Arizona basketball chosen top seed in NIT Season Tip-Off tournament
Former Arizona men’s basketball head coach Lute Olson was known for his dislike of the Duke Blue Devils and their reluctance to play the Wildcats. Now, Arizona is expected to meet up with its old rival this season.
Arizona has been given a No. 1 seed in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament. The Wildcats will open the tournament at home in McKale Center on Nov. 18, against Fairleigh Dickinson.
The top seed sets up a potential matchup with No. 2 seeded Duke in the Nov. 29 tournament championship game.
If the two schools reach the finals, it will be the first time they have played one another since their 2011 contest in the Sweet Sixteen, where Arizona beat the Blue Devils 93-77.
This year’s NIT bracket, which was released late last week and features 16 schools, was most likely designed to have the Wildcats play the Blue Devils in the championship game at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Outside of Arizona and Duke, the other 14 schools don’t promote a must-watch, blockbuster championship game.
Alabama and Rutgers are the next two highest seeded schools at No. 3 and 4, and neither of them are expected to have an outstanding season.
The tournament also includes two Division II schools: Denver’s Metro State and Stillman College of Tuscaloosa, Ala. The two schools were added late to replace a couple western mid-major schools wanting more money than what was offered to play in the preseason tournament.
The McKale Center will also host No. 5 seed Rhode Island and its first round game against Metro State. That game will tip off directly before the Wildcats’ opening round game.
The two schools that win their first round matchup will then face one another on Nov. 19 at McKale Center in the West Championship. The winner of that game will travel to Madison Square Garden for the semifinal round where it’ll play the winner of the North bracket — expected to be Rutgers, its top seed.
The last time Arizona played in the Thanksgiving tournament was in 2008 when it was upset in the second round by UAB 72-71. The 2004 Arizona team made it all the way to the tournament championship game, but came up three points short to a then Chris Paul-led Wake Forest. Arizona has won the NIT tournament three times, most recently in 1999.
Including the 2011 tournament, the Wildcats have a short but intense history with Duke. They have only played each other eight prior times, the first being in 1962. However, the two schools are tied with four wins apiece, so the winner of the potential NIT championship game would obtain bragging rights.
—Follow Luke Della @LukeDella