ESPN2 will televise Alabama's NIT opener Tuesday
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Mar 17, 2013 | 5777 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
How’s a No. 1 seed as consolation for an NCAA tournament snub?

Alabama (21-12) will be one of four top seeds in the National Invitation Tournament and will open at home against eight seed Northeastern (20-12) on Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.

Being a No. 1 seed means Alabama would play at home until the semifinals and finals in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Crimson Tide would have the chance to play three home games, if it advances.

“We’re thankful that we’re continuing to play our season, and, obviously, getting a chance to play at home is always good,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said.

Kentucky, which lost at Alabama during the regular season, is the overall No. 1 seed in the NIT. Virginia and Southern Miss are the other two top seeds in the 32-team field.

The Alabama-Northeastern winner will play the Stanford-Stephen F. Austin winner. Alabama’s eight-team bracket also includes Denver, Ohio, Maryland and Niagara.

“You look down, and it’s a very talented field,” Grant said. “There are a lot of very good teams throughout the tournament and on our side of the bracket, as well.”

If Alabama gets through its bracket, Virginia is the top seed on the other side.

The NIT field was announced Sunday, after the NCAA tournament field. Alabama was left out of the NCAA field a year after losing to Creighton in the first round.

Alabama’s NCAA tourney appearance a year ago was its first since 2006.

Alabama was considered a long shot to make the NCAA field headed into this past week’s SEC tournament, despite earning the league’s fourth seed and a double-bye in the tourney. The Crimson Tide beat Tennessee in the quarterfinals but lost to Florida in Saturday’s semifinals.

“We felt like we needed to play our way in, and we weren’t fortunate enough to do that,” Grant said.

The Tide did not have a formal get together to watch Sunday’s NCAA selection show.

“We didn’t do anything as a team today,” Grant said.

Alabama is returning to the NIT after losing to Wichita State in the finals two years ago, but only junior point guard Trevor Releford saw significant playing time in that NIT run.

Senior guard Andrew Steele did not play in the Tide’s 2011 NIT run after suffering a concussion in the SEC tourney, and it looks likely he will not play this time around with a stress fracture in his right ankle. Steele has missed 12 games with a sports hernia and ankle injury this season.

“I feel bad for him,” Grant said. “But certainly he’s going to be an integral part of our team, as we move forward, just with his voice and his leadership and the other things he provides to our team even though he’s not playing.”

Alabama did play in Madison Square Garden this season, winning twice in November’s 2K Sports Classic. The Tide beat Oregon State 65-62 on Rodney Cooper’s 3-pointer with 13 seconds left and got 25 points from Releford in throttling Villanova 77-55.

Northeastern is coming off a 70-57 loss to James Madison in the Colonial Athletic Association final, but the Huskies beat George Mason 69-67 in the semifinals.

Northeastern carried the No. 1 seed in the CAA after claiming its first league title.

“We’re thankful to have a chance to participate in the postseason,” Grant said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge of going up against Northeastern.”

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.
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