Alabama basketball earns No. 1 seed in NIT, will play Norfolk State
After failing to land a spot in the NCAA Tournament earlier on Selection Sunday, Alabama was one of 32 invited to participate in this year’s National Invitation Tournament. Alabama (18-15, 8-10 in the SEC) will be a No. 1 seed in the NIT and will host No. 8 seed Norfolk State inside Coleman Coliseum on Wednesday at 6 p.m. CT on ESPNU. Norfolk State (21-13) won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season title.
If Alabama wins, it could possibly set up a second-round meeting with former head coach Anthony Grant and No. 5 seed Dayton as the Flyers play No. 4 seed Colorado in the first round.
This was the Crimson Tide’s fourth appearance in the past five seasons. Alabama’s last trip to the NIT occurred during the 2016/17 season when it was eliminated in the first round by Richmond. Alabama has appeared in 15 NITs and has reached the championship game two times. The Crimson Tide has a 24-18 record in the tournament.
“The NIT gives us another opportunity to practice. It gives us another opportunity to play real games in front of a live crowd and just really grow and develop and get better,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said on a teleconference Sunday night. “Especially with our young players, specifically our point guard, Kira Lewis and the rest of our guys that are going to be returning next year. It just gives us a jump start on next year’s preparation. It also gives us an opportunity to take care of our seniors like Riley Norris and Donta Hall, guys who have given their hearts to the program to give them the opportunity to play ball and get evaluated because you never know who’s watching.”
As a No. 1 seed, Alabama could play up to three more games in Coleman Coliseum. Higher seeds host lower seeds in the NIT until the semifinals where games will be held inside New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Alabama entered the day holding slim hopes to make a second straight NCAA Tournament. Instead, the Crimson Tide was one of the top teams to miss out on the Big Dance, joining UNC-Greensboro, TCU and Indiana. Last year, Alabama advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before being knocked out by eventual champion Villanova. The Crimson Tide has not made consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances since 2005 and 2006.
Alabama finished at No. 59 in the NET rankings used by the tournament selection committee. No. 73 St. John’s was the lowest ranked team to earn an at-large bid and will play fellow No. 11 seed No. 63 Arizona State in a play-in game.
The Crimson Tide finished with a 3-10 record against Quadrant 1 teams and a 7-3 record against Quadrant 2 opponents. The combined 10 Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 wins ranked sixth-best in the SEC. Seven SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament, including No. 2 seeds Kentucky and Tennessee, No. 3 seed LSU, No. 5 seeds Auburn and Mississippi State, No. 8 seed Ole Miss and No. 10 seed Florida.
“This is a situation that we don’t have anyone else to blame,” Johnson said. “We’re playing in the NIT because we just weren’t good enough during the regular season, and we weren’t consistent enough.”
Johnson said he met with his players around 8 p.m. CT Sunday night after the NIT tournament was revealed, describing the mood of the team as “somber.”
“We kind of explained to them why we were in the position we were in and what do we do next and why we should play in the NIT,” Johnson said. “We talked to them about the why in terms of playing in the NIT and the benefits of it. And then we met with every player individually to get his thoughts on the season and moving forward because at practice tomorrow we just need 100 percent buy-in. Everybody seemed like they’ll be ready for practice tomorrow, and I think after the individual meetings tonight that helped lift some of their spirits a little bit.”
This year’s NIT will feature a few experimental rules: The 3-point line will be extended to 22 feet, 1.75 inches, matching FIBA international rules. The free-throw line will be widened to 16 feet, matching the NBA dimensions. The shot clock will reset to 20 seconds after offensive rebounds instead of the full 30 seconds. Team fouls will reset at the 10-minute mark of each half, while one-and-one free throws will be eliminated.