No, its not the NCAA tournament. But the Charlotte 49ers are happy to be playing in college basketballs consolation prize: the National Invitation Tournament.
If at this time of the year, youre still playing, theres a reason why, said coach Alan Major, whose 49ers (21-11) play at Providence (17-14) on Wednesday at 7:15 in a first-round NIT game (ESPN3). It means youve proven yourself, that youve had some success.
Success is not a word thats been associated with Charlottes program recently. When Major took over the 49ers in 2010, the team was coming off a 19-victory season. But that included a four-game losing streak at the end of the year and a first-round exit from the Atlantic 10 tournament, all that leading to the firing of former coach Bobby Lutz.
In Majors first two seasons, Charlotte went 10-20 and 13-17. Now, the 49ers have improved to such a degree that theyre back in the postseason for the first time since 2008.
Theyve done so with a roster laden with underclassmen: of Charlottes top nine players, eight are either freshmen or sophomores (with center Chris Braswell the only senior).
And thats the real reason Major thinks playing in the NIT is valuable for Charlotte, which had won three in a row before losing in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals to eventual champion Saint Louis.
Every second this team continues to play is great, said Major. Every second you get in the postseason is a positive. If you get two games its great, but making it three is better. Its the time of year when everybody is saying, One more, one more.
So you get a taste of it as a young team. You get a chance to see what its like It cant do anything but help us for the future.
This is the 49ers first postseason appearance in five seasons, since Charlotte lost to Nebraska in the first round of the NIT in 2008. Its Charlottes seventh NIT bid, its best showing coming in 1976, when the 49ers made the championship game (losing to Kentucky).
A victory Wednesday might give the 49ers another shot at the Wildcats. Kentucky, the top seed in the bracket, played at No. 8 Robert Morris Tuesday, with the winner getting the Charlotte-Providence winner next week.