Sunday, March 14, 2010

Northeastern Alexa

Jim Calhoun’s first National Invitational Tournament opponent in nine years will be a familiar foe.

The UConn men’s basketball team will face Northeastern in a first-round NIT game on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.

Calhoun, of course, coached at Northeastern for 14 seasons before taking over at UConn in 1986. UConn is 34-4 all-time against Northeastern and unbeaten (7-0) under Calhoun. The last time the two teams, both nicknamed the Huskies, met was on Dec. 6, 2007 – a 69-60 UConn win in which Calhoun was ejected for arguing with the refs.
UConn assistant coach Andre LaFleur is a Northeastern grad, playing under Calhoun for three seasons.

“Obviously, playing Northeastern has special meaning for me and for Andre,” Calhoun said. “Northeastern is a place that gave me a chance to be a head coach and a place where I have a lot of great memories. (Head coach) Bill Coen is a really good guy and coach and they are an excellent team that our older guys are familiar with, having played them in 2006 and 2007 in Storrs.”

After being ejected from that 2007 game, Calhoun called referee Wally Rutecki “incompetent,” and received a reprimand from the Big East Conference.

UConn (17-15) is the No. 4 seed on its side of the bracket, Northeastern (20-12) the No. 5 seed. Northeastern finished 14-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association, losing in the conference tournament semifinals to William & Mary on March 7. Northeastern defeated two teams (Utah State and conference champion Old Dominion) that will be in this year’s NCAA tournament field, and lost to Rhode Island by three points and Providence by four.

If UConn wins Tuesday it will take on the winner of Wednesday night’s Virginia Tech-Quinnipiac bout. That game would be played either Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Monday, March 22.

“With a quick glance at the bracket, it looks like the field is remarkably tough,” said Calhoun. “There are plenty of teams that were in position to make the NCAA Tournament and I think that with all of the parity in the field, it will be very difficult to win and advance. Our goal is to continue to play and give it our best.”

It will be UConn’s sixth trip to the NIT since Calhoun took over the program in 1986 and first since 2001, when the Huskies lost a second-round game in Storrs to Detroit Mercy.

UConn won the NIT championship in 1988, Calhoun’s second year at the helm, beating Ohio State 72-67 in the finals behind Cliff Robinson, Phil Gamble and Tate George. The Huskies advanced to the quarterfinal round the following season, losing to Alabama-Birmingham 85-79 in Hartford.

In 1993, the Huskies were unceremoniously bounced in an opening round home game by Jackson State. Four years later, the Huskies advanced all the way to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden, where they lost to Florida State in overtime 71-66. UConn came back two days later to beat Arkansas in a consolation game and finish third overall.

In all, this will be UConn’s 12th trip to the NIT.

One good thing about playing in the NIT is that ticket prices are much more reasonable: $2 for UConn students, $10 for everyone else. Parking is $5 per vehicle and will be collected at the entrances to the North and South garages on game day.