NCAA or NIT?
The answer will come sometime this evening when Alabama’s mysterious NCAA tournament balancing act reaches a conclusion.
There will be no public viewing party for the selection show starting at 5 p.m. after the Crimson Tide’s 72-58 loss to Kentucky in Saturday’s SEC semifinal threw water on Alabama’s hopes.
The argument for the Tide’s inclusion in the 68-team field was filed after the 14-point loss in the Georgia Dome.
“At the beginning of the year, everybody counted us out,” freshman guard Trevor Releford said. “They still do. You go 12-4 in the SEC, that’s a big deal.”
The Tide (21-11) still has to overcome an 8-7 non-conference record and a schedule that ranked 127th nationally prior to Saturday’s game, according to RealtimeRPI.com.
Alabama’s projected RPI — a ranking used to help the NCAA selection committee was in the upper 70s before losing to Kentucky. No team ranked worse than 63rd has made the field since the RPI formula changed in 2005.
The best-case scenario for the SEC West champions appears to be landing one of the three at-large bids added to the tournament field this year. That would mean a quick flight to Dayton, Ohio where the last four teams that receive bids face a one-game play-in round on Tuesday or Wednesday. The two winners receive the final two of 37 at-large bids to play Thursday or Friday.
The other alternative is the NIT and, most likely, a home game Tuesday or Wednesday.
Should it fall to the secondary tournament, it would likely be among the top seeds that have the option of hosting. The field will be revealed at 8 p.m. on ESPNU after the NCAA brackets are set.
Former Alabama coach C.M. Newton is the chairman of the 32-team NIT that plays semifinal and championship games in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said that shouldn’t be an issue for Alabama regardless of Saturday’s result.
“Today, see the issue with this, and I’ve seen it in leagues where this has happened, I had my team play really well and a team should be getting in the NCAA tournament,” Calipari said. “And we smack them pretty good and everyone says ‘See, they weren’t that good.’ We would have smacked anybody that we played today. It wasn’t just Alabama. We would have beaten just about anybody. So I don’t think that should affect what they do with Alabama.”
Alabama senior Chris Hines can’t decide if he’s excited for the selection show or not.
“I’m looking forward to it, but I’m really not looking forward to it,” he said Saturday. “I want it to get here and I want our name to be called to play in that tournament, but if not, there goes another opportunity for our team going down the drain. I’m looking forward to it. I hope our name gets called. I’m pretty sure we’ll be somewhere all together looking to see if our name is called.”
The most recent of Alabama’s 18 NCAA appearances came in 2006, its last of five straight trips.
The Tide’s last NIT ended in the 2007 first round with a loss at UMass. The program has reached four NIT final fours with the most recent ending in a 79-60 loss to Tulsa in the 2001 championship game.
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star.