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Originally published March 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 26, 2007 at 9:01 PM

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Tight field hurt Huskies' NIT chances

C.M. Newton, the selection committee chairman, says Washington would've made the tournament if more at-large bids were available.

Seattle Times staff reporter

C.M. Newton, the selection committee chairman for the NIT, and Washington coach Lorenzo Romar agreed on one thing Monday.

"I really think [the Huskies] are going to be very good next year," said Newton, a longtime basketball coach at Alabama and Vanderbilt.

But Newton and his colleagues on the eight-man selection committee didn't think quite as much of the Huskies this season, deciding they weren't good enough for the 32-team NIT, which tips off tonight.

So Romar spent Monday in his office instead of on the practice floor, trying to digest a shockingly sudden ending for a team that as late as Jan. 1 was ranked in both major polls.

"It's still totally mind-boggling to me," Romar said.

Newton, reached by phone, said Washington simply didn't get enough votes among the committee members, among them legendary coaches Dean Smith and Gene Keady. The NIT had just 24 at-large spots; eight teams that won conference regular-season titles but didn't win their conference tournaments received automatic invites.

"We got down to those last few teams and [the Huskies] were one of them, but with the committee members voting, they missed [getting in]," Newton said. "We had eight automatic qualifiers which really hurt [teams like Washington]. If we hadn't had that many, Washington would have been in the field, but we just had the 24 spots."

The rule inviting all conference regular-season champs that missed the NCAAs was put into place two years ago.

Also hindering Washington's case is that the NIT field was pared from 40 to 32 this season. Newton said that change was made because the 40-team field required an opening round that forced some teams to play an extra game. It also created more TV conflicts with NCAA tournament games.

The selection committee doesn't include anyone with Pac-10 ties. The two committee members who oversee the West for the NIT are Carroll Williams, a former coach at Santa Clara; and Rudy Davalos, former athletic director at New Mexico. (All the committee members are retired).

"There was no one reason [UW was left out]," Newton said. "No conspiracy. None of that stuff. I think we had good data from Rudy Davalos and Carroll Williams. They had seen a lot of the West Coast teams all year and they spoke very highly of Washington. The votes just came out that way."

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The Huskies left Staples Center last Thursday after losing to Washington State in the Pac-10 tournament quarterfinals certain they were in the NIT. The NIT has taken at least one Pac-10 team every year since 1981, except for two seasons when there was no conference team left with a winning record after those that received NCAA invites.

But Newton said the committee didn't consider conference affiliation. Nor, he said, did TV play a role. Newton said that reflects a change in the goals of the tournament since it was taken over two years ago by the NCAA.

Newton said the committee considered "who they played, how they played and where they played them. Ultimately, it was what your gut feeling was about them as a basketball team."

Newton was asked if Washington's 1-10 road record might have been a factor. "That's one of the things you look at," he said. "Road record and who they choose to play outside their league, all those factors come into it."

None of it, however, made any sense to people at UW, who wondered how teams like Fresno State and San Diego State got invited and the Huskies didn't.

"You can't take one other team out of the Pac-10 to the NIT?" Romar asked.

But while disappointed, he also said he wouldn't call it a lost season, that it figures to pave the way for greater success in the future. All but two players could be back next season, and two straight highly touted recruiting classes will finally hit the maturation point.

"I think we would love to say one day that we've gotten to the NCAA tournament 20 straight years," said Romar, whose team had its run of tournament appearances snapped at three. "And maybe someday that can still happen. But we have to start over.

"... This was a rebuilding year, and if that has to happen every once in a while to put you in a place where you're going to do special things, then once in a while maybe that has to happen. ... I just think our program is on really solid footing despite this being a disappointing end."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. Read his blogs on Washington football and basketball at www.seattletimes.com/huskies.

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