Saint Mary's men's basketball team opens its post-season this week in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). Seeded second, the Gaels will host Kent State, the seventh seed, in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in McKeon Pavilion. The game will also be televised live on ESPN2.
Guard Mickey McConnell said he was pleased the team would get the opportunity to play in the post season and Gaels fans could enjoy more SMC basketball. "The fan support, the success we've had this season has been great and I'm just happy we get to keep it going and have more games this year," he said.
While the Gaels had hoped for an at-large berth to the NCAA Basketball Tournament, it wasn't in the cards. Despite an impressive record of 25-8, being co-champions of the regular season, an RPI of 46 and West Coast Conference honors of coach of the year for Randy Bennett and player of the year for McConnell, the Gaels were not selected as one of the 68 teams to go to college basketball's big dance.
A crowd of more than 200 Gaels fans gathered to watch Selection Sunday in the McKeon Pavilion and the lack of an NCAA tournament slot left many of them bewildered, including Athletic Director Mark Orr. "We won 25 games and we won our regular season championship and we have a sub 50 RPI, a 46 RPI, and some of the teams that were selected to the tournament had worse profiles than that," he said. Even so, Orr said the decision process for the NCAA selection is not easy. "It's a ten person committee and I know they have tough jobs."
McConnell agreed. "It's tough, obviously, because you don't know what to expect coming into it, because you always think that you were good enough to get in. It's hard because there were other good teams that didn't get in and there were other teams that we thought we are better than that got in," he said. "Right now, at this point, you just have to turn the page and move on."
And that's exactly what the Gaels will have to do as they now turn their post-season focus to the NIT. 32 teams will square off through four rounds for the chance to play in the NIT Championship game on March 31 in New York's Madison Square Garden.