Kentucky headlines NIT field

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 17, 2013
This season, Kentucky is headlining another tournament. The Wildcats, last season's national champion, will have to settle for trying to win the NIT. The Wildcats aren't the only SEC team snubbed by the NCAA tournament selection committee. Alabama and Tennessee also missed the cut, marking the first time in 39 years that the Wildcats, Crimson Tide and Volunteers were left out of the same NCAA tournament. The Wildcats (21-11) and Crimson Tide (21-12) are No. 1 seeds in the NIT, along with Southern Mississippi and Virginia. The Wildcats, who struggled to live up to lofty preseason expectations, went 4-4 in their final eight games without freshman star Nerlens Noel, who had his season ended early with a knee injury that required surgery. Kentucky, which played in the last two Final Fours under fourth-year coach John Calipari, becomes the 20th defending national champion to be left out of the NCAA tournament field and first since North Carolina in 2010. The Wildcats will play at eighth-seeded Robert Morris on Tuesday because Rupp Arena is unavailable to the Wildcats. The second and third round of the NCAA tournament is being played in Lexington. Alabama was likely done in by late road losses at Florida and Ole Miss - which made a surprising run to the SEC tournament title. The Tide beat Tennessee in the conference tournament but lost a rematch with the Gators on a neutral court. ''We felt like we needed to play our way in and we weren't fortunate enough to do that. We're thankful to have a chance to participate in the postseason,'' Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. Southern Miss (25-9) lost in double overtime to Memphis in the Conference USA title game with an NCAA bid on the line. The Golden Eagles will host Charleston Southern on Wednesday. ''We believe we should have been in the NCAA tournament, especially when you see some of the other teams that got in,'' Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall said. ''But there's still opportunity for us and I believe we'll bounce back.'' Virginia (21-11), which was blown out by North Carolina State in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, hosts Norfolk State on Tuesday. Tennessee (20-12) is a No. 2 seed and hosts Mercer on Wednesday. Maryland, Baylor and Massachusetts are also No. 2 seeds, with the Minutemen in line to host third-seeded Iowa if both teams advance. ''It's definitely a good thing for us to be able to continue playing. That's always an honor and a blessing,'' Iowa junior Devyn Marble said. ''We're looking forward to it and making sure we stay focused and take care of business. We're going to come in with the same focus and mindset we'd have if they were a Big Ten team.'' Florida State will face Louisiana Tech on Tuesday, and Saint Joseph's will host St. John's in an intriguing matchup in Philadelphia. --- AP Sports Writers David Brandt in Jackson, Mississippi and John Zenor in Montgomery, Alabama contributed to this report. --- Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP
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