With games against power-conference teams and the allure of the New York City spotlight, the NIT Season Tip-Off is a sought-after event for college basketball teams.
The NIT, however, was only able to secure half as many teams — eight, instead of 16 — for this November’s tournament, leaving some programs involved in a state of uncertainty. Minnesota, named one of the tournament’s four host schools, could be one of them.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino has made it clear he wants his team to remain in the field. But on Monday, he wouldn’t unequivocally commit to the tournament with so much up in the air.
Asked whether there is any scenario in which Minnesota would bow out of the tournament, Pitino said: “I hope not. … We still want to play in it, we want to make it happen, and I think it’s moving in the right direction.”
With half as many teams, the guarantees each program receives could be changing. ESPN’s Andy Katz reported teams could lose one home game (two were scheduled), and potentially would play one more game at Madison Square Garden (three instead of two).
St. John’s coach Steve Lavin told Katz that the Red Storm would play in the tournament no matter what, but the three other host programs — Minnesota, Gonzaga and Georgia — have not made such a commitment.
If Minnesota were to bow out of the tournament, or if it were to otherwise fall apart, the Gophers would have some major late-summer scheduling to do. Depending on what matchups they would be able to schedule, losing the NIT could be something that comes back to bite them in the spring if they’re on the NCAA tournament bubble. The beauty of a tournament such as the NIT is it guarantees good competition and boosts each team’s strength of schedule, one measure considered at the end of the regular season in determining which teams make the NCAA field.
Pitino would not comment on whether the nonconference schedule was completed otherwise, saying only, “We will release that soon.”
Josh Adel, Gophers director of basketball operations, recently wrote on the Basketball Travelers website that the team is seeking another home game Nov. 20, which is around the same time of the NIT tournament.
Hands off tickets, Dad
When Pitino found out the location of the Gophers’ tropical season opener against his father, Rick Pitino, and his Louisville squad, he turned to an old player of his.
Timberwolves guard J.J. Barea, who attended Northeastern University in Boston while Pitino was an assistant there, hails from Puerto Rico.
“Where is this?” Pitino questioned.
“Whoa,” Barea responded. The game takes place on U.S. Air Station Borinquen, in a rural area on the other side of the island from San Juan, the capital and largest city of Puerto Rico. It will take place inside a hanger and be a small affair. Each Pitino gets about 55 to 60 tickets to distribute as they wish. The rest in attendance will be the troops.
The elder Pitino already attempted to snatch some of his son’s allotment.
“I said no,” Richard said. Still, he’s figuring some of his dad’s constituency will work in his favor.
“I’m sure about 10 of the tickets from my dad’s side will be my family — at least 20,” he said. “If they’re not rooting for me, there’s a major problem. So hopefully we can make it a bit of a home game.”
• International freshmen Bakary Konate of Mali and Gaston Diedhiou of Senegal are not on campus yet. Pitino confirmed they have each been cleared to play by the NCAA.
• After his April knee surgery, Charles Buggs is competing in noncontact activities, Pitino said, but likely won’t have any contact until the team returns to practice in September.