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March 17, 2013

Alabama earns top seed for NIT

TUSCALOOSA | The University of Alabama basketball team drew a No.1 seed in the National Invitation Tournament on Sunday and will play host to Northeastern on Tuesday at 8 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

"Obviously, we're going to learn quite a bit about Northeastern here over the next 24 hours or so," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "We're thankful to have an opportunity to play."

If Alabama beats No. 8 seed Northeastern, it would play the winner of Stanford and Stephen F. Austin in the second round. Other teams in Alabama's bracket include Denver, Ohio, Niagara and No. 2-seeded Maryland.

Other NIT No.1 seeds include Kentucky, Southern Miss and Virginia.

The Crimson Tide finished runner-up in the NIT in 2011, losing in the final to Wichita State, 66-57 at Madison Square Garden. Junior point guard Trevor Releford was subsequently named to the All-NIT team as a freshman.

"I think he's the only guy right now that participated in that tournament two years ago, but our team did go to Madison Square Garden earlier this season and played Oregon State and Villanova in the 2K Classic," Grant said. "So our guys are familiar with that venue. But that's down the road. Right now the focus has got to be on getting prepared for Northeastern."

It remains to be seen whether senior Andrew Steele will be available for the NIT. A foot injury prevented him from playing in the SEC tournament.

"We'll determine that status as we move forward," Grant said.

Northeastern won the Colonial Athletic Association regular season championship and finished runner-up in the CAA tournament.

"The NIT berth extends what has been a special season," Huskies coach Bill Coen said.

Alabama and Northeastern have met only once before, an 88-73 Alabama home win in December, 1979.

Alabama reached the SEC tournament semifinals, defeating Tennessee in a quarterfinal before falling to top-seeded Florida on Saturday.

Most NCAA tournament experts believed UA needed a victory over the Gators, at a minimum, to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.

"We felt like we needed to play our way in, and we weren't fortunate enough to do that. We're thankful to have a chance to participate in the postseason," Grant said.

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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