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Air Force, Clemson among No. 1s in 32-team NIT

INDIANAPOLIS -- West Virginia, Clemson, Air Force and
Mississippi State were seeded No. 1 Sunday night in the revamped
NIT, a postseason tournament that was little more than a
consolation prize for some of the teams that were snubbed by the
NCAA.

Once the NCAA picked the 65-team field for its tournament, the
NIT had the pick of the leftovers, which included the four No. 1s
and others such as Syracuse, Drexel, Kansas State and Washington.

For the second straight year, all Division I conference
regular-season champions who lost in their conference tournaments
and weren't picked for the NCAA Tournament were guaranteed NIT
bids, but the tourney field was reduced from 40 teams to 32.

"No one mistakes this tournament for the NCAA championship,"
NIT selection committee chairman C.M. Newton said. "We have one
championship, and that is the NCAA championship. But the NIT
historically has been a very strong advocate for postseason
basketball. ... Our job is to select the very best teams we can."

West Virginia (22-9), which will host Delaware State in an NIT
East Region opener on Tuesday night, tied Villanova and DePaul for
seventh in the Big East. Villanova made the NCAA Tournament, but
West Virginia and DePaul had to settle for the NIT. Syracuse, which
was sixth in the Big East, also was picked by the NIT.

"I have no way of understanding why we're not in the [NCAA]
Tournament," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "You look at the
numbers and it's hard to believe. But it's done. There's no use in
talking about it. ... I'm very disappointed. It doesn't do any good
to get angry."

Syracuse (22-10) was seeded second in the South and will open
against South Alabama on Wednesday night.

Clemson (21-10) was the top seed in the South and will host East
Tennessee State. Air Force (23-8), which lost a chance to make the
NCAA Tournament after four straight losses to end the season, was
given the No. 1 seed in the West and will take on Austin Peay on
Wednesday night.

Mississippi State (18-12), the top seed in the North, will play
Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday.

"We came in with a lot of information and then once we started
the seeding, it was all done by vote," Newton said on ESPN2, which
televised the NIT pairings. "It's very important in terms of our
seeding, because the seeding determines who hosts those first games
until you get to New York."

The first, second and quarterfinal rounds will be played at
campus sites. The final four will play in Madison Square Garden in
New York on March 27 and 29.

Drexel (23-8) was one of the teams most surprised to be left out
of the NCAA field.

The Dragons had 13 regular-season wins on the road and had a
solid RPI (39th) but were left out of the NCAA tourney for the
first time since 1996.

"They told us last year, go play some good teams on the road.
We do, and we win some of those games, but it still wasn't
enough," coach Bruiser Flint said. "We're out of it. There is no
consolation."

Drexel instead was seeded third in the East, behind West
Virginia and Oklahoma State, and will host North Carolina State on
Tuesday night.

"Ultimately, we each kind of put on a coaching hat and said who
would you not want to play? That's who you kind of vote for,"
Newton said of the seeding process. "In this case, you were
comparing Drexel against Air Force. Would you rather play Air Force
or Drexel? Would you rather play Clemson or Drexel? Would you
rather play Florida State or Drexel?

"In each case, the vote came out the way that it did," he
said.

The other No. 2 seeds were Florida State in the North and Kansas
State in the West. Also seeded third were Michigan in the North,
DePaul in the West and Missouri State in the South.