Trojan basketball continues season with NIT berth

Published 10:13 pm Monday, March 15, 2010

Starting this Thursday, most of the college basketball world will turn its attention to the NCAA Tournament.

For Troy fans, however, the postseason begins Wednesday night when the Trojans open play in the 32-team NIT.

The Trojans were on the verge of going to the NCAA Tournament, and would have done so with a win over North Texas in the Sun Belt Championship Tournament finals March 9, but fell just short, 66-63.

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The season continues, however, as Troy was guaranteed a berth in the NIT by virtue of its regular season conference title.

The Trojans will play in Oxford, Miss. against Ole Miss Wednesday night at 8 p.m. While another game is assured, what remains to be seen is how Troy bounces back from the loss in the Sun Belt finals.

“I think our team is over that disappointment,” said head coach Don Maestri. “We are really looking forward to the NIT, and to the challenge that Ole Miss will present. We can’t change what happened, but we can change what will happen.”

Maestri said the team has had time to regroup following its last game, as players were given three days off following the loss before returning to practice this past Saturday.

“We came back and took a couple days off, but we got back to practice Saturday, and we have practiced every day since then,” Maestri said. “We had taken a couple days off, so we’ve been working on conditioning and getting our legs back under us. We scrimmaged also, but we’ve mostly been doing a lot of running.”

Troy enters the NIT as a No. 7 seed, and will travel to the No. 2 seeded Rebels in the first round.

Many people expected Troy to take on UAB, another No. 2 seed, in the first round, but the NIT opted instead to match the Blazers against Coastal Carolina in the first round, leaving Troy with the trip to Oxford.

While Maestri said the trip to Ole Miss should not affect his team, he does expect it to affect the turnout of Troy fans.

“I don’t think it made any difference to our team, but it sure makes a difference to our fans,” Maestri said. “Players have to play who they have to play, and they’ll play just as hard no matter who we’re playing, but it does affect who can go to the game, with Birmingham being a lot closer. But, that’s just how it is.”

No matter who the Trojans would have wound up playing in the first round, Maestri said it would have been a tough draw.

“When you look at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Illinois, Virginia Tech, Connecticut, North Carolina, UAB and other teams like that, you see that this is a very, very strong field for the NIT,” Maestri said.

The NIT begins tonight on campus sites, and will continue at campus sites through March 24. Once the field has been narrowed to four teams, those four will travel to Madison Square Garden for the NIT semifinals and NIT Championship Game March 30 through April 1.