Bulls to host N.C. State in NIT opener Tuesday
USF's men's basketball team, making its first postseason appearance in eight years, has earned a No. 3 seed in the postseason NIT and will play host to N.C. State on Tuesday night in the Sun Dome. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m., with the game's broadcast on ESPNU.
"We certainly are excited to be in this tournament," coach Stan Heath said Sunday night. "It's an opportunity to play a second season, a postseason, and we're facing a very strong team. You take it one game at a time, but you're trying to win a championship."
The Bulls (20-12) will seek their first postseason win in 15 years against the Wolfpack (19-15), who finished in a three-way tie for ninth out of 12 teams in the ACC, with a 5-11 record in conference play. N.C. State has played some of its best basketball in the state of Florida this year, with wins at Florida State and Miami. The Wolfpack also handed Duke one of its five losses, knocking off the Blue Devils in Raleigh.
Tickets will go on sale Monday at 8 a.m. at 1-800-GoBulls, with student tickets costing $4 and all others ranging from $8 for third-level seats to $30 for floor seats. USF won its last two NIT home games, beating St. John's and Coppin State in reaching the third round in 1995.
Heath had the whole team to his house for dinner Sunday night to watch the NIT announcement on ESPNU, and he said the players have been excited about playing in two practices since the Bulls lost to Georgetown on Wednesday in the Big East tournament.
With a No. 3 seed, the Bulls would likely play their second NIT game on the road later this week, though an upset could open up another home game for USF. If second-seeded UAB can beat Coastal Carolina, then the Bulls would go to Birmingham, but if Coastal pulled off the win, they would come to Tampa after a Bulls win.
There are four other Big East teams in the 32-team field -- Cincinnati is a No. 2, hosting Weber State, Seton Hall is a No. 4, hosting Texas Tech, Connecticut is a No. 4, hosting Northeastern, and St. John's is a No. 6, traveling to Memphis. In all, 13 of the Big East's 16 teams are playing in the postseason.
USF had hoped to earn its first NCAA Tournament berth in 18 years, but the Bulls didn't have enough to earn an at-large berth. Going into this season, of the 123 Big East teams that won 20 games entering the postseason, all but three had earned trips to the NCAAs.
USF is 3-2 against ACC teams in the past four seasons, including a 66-59 win against Virginia in November. Virginia swept N.C. State in two meetings this season. Another common opponent is Marquette -- N.C. State beat the Golden Eagles in Milwaukee, where Marquette in turn beat USF.
N.C. State also played in Tampa in the 2007 ACC Tournament at St. Pete Times Forum, when the 10th-seeded Wolfpack had three upsets, including second-seeded Virginia and third-seeded Virginia Tech, before falling to North Carolina in the championship game.
You can see the NIT bracket online at the tournament's official site. And yes, if USF and North Carolina both advanced, the Tar Heels would come to Tampa in the third round. Former USF coach Seth Greenberg, whose Virginia Tech team was passed over by the NCAA selection committee, is on USF's half of the bracket, so the Bulls could meet their old coach in the NIT semifinals back at Madison Square Garden.