ND Headed to NIT

It may not be the postseason that it was hoping for, but Notre Dame will have a postseason in 2009. With any shot at going to the Big Dance lost in the Big East Tournament, the Irish have to settle for a trip to the NIT. Notre Dame opens up the tourney on Tuesday with a game against Alabama-Birmingham.

The Notre Dame basketball team heard its name called on Selection Sunday after all.

Unfortunately, it came about three hours after everyone expected during the preseason and instead of coming on CBS, the announcement came on ESPNU as the Irish were selected to play in the National Invitational Tournament rather than the NCAA Tournament.

The Irish (18-14) have been installed as a 2-seed in the 32-team NIT field and will open up the tourney with a home game on Tuesday against University of Alabama-Birmingham (22-11) at the Joyce Center at 9 p.m.

Notre Dame would not have to leave South Bend for a game unless they reached the quarterfinals and then only if they were playing Creighton. The semifinals will be held on Tuesday, March 31 and the final will be Thursday, April 2. The semifinals and final will be played at Madison Square Garden.

It came as no surprise to the Irish when they were not named one of the 65 teams invited to the NCAA Tournament, any chance of that was lost when they fell to West Virginia in the second round of the Big East Tournament.

But the Irish insist that they are excited about playing in the NIT and not worried about not playing in the NCAAs.

"We're an older group so I think we'll be able to handle it," Tory Jackson said. "It's always an up-and-down road when you're playing college basketball. We'll be able to handle it, the coaches are going to do a good job and starting tomorrow we're going to work on UAB."

Notre Dame also knows that its lofty preseason ranking means nothing now.

"If you look at the bracket, there's a lot of good teams. It's going to definitely be a challenge even with UAB coming in," said Luke Harangody. "We want to get back to New York. It's obviously going to be hard with the teams in our bracket, but that'd be great."

UAB is led by former Indiana coach Mike Davis and lost a chance at a NCAA bid when it fell to Tulsa in the semifinals of the Conference USA Tournament.

Senior guard/forward Robert Vaden leads the Blazers with 17.5 points per game while senior guard Paul Delaney III is averaging 16.0 and senior forward Lawrence Kinnard is scoring 14.2.

"We don't know too much about them," Jackson said. "We know about the scorer, Vaden. He's pretty good. They've got some great perimeter players. We've got to come in prepared and ready to play."

If the Irish get past the Blazers, they will play the winner of No. 3 New Mexico (21-11) and No. 6 Nebraska (18-12) game which will also be played on Tuesday.

Saint Mary's, who was snubbed by the NCAA Tournament, earned a No. 1 seed along with San Diego State, Creighton and Florida, who were also left out of the Big Dance.

The Irish have played in the NIT 10 times and have a 23-10 overall record. Notre Dame's last NIT appearance came three years ago in 2006 when they lost in the second round to Michigan. The Irish have never won a NIT title, but have reached the final four times.

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