ATHENS -- Some might scoff at the NIT, but members of the Georgia basketball team are starved for postseason, having not reached it in three years. So as the NIT field was being unveiled Sunday night, there was drama as 30 of the 32 teams were announced and no Georgia.
“Cam Forte said that he nearly died because we were one of the last teams announced,” head coach Mark Fox said, referring to his sophomore forward.
But Georgia’s name was called and with it a very respectable, and somewhat surprising, seed.
Georgia is a No. 2 seed in the NIT and will host Vermont at 8 p.m. on Wednesday at Stegeman Coliseum. It will be televised on ESPNU.
If Georgia wins, it will host a second-round game against the winner of the Louisiana Tech-Iona game. The No. 1 seed in its regional is Florida State.
Fox indicated he wasn’t surprised by the No. 2 seed, feeling his team deserved a shot at the NCAA tournament, even if bracket analysts disagreed.
“I felt like if we won the game (Saturday), we would have been in the NCAA tournament,” Fox said. “So if we were that close in that situation, I figured we would be one of the top one or two teams in the NIT, just because I didn’t think we would fall that far, losing to a good Kentucky team. We’re certainly excited to be playing at home and just to have a chance to keep playing.”
Vermont (20-11) has an RPI rank of 101. It nearly won at Duke in November, falling 91-90. It also played close with two other teams (St. Joseph’s and Harvard) that reached the NCAA tournament.
But Vermont’s best win, at least going by RPI, was against Illinois State, which was ranked 134.
Fox said he had already heard from ESPN commentator Tom Brennan, who coached Vermont for 1986-2005 but is also a Georgia grad.
“He wants to call it the Tom Brennan Invitational,” Fox said.
Georgia only has one senior on this year’s team, so the hope is to use this season and the NIT as a springboard.
“We can win the NIT if we’re selected to go there,” Georgia guard Kenny Gaines said after Saturday’s loss. “And that would be a great confidence-booster going into next year.”
Eleven of the 22 at-large selections to the NIT last year went on to make this year’s NCAA tournament. Baylor and Iowa, which met in last year’s NIT championship, each made the NCAA tournament this year.
Virginia went from being a No. 1 seed in last year’s NIT to a No. 1 seed in this year’s NCAA tournament.
“It could be a very valuable experience for our team,” Fox said. “For a lot of reasons this could be a very good experience for us. The first challenge will be, like it is for a lot of teams, when you come up short of your original goal, is being able to regroup and get ready to play with the energy and intelligence and effort that you need to play against the good teams. That’s challenge No. 1. But I think it could be a great experience for these guys to continue to develop as a team and as a program.”
Georgia was one of four SEC teams selected to the field: Missouri is a No. 2 seed, Arkansas a No. 3 and LSU a No. 5.
That makes more SEC teams in the 32-team NIT than in the 68-team NCAA tournament. Only Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee reached the NCAA tournament.
This is Georgia’s first appearance in the NIT since 2007, when it hosted a first-round game, beating Fresno State, then went on the road in the second round and lost at Air Force.
This is the 11th NIT appearance for Georgia, which twice made the Final Four -- in 1982 and 1998 ---finishing in third place each time. The Bulldogs are 11-11 all-time in the tournament.
The second-round games will be sometime between Thursday and March 24 and third-round games on March 25-26. The NIT Final Four will be played at New York’s Madison Square Garden on April 1 and April 3.