Uploaded: Sunday, March 17, 2013, 7:35 PM
Updated: Monday, March 18, 2013, 4:28 PM
Stanford men will host NIT basketball opener
|By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
The NIT has the distinction of featuring two national champions in its men's basketball tournament this season.
Stanford and Kentucky likely figured they would share that common denominator in the NCAA bracket but as Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins suggested, it shows how much parity has flooded into college basketball.
Stanford (18-14) opens defense of its NIT championship Tuesday, hosting Stephen F. Austin (27-4) at 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
The Wildcats, despite being a No. 1 seed, have to travel to Robert Morris (23-10) because Kentucky is being used for the NCAA second and third rounds.
Kentucky is not the only surprise team in the NIT. Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, Southern Mississippi, Tennessee, BYU and Ohio were also expected to be headed for the NCAA tournament.
A rash of conference tournament upsets set the stage for, perhaps, the strongest NIT field ever. In addition to the above, there are 10 regular-season conference champions in the NIT field, including Stephen F. Austin, which lost to Northwestern State, 68-66, in Southland Conference tournament finals to miss out on the automatic bid.
The Lumberjacks had won 11 of their previous 12 games before the loss to Northwestern State.
"It's a pretty good field when you look at all the storied programs," Dawkins said. "It shows you where college basketball is, and the parity. There are a lot of good teams."
For Stanford, it means a chance to become the third team in NIT to win two consecutive titles, joining St. John's and North Carolina.
Should Stanford beat the Lumberjacks and Northeastern upset Alabama, the Cardinal would host the second-round game Thursday.
"I get to play with Gabe some more and a chance to play with people I love to play basketball with," Stanford guard Aaron Bright said. "We're in it to win it. We're thankful for the opportunity to keep playing."
Bright has blossomed recently, playing the way that made him last year's NIT Most Outstanding Player. Bright, who scored 27 points in the Cardinal loss to Arizona State, has one turnover over his last 125 minutes, a span of four games. He has 13 assists over that stretch.
Gabe Harris, whom Bright referenced, is the Cardinal lone senior. He's also a reason why guys like Bright and Andy Brown feel good about playing again.
"We want to send Gabe out with as many games as we can," said Brown, who will be returning to school next year although he'll be finished with his undergraduate work. "Obviously we didn't have the kind of season we wanted but we're still excited to be playing."
The Lumberjacks are the top defensive team in the country, limiting opponents to 51 points a game and a 38 percent shooting percentage. They have not allowed 70 points in their past 63 games.
Stanford is 5-13 against teams playing in the NCAA and NIT fields, 2-3 against the NIT.
The Cardinal enters with a 71.4 scoring average.
Stanford freshman Grant Verhoeven will not be available for Tuesday's game. He will be checked for a possible concussion.
Stanford and Stephen F. Austin will be meeting for the first time in men's hoops. The Cardinal is 3-1 all-time against teams from the Southland Conference, most recently defeating Central Arkansas, 91-52, in last year's season opener at Maples Pavilion.
The 32-team NIT field includes two other Pac-12 teams in No. 3 seed Arizona State and No. 6 seed Washington. The first three rounds are played at campus sites, with the semifinals and championship game played at Madison Square Garden in New York on April 2-4.
Stanford is 35-20 all-time in 23 postseason appearances overall, including a 12-4 record in six NIT appearances. The Cardinal also claimed the 1991 Postseason NIT championship.
The Cardinal tied for sixth in the Pac-12, sweeping rival California and routing eventual conference tournament champion Oregon, 76-52, on Jan. 30 when the Ducks were ranked No. 10.
Tickets for Tuesday's game are on sale. Admission is free for all students. Tickets can be purchased online at www.gostanford.com, by calling 1-800-STANFORD or in person at the Stanford Athletic Ticket Office.
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