Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

NIT Looks to Regain Its Luster; Selection Committee Full of Luminaries Picks the Field for the First Time

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

NIT Looks to Regain Its Luster; Selection Committee Full of Luminaries Picks the Field for the First Time

Article excerpt

Byline: BOB THOMAS

TALLAHASSEE -- C.M. Newton remembers when the National Invitation Tournament was "the tournament" in college basketball circles, widely considered a notch above today's NCAA goliath.

Newton, a former coach at Alabama and Vanderbilt, athletic director at Kentucky and past chairman of the NCAA men's basketball selection committee, feared that the NIT was about to go the way of the two-handed set shot.

"My concern, when the NCAA settled the lawsuit on the NIT, was they might just let it become a thing of the past, just an irrelevant part of college basketball," Newton said after the NCAA purchased the rights to operate the preseason and postseason NITs in August 2005.

It's the reason Newton jumped at the opportunity to help restore some of the tournament's luster when approached by NCAA president Myles Brand to sit on an elite selection committee.

Teaming with six former coaches, including North Carolina's Dean Smith, Newton put together this year's 40-team field for the 69th NIT. The tournament began Tuesday and culminates with four teams vying for the championship March 28-30 at New York's Madison Square Garden.

Second-seeded Florida State will host Butler at 7 p.m. Friday at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.

While disappointed his Seminoles didn't make the 65-team NCAA Tournament, FSU coach Leonard Hamilton likes the direction the NIT is taking as he makes his sixth appearance in the tournament with his third school.

"When you take the quality of people that are in charge -- C.M. Newton, Dean Smith, people of that high integrity and knowledge -- I haven't heard a whole lot of complaints about the way they got things arranged and organized," Hamilton said. "They deal from a base of knowledge and experience.

"In many ways, there are a lot of teams in the NIT that I think are better than a considerable amount of teams in the NCAA Tournament. …

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