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Stunner for USF: no bid from the NIT

Bulls' season of promise lands with a thud.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2001


TAMPA -- A season that began with national hype and banner expectations ended Sunday night with a bitter slap in the face and no post-season opportunities for South Florida.

Following its disappointing loss in the second round of the Conference USA tournament, the men's team knew it had no shot at being invited to the NCAA Tournament. But the Bulls felt confident they would be competing in their second straight National Invitation Tournament, trying to avenge last season's first-round loss to New Mexico.

But when all the invitations were extended, USF was not among those invited to participate in post-season play -- in any tournament.

Despite an 18-win season, including a victory over nationally ranked (and NCAA-bound) Texas in December, the Bulls were snubbed by the NIT.

And suddenly the disappointment of having to accept an invitation to the stepbrother's ball gave way to something even worse: the realization that Thursday's loss to Charlotte was, indeed, the end of the season for USF.

Sunday's omission brings to a close a tumultuous season for the Bulls (18-13), one that included surgery for two starters and a four-game suspension for another.

The Bulls have not made consecutive post-season appearances since going to the NCAA Tournament after the 1989-90 season, the NIT in 1990-91 and NCAA in 1991-92.

Bulls seniors Cedric Smith, Artha Reeves, Chonsey Asbury and Sam Sanders won't get one final shot at winning a championship.

What makes the NIT snub more glaring is that it comes in a season of high expectations. South Florida was the preseason favorite to win the C-USA National Division, but finished third behind Southern Mississippi and Memphis. Junior forwards B.B. Waldon and Altron Jackson were preseason first-team all-conference selections and Waldon was even touted as preseason candidate for conference player of the year.

Waldon, the suspended starter, ended up a second-team selection and Cincinnati junior guard Steve Logan was named player of the year. Jackson earned first-team honors.

USF's post-season hopes ended abruptly in a 77-74 loss to eventual C-USA tournament champion Charlotte. The Bulls had hoped to win the C-USA tournament to gain an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Just two weeks ago, South Florida was battling for first place in the National Division and still had NCAA Tournament hopes. But six losses in their last nine regular season games -- including three straight losses to end the season -- cost the Bulls when post-season bids went out.

Greenberg said after the C-USA tournament that not making the NCAA Tournament was "disappointing", but not the end of the world. But being denied an NIT bid is surely something he didn't anticipate.

The Bulls defeated two NCAA teams -- Texas and Eastern Illinois. Miami is the only state team to receive an NIT bid. The Hurricanes (16-12, 8-8 Big East) play at Auburn (17-13, 7-9 SEC) in the opening round Wednesday at 8 p.m.

Miami is making its fifth straight post-season appearance and its sixth trip to the NIT. The Hurricanes have advanced to post-season play in six of the past seven seasons (NCAAs in 1998, '99 and 2000; NITs in 1995, '97 and 2001).

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