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Originally published March 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 18, 2008 at 11:53 AM

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Are Huskies hyped for CBI?

It's not exactly March Madness. More like March Mild Enthusiasm. But as Husky guard Venoy Overton said "I'd rather play in this tournament...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Introducing Valparaiso

Location: Valparaiso, Ind., about an hour southeast of Chicago.

Enrollment: About 4,000.

Affiliation: Independent Lutheran.

Nickname: Crusaders.

Coach: Homer Drew (323-252 in 19 years at Valparaiso, 592-395 in 31 years overall).

Conference: Horizon League.

Record: 21-13 overall, 9-9 in league, tied for fourth.

Did you know? Drew was an assistant at Washington State for the 1971-72 season under Bob Greenwood, serving with Dale Brown, who then became the coach at LSU. Drew worked under Brown from 1972-76 before becoming a head coach.

Claim to fame: Valpo earned a place in NCAA tournament lore forever in 1998 when it advanced to the Sweet 16 as a No. 13 seed. It won its opening round game in memorable fashion when Bryce Drew — Homer's son — sank a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Ole Miss 70-69. Bryce Drew took a pass from a teammate, who had taken a pass from underneath the basket, and shot on the run to beat the clock. Bryce Drew is now an assistant at Valpo.

Scouting report: Much like the team that made them famous 10 years ago, the Crusaders still specialize in the three-point shot. They ranked 11th in the nation this year in three-pointers made per game (9.3) and 24th in percentage (39.1). Leading scorer Shawn Huff, a 6-7 senior from Finland, ranked second in the nation in three-point percentage (48.4). He averages 12.9 points per game.

Tomorrow

Valparaiso @ UW, 6 p.m., Fox College Sports

Introducing{$326} the CBI

What's the CBI? The College Basketball Invitational is a new 16-team tournament that selects teams left over after the NCAA tournament makes its 65 picks and NIT make its 32 picks.

Who runs it? The Gazelle Group, a company based in Princeton, N.J., that also organizes preseason tournaments.

What's the reason for the tournament? To give more teams a chance to play in the postseason. The NIT reduced its field from 40 to 32 teams in 2007 and also now must take regular-season conference champs that don't quality for the NCAA tournament. CBI organizers felt that left out some deserving teams who could put on an interesting tournament. They used Washington's situation in 2007 as one of its prime examples, when the Huskies went 19-13 and didn't make the NIT.

The format? Teams are seeded in groups of four in four geographic regions. Washington is the No. 1 seed in the West Region. Each regional winner advances to the semifinals. There, the teams will be reseeded with the higher seeds hosting. The two semifinal winners will play a best-of-three championship series alternating at home sites, with the higher seed hosting Game 1 and Game 3, if necessary. That means the two finalists could play six games.

TV coverage: Eleven games will be shown on Fox College Sports.

Ticket information: For the 6 p.m. Wednesday game between UW and Valparaiso at HecEd, tickets are $15, with a $5 rate for UW students. Season-ticket holders have immediate access to purchase tickets online. Tickets to the general public are available at 8:30 a.m. today. More information is available at www.gohuskies.com.

It's not exactly March Madness.

More like March Mild Enthusiasm.

But as Husky guard Venoy Overton said "I'd rather play in this tournament than just sit at home doing nothing."

So the Huskies reported for work again Monday afternoon saying they'll treat their entry into the new College Basketball Invitational — hosting Valparaiso in a first-round game at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Edmundson Pavilion — with as much excitement as they can muster.

"You want to be in the NCAA tournament, no doubt about that," said UW coach Lorenzo Romar. "I don't want anyone to get it twisted that 'Hey, the season was great, we got to play in the postseason.' No, that [the NCAA tournament] was our goal. But it didn't happen, so now we continue to play and we are excited that we are still continuing to play."

Even more so since it sounds like they may again have their leader guiding the way.

Junior forward Jon Brockman said Monday his sprained left ankle is doing "a lot better" and that "I think there's a good chance I'll be out there." Brockman sat out UW's loss to California last Wednesday in the Pac-10 tournament with the injury, suffered March 8 at WSU.

Romar was a little more cautious, calling Brockman "day-to-day" and Brockman didn't take part in much of practice Monday.

But the specter of a postseason, even if not the preferred one, has Brockman enthused about getting back on the floor.

"I think it'll be fun," he said.

Especially now that they know who their opponent will be.

The Huskies found out late Sunday afternoon they would play in the tournament, then hit the court for a practice, expecting to learn of an opponent by the time they were done.

Instead, an opponent wasn't named until around 11 p.m. Sunday. A few players went home and tried to keep tabs on what was going on. Forward Quincy Pondexter said he hit the refresh button on his computer constantly in anxious search of new information, remembering all too well how UW thought it had an NIT bid wrapped up last season only to get snubbed.

Pondexter said he began to wonder "if it was an internet joke, that a couple of guys put together an imaginary tournament. It was scary for a little bit."

When Valparaiso was named, UW coaches were surprised, expecting to get a team from the West. Coaches and officials at the school in Valparaiso, Ind., about an hour's drive from Chicago, were also caught off-guard at suddenly having to travel two time zones. Coach Homer Drew said he figured his team would stay in the Midwest.

"We thought it would be a bus trip," said Drew, whose team instead caught a flight out of Chicago Monday afternoon and expected to get into Seattle around midnight. "But we're still excited by it."

Valparaiso went 21-13 overall this season, 9-9 in the Horizon League, tying for fourth. Senior forward Shawn Huff leads Valpo at 12.9 points per game, and ranks second in the nation in three-point percentage at 48.4.

"We've got some size and we shoot the threes quite a bit," Drew said. "We're a scrappy little team."

In a way, the type of team this tournament was designed for.

With 341 schools now playing Division I basketball, the organizers of the CBI felt there were enough left out of either the NCAA or the NIT to put together a competitive tournament. It's the first time a third tournament has been held since the National Commissioners Invitational Tournament was held for two seasons in 1974-75 (that tournament was started by the NCAA to compete with the NIT).

One reason it took awhile to complete the field was finding schools willing to host, which requires guaranteeing a payout of $60,000 to the CBI. Drew said Valparaiso would "not have been in a position" to host. UW officials say they'll need to sell around 5,000 tickets or so (priced at $15 for the general public and $5 for students) to break even. The school keeps money above the $60,000 payout.

"I applaud our administration for backing us and allowing us to play in this tournament," Romar said.

UW could have five more home games if it advances to the best-of-three final. Happiest of all were seniors Ryan Appleby and Tim Morris, who thought they had played their last home game Feb. 23 against ASU.

"I'm pretty lucky," Appleby said. "Hopefully I get a couple more games at home."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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