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March 16, 2004

What timing. A post-season game on St. Patrick’s Day…perfect for Virginia’s head basketball coach. The Cavaliers will face George Washington in a first round game in the National Invitation Tournament and it will be the first time the two schools have played since 1984.

This year’s NIT showcases a pretty strong field. There are 13 teams with 20 or more wins. The Big 12 led the selection with five teams, the Big East had four, and the Atlantic Ten, the SEC, and the Big Ten have three each. (By the way…do you think the NIT selection committee made a statement to Virginia Tech about leaving for the ACC? How did the Hokies not get in?)

Some of the match-ups are intriguing, including two former Mike Krzyzewski disciples meeting in the first round. Missouri, with former Duke assistant Quinn Snyder, gets a shot at Michigan and Blue Devil standout Tommy Amaker.

I know there are a couple teams pretty upset about the phone call that didn’t come-Colorado and Utah State to name two. The Buffalos went 18-10 and finished fourth in the Big 12. Utah State won 25 games, was ranked in the top 25 during the year, and went 17-1 in their league. Bottom line-win your tournament.

Back to Virginia and George Washington. The Colonials are coached by a former UConn assistant that knows how to recruit-Karl Hobbs. Hobbs was also named the NABC District 4 Coach of the Year. They’re athletic, they press, and they’re led by a point guard named…. are you ready? T.J. Yep…. T.J. Thompson. Quite the draw huh? T.J. Bannister and T.J. Thompson. This is the first NIT for GW since 1997 and the first post-season game for the Colonials since 1999.

Monday night during his last scheduled call-in show, UVA coach Pete Gillen said his team was disappointed that they didn’t get an NCAA bid, however were excited about post-season play. Gillen said it’s a wonderful chance to build for next year, get in some extra practice, and give his young team a little taste of what the big dance can be like.

“The NCAA will be our goal every year,” Gillen said. “To be quite honest, we didn’t win a couple games we should have won at home and that made the difference. But I think this team will continue to play with the emotion that they have shown down the stretch.”

The emergence of an improved backcourt might be the biggest difference in the ‘Hoos February-March finish. Not only has Bannister grown up, but J.R. Reynolds is becoming a terrific player at both ends of the floor. Guarding Duke’s “Top Gun” J.J. Redick in the ACC Tournament, J.R. held the 3-point specialist to just five points while scoring a career high 20 himself. His clutch “3” late in the Clemson game secured UVA’s first ACC tourney win since 1995.

Chance for a second round game at home? Depends. Ticket sales have to go well and a crowd of 6,000 plus will go a long way to getting another game at home. If Virginia advances, the team will meet the Drexel-Villanova winner.

NCAA bracket helpers? BYU has a chance to upset Syracuse in the first round…. former Virginia assistant Bobby Gonzalez and his Manhattan Jaspers can get Florida on day one as well.

Speaking of “Gonzo”, whispers are he is a lock for the St. John’s job…but another name has surfaced showing some interest…. former UVA player and coach Jeff Jones.

Enjoy March Madness.

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