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NIT

Florida, Florida State make NIT field

FSU’s Ryan Reid, right, battling North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough, doesn’t want to hear any negative NIT talk.

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FSU’s Ryan Reid, right, battling North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough, doesn’t want to hear any negative NIT talk.

It's most likely not what they hoped for when the season began, but you won't hear Florida and Florida State complaining. At least they are still playing.

The Seminoles and Gators weren't invited to the NCAA Tournament but will participate in the 32-team National Invitation Tournament, which begins Tuesday.

No. 3-seed FSU hosts sixth-seeded Akron at 9 p.m. Tuesday. No. 2-seed Florida hosts No. 7 San Diego State at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

"The team that wins the NIT will be a great basketball team," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said Sunday. "When you look at the field, there are so many teams that probably deserved or should have been in the NCAA Tournament that it's actually scary. There will be not be a significant difference from a lot of the teams in the field of 65. The team that wins this championship should consider it an honor."

The Seminoles making the NIT this particular year, the fourth time in five years, has to be considered something of a positive.

"The NIT isn't the one we want to go to, but it would mean we would have another chance to win a championship," sophomore forward Ryan Reid said shortly after Friday's loss to North Carolina essentially ensured that the Seminoles' NCAA drought would reach a decade, "even with the adversity we've gone through."

Heralded freshman center Solomon Alabi had a stress fracture in his right leg before the season, tried to return but played just 10 games before having surgery. Freshman forward Julian Vaughn was limited by an undisclosed medical condition. And when Reid served a nine-game suspension in December and January, the post presence and depth was markedly affected.

Senior guard Isaiah Swann, one of the ACC's top 3-point shooters suffered a season-ending knee injury in early February. Two others left the program in December, junior swingman Casaan Breeden and freshman guard Chris Blake.

Florida's streak of NCAA Tournament appearances ended at nine, but the two-time defending national champion isn't alone. Ohio State, Florida's opponent in the national championship game last season, also failed to make the NCAA Tournament field. It is the first time since 1980 that two finalists from the previous year didn't make the tournament (Michigan and Indiana State).

"We're extremely happy with the opportunity we have to continue our season in the NIT," Florida coach Billy Donovan said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing to develop and grow as a team."

Florida forward Jonathan Mitchell had a different take: "We didn't expect this. It's like a bad dream."

Virginia Tech, Arizona State, Ohio State and Syracuse are the No. 1 seeds.

If everything holds, Florida would get Arizona State in the semifinals at Madison Square Garden, and with the Buckeyes on the other side of the bracket, a rematch is a possibility.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347. Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

>>FIRST ROUND

Tuesday

Stephen F. Austin (26-5) at UMass (21-10), 6

UNC Asheville (23-9) at Ohio State (19-13), 7

Robert Morris (26-7) at Syracuse (19-13), 8

Akron (23-10) at FSU

(19-14), 9, ESPN Classic

Oklahoma State (17-15) at Southern Illinois (17-14), 9

Maryland (18-14) at Minnesota (20-13), 9:30

Rhode Island (21-11) at Creighton (21-10), 10

Alabama State (20-10) at Arizona State (19-12), 11

Wednesday

Cleveland State (21-12) at Dayton (21-10), 6

Morgan State (22-10) at Virginia Tech (19-13), 7

UAB (22-10) at Virginia Commonwealth (24-7), 7

UC Santa Barbara (23-8) at Mississippi (21-10), 8

Charlotte (20-13) at Nebraska (19-12), 9 p.m.

San Diego State (20-12) at Florida (21-11), 9, ESPN2

Utah State (24-10) at Illinois State (24-9), 10

New Mexico (24-8) at California (16-15), 11

Florida, Florida State make NIT field 03/16/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 16, 2008 11:33pm]

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