It wasn't until 10:15 p.m. that the NIT selection committee finalized the 40 teams would make up the 2002 tournament, and LSU learned it would travel through Iowa in order to reach the NIT finals at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The Tigers and Hawkeyes will meet at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on the University of Iowa campus in a game being nationally televised on ESPN2.
LSU coach John Brady was on the phone immediately after learning who his opposition would be, calling assistants Kermit Davis and Butch Pierre with instructions to obtain videotape from Iowa. The Hawkeyes, much like the Tigers, made an improbable run in their post-season conference tournament. Head coach Steve Alford's team brings a 19-15 mark into NIT play after advancing to the finals of the Big Ten Tournament where they fell 81-64 to Ohio State. The Hawkeyes' regular season conference mark was 5-11.
"Iowa's fan base is going to pack the building," said Brady. "They love their basketball. It's a Big Ten-SEC matchup. Certainly if we do things right at Iowa, we have a good chance to go further."
The Hawkeyes' top players in the 2001-2002 season have been senior forward Reggie Evans and senior guard Luke Recker.
Evans earned second-team Big Ten honors for the second straight season. He led the league in rebounding (11.2 average for all games) and averaged 16.1 points per outing, while ranking among league leaders in field goal percentage (.505).
Evans is the second Iowa player and the ninth athlete in Big Ten history to lead the league in rebounding in more than one season. He ranks among Iowa's career leaders in free throws, free throw attempts and rebounds. He was the Most Outstanding Player at the 2001 Big Ten Conference Tournament.
Recker, who transferred from the University of Indiana following his sophomore season, earned third-team Big Ten honors for the second time in his career. He was a third team selection in 1999 following his sophomore season with the Hoosiers and earned honorable mention recognition in his first year at Iowa a year ago.
Recker is Iowa's scoring leader (16.6 ppg) for the second straight season. He leads the team in three-point field goals (76) and ranks among Big Ten leaders in scoring, assists, steals, three-point field goals per game, free throw percentage and three-point field goal percentage.
Recker, twice this season, has tied the Iowa single game record for free throw percentage (100 percent on 10 or more attempts) and he is on pace to set single-season and career records for free throw percentage.
After advancing to the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, LSU sports an 18-14 record entering the postseason. The Tigers were 6-10 in regular season league games and finished fourth in the West Division.
LSU has relied on multiple contributors this season after losing junior guard Collis Temple III to successive leg injuries toward the midpoint of the season. Freshman guard Antonio Hudson has been the hot player as of late for the Tigers. He averaged 21 points in the Tigers' three SEC Tournament games to earn a spot on the All-Tournament team. Hudson's scoring average for the season climbed up to 10.5 points per game.
Junior forward Ronald Dupree, a second-team All-SEC choice, leads the Tigers with a 16.2 average. Junior guard Torris Bright also averages in double figures, getting 12.6 an outing.
"We're excited about playing in the NIT," said Brady. "A lot of teams that get in are not and they play like it. It's all relative to where you are. For us, it's a positive step for our program.
"Before the year started, we thought 17 wins and a postseason berth would be good for this team to be able to do and we were able to do that without having Collis for a number of games."
South Carolina and Vanderbilt were also selected from the SEC to the NIT field. The Tigers could ultimately face the Gamecocks for the right to advance to the semifinals. USC starts the tournament with Virginia in the first round, and the Commodores meet Houston in an opening round game.
There was speculation that NIT officials were giving thought to a Louisiana showdown involving LSU and either Louisiana Tech or Louisiana-Lafayette. But the Tigers' showing at the SEC Tournament elevated them into a first-round game, leaving the Bulldogs and Cajuns to face one another in the opening round in Ruston.
The winner of that game will meet the Houston-Vanderbilt winner in the first round.
As of press time, dates and times for some first-round games had not been determined. Opening round games will be played Tuesday and Wednesday, and first round games will be held Tuesday through Friday.
Second-round games are set for March 18-19 and the quarterfinals take place March 20-21. The four surviving teams are paired together in New York on March 26 with the NIT championship game set for March 28.
Hosting schools for the second round games will be determined once the first round is completed.
The NIT bid is the fourth in the history of the LSU basketball program and the first since Dale Brown's 1982-83 squad was paired against New Orleans. The Tigers fell in overtime to the Privateers, 99-94, in Baton Rouge. A year earlier, LSU had lost to Tulane, 83-72, in an NIT opening round game also played at the Assembly Center.
LSU's deepest foray in the NIT was in its initial appearance in 1970 when the entire field of 16 played its games at Madison Square Garden in New York, providing senior Pete Maravich with a national stage. The Tigers edged Georgetown in the first round, 83-82, and advanced from the quarterfinals with a 97-94 decision over Oklahoma.
Marquette stopped LSU in the semifinals, 101-79, and Army prevailed in the third-place game, 75-68.
The postseason appearance is the first for the Tigers since 2000 and just the second since the 1993 season. From 1984-1993, the Tigers made ten consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and returned to the event in 2000, when they won the SEC Championship and advanced to the Sweet 16 round.
LSU and Iowa have a history of two prior meetings and the Tigers own a 2-0 advantage in the series. The last meeting came in 1996– 70-60 forfeit win in the Maui Classic in Hawaii. The first game was played in 1963 – a 92-81 victory at the Far West Classic in Portland, Ore.