LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Kentucky, last season's national champion, headlines the list of teams set to compete in this year's NIT.
UK’s NIT bid extends the Wildcats' streak of postseason appearances in either the NCAA Tournament or NIT to 22 consecutive seasons.
Kentucky (21-11) earned a No. 1 seed and will face eighth-seeded Robert Morris on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET at the Charles L. Sewall Center in Moon Township, Pa., outside of Pittsburgh. The game will be televised live on ESPN.
Kentucky is 1-0 against Robert Morris all-time with the lone meeting coming in a 92-67 triumph for the Wildcats on Dec. 30, 1993 in Rupp Arena.
“I’m really disappointed we didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, but we are going to use this time to make us better,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “We had our chances, but I’m not going to stop. It’s a great lesson for the future of our program and a humbling experience for me as a coach.”
UK is 13-6 in the NIT all-time. UK last played in the NIT during the 2009 season reaching the quarterfinals before falling 77-67 at Notre Dame.
“I’m excited to return to Pittsburgh and look forward to facing a team that is going to present a real challenge for us,” Calipari said. “Robert Morris won their league in the regular season. They shoot a lot of 3-pointers, produce a lot of steals, so we have to come prepared.”
Kentucky is making its ninth NIT appearance, having won the tournament twice, in 1946 and 1976. The Wildcats are 5-3 all-time in NIT openers.
Since 1992, UK owns a 105-28 (.789) record in postseason play (SEC, NIT and NCAA).
John Calipari has used the NIT as a springboard in his previous two stops at Massachusetts and Memphis. Overall, this marks the sixth NIT appearance in Calipari’s career. He reached the NIT semifinals in four of those appearances while winning the NIT championship in 2002 with Memphis. In three of the seasons he used the NIT as a building block for an NCAA Tournament berth the following year, including an NCAA Tournament Elite Eight appearance with Memphis in 2006 after reaching the NIT semifinals in 2005.
In Calipari’s first year at Kentucky the Wildcats reached the 2010 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight the year after UK appeared in the 2009 NIT.
“To the Big Blue Nation, you did your part all season long,” Calipari said. “You showed up in droves and helped us pull through key games. We didn’t do our part. Even now, I’m going to coach these guys, try to make them better and give everything I can to make sure we control our destiny in the future.”
The first three rounds of the NIT are hosted at the campus site of one of the participating teams. For each game, the higher-seeded team has the first option to host unless logistical circumstances preclude such an opportunity.
“We did not place a bid to host the first round of the NIT due to limited staff availability to properly host a game at Memorial Coliseum," said UK Executive Associate AD DeWayne Peevy about Kentucky playing at the arena at Robert Morris that seats approximately 3,000 people. "Because the University of Kentucky is hosting the NCAA second- and third-round games at Rupp Arena on March 21 and 23, the facility was not available for a first-round NIT game. We placed a bid to host both the second round and quarterfinal games at Rupp Arena if we advance.”
The Wildcats aren't the only SEC team snubbed by the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Alabama and Tennessee also missed the cut, marking the first time in 39 years that the Wildcats, Crimson Tide and Volunteers were left out of the same NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats (21-11) and Crimson Tide (21-12) are No. 1 seeds in the NIT, along with Southern Mississippi and Virginia.