Four days after being knocked out of the Big 12 Championship, the Nebraska Cornhuskers found new life as they learned Sunday evening that they were chosen for a spot in the 32-team field for the 2009 Master Card National Invitation Tournament (NIT).
The Huskers, who finished with their first .500 standing in league play in a decade, earned a No. 6 seed and will play No. 3 seed New Mexico. The teams will face off on Tuesday, March 17, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at 9 p.m. Central (8 p.m. MT) in a game televised on ESPNU.
The postseason berth is the second straight for the Huskers under coach Doc Sadler, who was pleased that his players’ hard work and tremendous effort throughout the season was rewarded.
“I’ve said since the first day of this season that this team has given me everything it has, every day, every practice, every time they step on the floor. They deserve the chance to keep competing,” Sadler said. “We didn’t reach our primary goal which every year is to be in the NCAA Tournament, but getting to the postseason two straight years -- and especially this year against such a strong NIT field -- is another step forward in building this program. We’re excited to have the chance to get back to work and see what we can accomplish the rest of this season.”
The Huskers will be competing in the nation’s oldest postseason tournament for the fourth time in the past six years, and the 16th time in history. Overall, it is Nebraska’s 22nd postseason appearance of any kind.
Nebraska enters the postseason with an 18-12 overall record after falling in the first round of the league tournament. The Huskers earned their chance to compete again this season following a solid run in the Big 12 Conference, where NU went 8-8 for its first .500 season since 1998-99. New Mexico is 21-11 this season.
Nebraska built its resume for inclusion in the postseason by defeating three of the four teams that competed in the semifinals of the Big 12 Championship this past week, earning a 3-3 record against the foursome. The Huskers were 1-1 against each of the teams in the final (champion Missouri and runner-up Baylor) while adding a win over Texas and an overtime loss against Oklahoma State.
The Cornhuskers are led by senior guard Ade Dagunduro, a third-team All-Big 12 selection and a member of the Big 12 All-Defensive Team. Dagunduro has averaged 13.0 points and 4.3 rebounds per game to lead the Huskers, but has been nearly unstoppable down the stretch. Over the past 11 games, Dagunduro has averaged 15.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game on 55.0 percent (60-of-109) shooting from the floor.
As a team, Nebraska has been one of the stingiest squads in the nation, ranking 17th nationally last week in scoring defense (59.6 ppg). It is the second straight year under Sadler that the Huskers rank among the top 20 scoring defenses in the country. NU is also fifth nationally in turnover margin (+5.8) and 16th in turnovers per game (11.5 tpg).
The winner of the Nebraska/New Mexico game will advance to face the winner of the Notre Dame / UAB game winner. The date and time for a second-round matchup for Nebraska or New Mexico will be announced following the Huskers’ matchup on Tuesday night.
National Invitation Tournament games begin with the first round at campus sites on March 17-18. The second round will take place on March 19-21 and March 23 while the quarterfinals will be March 24-25. Teams that reach the NIT final four will play at Madison Square Garden in New York, with the semifinals taking place on March 31 and the final on April 2.