Eric Murdock says Providence will have to earn the kind of respect it didn't get from the NCAA tournament selection committee when it plays host to James Madison tonight in the opening round of the NIT.

Murdock, who scored more than 30 points in 12 games this season and more than 40 in three, says an NIT title would be a respectable end to his college career."I really didn't want it to end like this, but we really did have a good season," he said. "The (NCAA) tournament selection just didn't go in our favor."

The game between Providence (17-12) and James Madison (19-9) is one of six first-round games on tonight's schedule. Elsewhere, it will be Ball State at Cincinnati, Bowling Green at Wisconsin, Michigan at Colorado, Southern Illinois at Boise State and Houston at Stanford.

On Thursday night, Fairleigh Dickinson is at Siena, Fordham at South Florida, Coppin State at Southwest Missouri State, Alabama-Birmingham at Memphis State, Rice at Arkansas State and Tulsa at Oklahoma.

The opening round concludes Friday with Furman at West Virginia, George Washington at South Carolina, La Salle at Massachusetts and Butler at Wyoming.

Second-round games are scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday with the third round Wednesday and Thursday. The tournament moves to New York's Madison Square Garden for the semifinals Monday, March 25, and the championship Wednesday, March 27.

Among the keys for Providence will be blocking out and preventing JMU from using its speed.

The Dukes are led by 6-foot-7 guard Steve Hood, eighth on James Madison's career scoring list with 1,255 points.

"We're going to spend special time on him to do what we've got to do to stop him." Murdock said.

JMU coach Lefty Driesell is selling his team on the importance of playing in the NIT.

"It is sort of a second chance when you don't get into the NCAA," Driesell said. "I think the players are excited about it.

"We could have had an easier team. We'll have to play well to beat them."

Starting forward Chancellor Nichols, the Dukes' leading rebounder, will not play because of a sprained ankle.

Stanford will have 6-7 forward Andrew Vlahov back in the starting lineup and hopes his presence will help against Houston's size and experience under the backboards.

But coach Mike Montgomery does not know how long Vlahov will be able to play when the Cardinal (15-13) takes on the Cougars (18-10). The Australian native has missed six weeks following ankle surgery Jan. 30.

"It's unrealistic to expect too much from him," said Montgomery, who isn't certain he'll start Vlahov. "Being away six weeks, his timing and the natural things that go along with playing basketball will be difficult for him."

Vlahov averaged 11.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game before ankle pain forced his decision to have surgery. In his last game, a 78-76 loss to Pac-10 champion Arizona, he had 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.