NEW YORK (AP) - With two famous names on the sideline, the NIT championship has a New York feel.
One coach is a rising young star, the other is in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career. Both with boyhood ties to the Big Apple.
So it seems all too appropriate that Brown and the boy wonder will play for a postseason trophy on Seventh Avenue.
SMU (27-9) and Minnesota (24-13) were both disappointed to be left out of the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday. But each squad received a No. 1 seed in the NIT and made the most of it.
“I think really the only tough game, honestly, was the first game. I think that was where everybody was kind of let down a little bit,” said Richard Pitino, in his first season at Minnesota. “We’ve got three seniors who don’t want their college career to be over, and then we have got some younger guys who have an opportunity to win a championship.”
SMU is looking for its first NIT title. In fact, before Tuesday night, the only time the Mustangs had played at Madison Square Garden was a 76-72 loss to St. John’s in December 1950.
Minnesota won the National Invitation Tournament in 1993 and ‘98, but the second one was vacated because of an NCAA rules violation involving player eligibility.
“I think the NIT is so much better than it was years ago,” Brown said. “And I try to reminisce about when I was a boy, when the NIT was the biggest tournament going.”
A handful of key Gophers, including Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins, played in the championship game two years ago under coach Tubby Smith when Minnesota was routed 75-51 by Stanford.
Starting center Elliott Eliason missed Tuesday’s win over Florida State after injuring his ankle in practice last week. Richard Pitino said Eliason would be evaluated at practice Wednesday to gauge whether he’ll be able to play in the championship game.
“We are cautious. It’s hard to tell right now,” the coach said.