Rest easy coach, pundits say WSU an NIT lock

ASKED THURSDAY after the nailbiting loss to Washington what he thought the Cougars' chances were for a bid to the National Invitational Tournament, Ken Bone said he didn't know but he was hopeful. Rest easy, coach. At least three regular followers of NIT bracketology see the Cougs as locks for the tourney. In fact, one projects a No. 1 seed for WSU. in its Friday projections has WSU joining Alabama, UAB and Missouri State as the No. 1 seeds in the NIT.

The Bracket Project forecasts the 19-12 Cougars as a 3 seed in the 32-team field. And while the betting site Bankroll Sports doesn't do seeding, it lists WSU among its NIT "locks."

If all those folks are right, the Cougs will be joined in the NIT by Pac-10 brethren Cal and USC.

Of course, nothing can be taken for granted. The NIT can be a fickle creature. A few years back, the Spencer Hawes-Jon Brockman Dawgs were considered an NIT lock and ended up out in the cold, where they paid to get beat by Valparaiso in the CBI. In 1977, the 19-win Cougars led by legendary Steve Puidokas finished third in the conference and seemed destined for an NIT invite that never came.

Fans won't have to wait long to find out how the 2011 NIT shapes up. Teams are announced Sunday by the NCAA shortly after the Big Dance pairings are unveiled. The NIT selection show will begin at 6 pm PT on ESPNU.

Word out of Pullman is that WSU has told the NIT it would play host to a first-round game, which would be held this coming Tuesday or Wednesday. One complicating fact for WSU is that spring break started this weekend, so attendance would have to rely almost exclusively on Whitman and Spokane County residents.

This would mark WSU's fifth trip to the NIT, the most recent being in 2009 when the Cougs lost in the first round to St. Mary's. The 1995-96 Cougars beat Gonzaga in the first round and fell to Nebraska in the second. The 1994-95 Cougs made it to the quarterfinals, losing to Canisius, after earlier wins over Texas Tech and Illinois State. WSU's first NIT team was the 1991-92 club, which beat Minnesota in the first round and lost to New Mexico in the second.

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