The National Invitation Tournament isn’t what it used to be.
Some call the nation’s oldest postseason college basketball event – it started in 1938, one year before the NCAA Tournament – the consolation tournament.
But there still is a huge carrot for a program like UC Davis that is making its first Division I postseason appearance.
The semifinals and finals will be March 31 and April 2 in legendary Madison Square Garden in New York.
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UC Davis coach Jim Les played in the Garden during his NBA career.
“I have had the privilege of playing there, but I’ve never coached there, so I’d love the opportunity,” Les said.
Senior forward Josh Ritchart said playing in one of American basketball’s shrines would be a huge opportunity for the Aggies.
“Growing up, you’re always hearing about playing in the Garden, so that would be awesome,” Ritchart said. “But we have to take it one step at a time and not look forward to that.”
Despite their 25-6 record and Big West Conference regular-season championship, the seventh-seeded Aggies are underdogs in the 32-team field.
They’ll have to win Tuesday at No. 2-seeded Stanford (19-13), which is 17-1 against the Aggies, then win second-round and quarterfinal games, likely on the road, to earn a trip to the Big Apple.
UCD is in the eight-team Colorado State bracket with Stanford, No. 1 Colorado State (27- 6), No. 3 Rhode Island (22-9), No. 4 Saint Mary’s (21-9), No. 5 Vanderbilt (19-13), No. 6 Iona (26-8) and No. 8 South Dakota State (23-10).
Stanford beat injury-depleted UC Davis 83-56 last season but will face a better team this year.
“It’s exciting, being able to stay so close to home and going into a game with the confidence that we can make a run at this,” UC Davis senior Corey Hawkins said. “I like playing against Stanford. (Coach) Johnny Dawkins is an extremely close family friend ... and they have some really talented players. This is a huge moment for us.”
Stanford, making its 26th postseason appearance, was 9-9 in the Pacific-12 Conference and lost 80-56 to Utah in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. But the Cardinal is 13-3 at Maples Pavilion.
Stanford is led by seniors Chasson Randle (18.9 points), Anthony Brown (14.7 points, 7.0 rebounds) and Stefan Nastic (13.8, 6.4).
Hornets ready for WNIT – The Sac State women will play at Pacific (21-9) on Thursday in the opening round of the 64-team Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
The Hornets (16-15) earned the first postseason berth in school history by finishing second to Big Sky Conference regular-season and tournament champion Montana.
It will be the first meeting between Sac State and Pacific since the 2010-2011 season. Pacific is in its second year in the West Coast Conference after leaving the Big West in 2013. Pacific lost to San Francisco in the quarterfinals of the WCC Tournament but went 13-5 in league play, same as Sac State’s Big Sky record.
The Hornets are 5-11 all-time and 0-8 against the Tigers in Stockton.
The winner of the matchup between the Hornets and Tigers will play the winner of the first round game between Washington State and Eastern Washington, a Big Sky rival of Sac State. That game will be played Wednesday in Pullman.
Northern Colorado, which beat Sac State in overtime in the Big Sky Conference semifinals Friday, also qualified for the WNIT giving the Big Sky three teams in the field.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.