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UB crosses fingers for NIT

Despite winning 19 games, a return trip to the National Invitation Tournament is doubtful for the University at Buffalo.

The Bulls, who lost to Kent State in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament on Thursday in Cleveland, have a 19-13 overall record and finished 8-10 in the league.

For the first time in the 69-year history of the tournament, the NIT -- which is being run for the first time by the NCAA -- will release its bracket live at 9 p.m., on ESPNU and ESPN News. The Bulls competed in last year's NIT, winning at home over Drexel before losing to Saint Joseph's on the road.

UB filled out the paperwork to be considered for the field of 40 last week but as of Friday evening had not spoken with NIT officials about the Bulls' chances of making the field. NIT selection committee chairman C.M. Newton was not available for comment.

"I think it's probably iffy, but in my mind that means we're on the bubble if not toward the bottom of it," said Warde Manuel, UB's athletics director. "I would like to think we're one of the top 128 teams in the country, but it depends on the results of this weekend."

For the first time, conference regular-season champions who do not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament will gain automatic berths to the NIT. Last season, the NCAA passed over 10 regular-season champs, and the NIT invited five of those. Northern Arizona, for example, won the Big Sky regular season title but lost the conference final to Montana and will play in the NIT. Had Northern Arizona won the conference tournament, another Big Sky team landing an NIT bid was unlikely.

"We have to hope that as many teams like that as possible win their tournament," said UB coach Reggie Witherspoon. "That might be able to open some spots for more MAC teams."

NCAA bubble teams like Michigan, upset by Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, are now probably headed to the NIT. Same goes for Seton Hall after losing to Rutgers in the early round of the Big East Tournament. Then there are teams like Syracuse, likely NIT bound before the Big East Tournament, which probably played its way into the NCAAs.

The Bulls certainly didn't help themselves. UB's RPI plummeted after the Jan. 21 loss to Central Michigan, which defeated only three Division I opponents all season. The Bulls didn't do much to recover from the loss by going 6-8 the rest of the way, and 4-6 over their last 10 games. UB's RPI before Thursday's loss to Kent State was 125.

"I'm not the type of administrator to call and beg people to let me into something," Manuel said. "You earn it and you deal with it. Obviously I'm going to call the NIT people but it won't be to beg, it will be to make a point that I need to make about our program."

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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