team per conference, but when Powers and the MIBA had to replace USF, they selected Holy Cross to have a rematch with Kansas, eliminating C-USA from the 2002 field. Kansas and Holy Cross faced off in the first round of the 2002 NCAA Tournament, where the top-seeded Jayhawks overcame a second-half deficit to defeat the 16th-seeded Crusaders.

McDonald makes NIT All Stars

While the USF men’s basketball team got shut out by the NIT, center Will McDonald did grab its attention. The 6-foot-11 senior was selected by the MIBA to be a part of the NIT All-Star Team. The traveling all-star team will make a seven-game swing through Canada July 22 – Aug. 1. The squad, including co-Big East Player of the Year Brandin Knight, Utah’s Britton Johnsen and St. John point guard Marcus Hatten, will play developmental teams, a few Division I clubs, and Powers said they could face the Canadian National Team up to four times once the schedule is finalized.

The team opens training camp July 17 in New York, and Powers said that in addition to its duties on the court, the team would get ample experiences off the hardwood.

“They’re going to a Yankees game, maybe catch a play,” Powers said. “It’s not only about basketball. They’ll get a chance to tour in Canada. They’re going to see the world.”

Powers said that he and his advisory committee sent out representatives during the season, and they recommended McDonald, who fit all of their categories, both academic and athletic.

“It’s a great opportunity to play organized basketball at a high level during the summer,” Greenberg said. “This should be a magnificent experience for him. We worked to make sure that this happened, and Will’s very deserving.”