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Colorado, Virginia Tech headline NIT field

By Dave Skretta

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 13 2011 7:30 p.m. MDT

Colorado basketball players Levi Knutson, front left, Marcus Relphorde, Trent Beckley and Cory Higgins show their disappointment watching the 2011 NCAA Basketball Selection Show at the home of head coach Tad Boyle's home in Longmont, Colo. on Sunday, March 13, 2011. Colorado did not make it into the tournament.

The Daily Camera, Jeremy Papasso

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NEW YORK — Perhaps the NCAA tournament selection committee confused Alabama-Birmingham with Alabama, and Virginia Commonwealth for Virginia Tech.

The two bubble teams from power conferences were passed over Sunday in favor of a pair of mid-major teams from their very own states. The Crimson Tide and Hokies were relegated to the NIT, giving the consolation tournament its deepest field in years.

Alabama and Virginia Tech were joined as No. 1 seeds by Colorado and Boston College on Sunday night, two more teams that had high hopes of playing in the NCAA tournament. They'll host first-round games Tuesday and Wednesday, with the championship game March 31 in New York City.

"I just feel like the way we're playing right now, we're one of the top 68 teams in the country," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "I know that. But we're not in the tournament. We have to deal with it and move on. We have to make a statement in the NIT."

Seth Greenberg and the Hokies have sweated out the selection process the past three years, missing out each time, and figured a win over Duke in late February might finally make the difference. It turned out they needed to beat the Blue Devils in the ACC tournament, too.

"It's a chance to continue to play," Greenberg said. "That's going to be my approach."

All of the high-profile schools sent tumbling into the NIT give it plenty of star power, even if they won't be under the brightest lights of March Madness.

"All you have to do is look at the field in the NIT and see, from top to bottom, how many quality teams are in it," said Dayton's Brian Gregory, whose team lost to Richmond in the Atlantic-10 title game Sunday. "If that doesn't fire you up, you probably shouldn't be playing."

Only nine teams in the field have yet to reach 20 wins. Eight have at least 24, including Coastal Carolina from the Big South, St. Mary's from the West Coast Conference, Missouri State from the Missouri Valley and Fairfield from the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference.

They earned automatic bids by winning their regular-season conference titles.

"The thing that really impacted us was we had 13 automatic qualifiers," NIT selection chair C.M. Newton said. "We had a record number, the most we've ever had before was eight."

The marquee opening-round matchup might be Alabama, bumped from the NCAA bubble by a Georgia team it beat twice this season, against Coastal Carolina, which went 28-5 but lost to eventual champion UNC-Asheville in its conference tournament title game.

The other games in the Tide's quarter of the bracket include second-seeded Miami against Florida Atlantic; third-seeded Missouri State against Murray State; and fourth-seeded New Mexico against No. 5 seed UTEP, which missed a shot at the buzzer in a 67-66 loss to Memphis in the Conference USA title game. The Tigers ended that game on a 17-4 run.

Top-seeded Colorado will face Texas Southern in the opening round, while second-seeded St. Mary's faces Kent State in the same portion of the bracket. Third-seeded Colorado State will face Fairfield and No. 4 seed California will play Mississippi.

Boston College earned a date with McNeese State in the opening round, with the winner playing fourth-seeded Northwestern or No. 5 seed Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Second-seeded Washington State plays Long Beach State and third-seeded Oklahoma State plays Harvard, which hoped for its first NCAA bid since 1946 after a crushing loss to Princeton in a tiebreaker game.

"We were hopeful to put ourselves in a position to get the bid outright with our league, and obviously that didn't happen," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said after the loss. "It's been very exciting for us to be in the position we're in, to have these opportunities, to play in these kind of games at this time of the year."

The Hokies certainly know how it feels to play in the NIT when they were hoping for the NCAA.

They'll open this time against Bethune-Cookman, with the winner getting Wichita State or Nebraska in the second round. Second-seeded Cleveland State will face Vermont, while defending NIT champion Dayton faces the College of Charleston.

"What I'd like to know is if there's ever been a team that's won nine games in the ACC and played the non-conference schedule that we played and beat a No. 1 seed and still didn't get in," Greenberg said. "I'd love to see the research on that."

AP Sports Writers Hank Kurz, Pat Graham and Jimmy Golen contributed to this report.

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