Virginia Tech men on road, Liberty at home for NIT basketball first round

Virginia Tech will travel and Liberty will be at home for the first round of the men’s National Invitation Tournament.

The 32-team NIT has four eight-team quadrants, and the first three rounds are hosted by higher seeds. The semifinals March 28 and championship game March 30 will be played at Las Vegas’ Orleans Arena, which took over from the NIT’s long-standing New York home.

The Hokies, a No. 5 seed, will play at No. 4 Cincinnati at 9 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN2. The winner of that game will face the victor between No. 8 Hofstra and No. 1 Rutgers.

Cincinnati is coached by former James Madison and North Carolina guard Wes Miller. His top scorer, at 16.6 points per game, is Landers Nolley II, who began his career starring for Virginia Tech, then played for Memphis before joining the Bearcats.

The Cincinnati roster also includes former longtime Old Dominion starter Kalu Ezikpe. He has played primarily as a reserve for the Bearcats, averaging 3.5 points, 2.4 rebounds and 8.3 minutes per game.

Liberty, which barely lost the ASUN title game at Kennesaw State, received an at-large invitation. Led by Darius McGhee, the school’s all-time leading scorer, the Flames will play at home at 9 p.m. Tuesday against Villanova. The Wildcats struggled early in the season but greatly improved once standout Justin Moore became healthy.

Top NIT seeds Oklahoma State, Rutgers and Clemson were three of the first four teams left out for the NCAA Tournament. The other team among the “first four out,” North Carolina, declined an NIT invitation, and Oregon got the other No. 1 seed.

Hofstra, which earned the top seed in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament but lost a semifinal to UNC Wilmington, is one of the NIT’s automatic qualifiers — any team seeded No. 1 in its conference tournament that didn’t win it.

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The 16-team College Basketball Invitational, all of which will take place in Daytona Beach, Florida, announced its bracket. Indiana State was seeded No. 1.

Radford was the only team from Virginia to gain a berth. The 10th-seeded Highlanders will face seventh-seeded Tarleton on March 18. Radford’s team includes former Oscar Smith High player Kenyon Giles, a Big South All-Freshman selection.

Surprisingly to some, Old Dominion (19-12) did not receive a berth in the 64-team Women’s National Invitation Tournament, though coach DeLisha Milton indicated after the Monarchs’ Sun Belt semifinal loss to James Madison that ODU would go if invited.

Virginia (15-15) declined a WNIT bid, saying injuries have left the Cavaliers without enough healthy players to be competitive.

The field features 32 automatic qualifiers, which are teams that were the next-highest finishers in their conference’s regular season that were not tabbed for the NCAA Tournament. The other 32 teams are at-large selections.

The automatic bids included Liberty (24-8), Texas State (23-9) and CAA regular-season champion Towson (21-11). At-large picks included Richmond (20-10), Drexel (21-9), Clemson (17-15) and Wake Forest (16-16).

Pairings are expected to be announced Monday.

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