GREENSBORO — After North Carolina's 62-58 first-round loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament, the Tar Heels are out of NCAA tournament contention. But coach Roy Williams made it clear that the defending national champions will accept an NIT bid, if invited.
"If somebody's going to go invite me to play, I want to go play – period. The end,'' said Williams, who had coached his team to at least one win in the NCAA tournament for 20 straight years. "Are we worthy enough to be invited? That I don't know. There's people … that get to make those decisions, maybe that won't even invite us. But if somebody invites me to go play, we're going to go play."
A team spokesman later re-clarified that Williams was talking about the NIT, and not any other tournaments. But UNC is on the NIT bubble.
Under NIT selection rules, squads that won their regular-season conference championship but didn't make it to the NCAA Tournament because they lost in their league tournament, receive automatic invitations. Then an eight-member selection committee, made up of retired coaches, selects and seeds the rest of the field.
C.M. Newton, chairman of the NIT selection committee, said last month that the most important thing is to put together the strongest field of teams possible - regardless of name recognition or how many fans a specific might draw.
"Who have they played? How are they playing late in the year? I know the NCAA committee talks about the total body of work, and we do too ... but I want a team that's playing well at the end," Newton said. "... We use RPI, we use Sagarin, we use all of the same things that the [NCAA] basketball committee uses to make sure we have the strongest field possible."
North Carolina wouldn't be the first team to win the NCAA title one year and play in the NIT the next. Florida played in the NIT in 2008, after winning back-to-back national titles. Defending national champion Louisville turned down an NIT bid when it finished 18-14 in 1986-87. N.C. State also was relegated to the NIT the year after it won the national title in 1983, but that was when the NCAA field included only 48 teams.
Sixteen teams host first-round NIT games, and teams must win three times to advance to the semifinals in New York.