Robert Morris draws Kentucky, Calipari ... at home
Robert Morris didn't make the Big Dance, but the Colonials get a shot at defending NCAA champion Kentucky at home Tuesday in the opening round of the 76th National Invitational Tournament.
That's right: Moon Township native John Calipari is bringing his Wildcats to the 3,056-seat Sewall Center because Kentucky can't play host to a game. Rupp Arena, which seats 23,000, is the site of the NCAA second- and third-round games.
“I feel like Rocky in Rocky 1 who just got his shot against the champions in our home city,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. “We're extremely excited.”
Toole said he wasn't alerted about the home game until the selection show.
The game is 7:30 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.
If Toole felt he'd have a problem getting his team ready for the NIT game, that all changed.
“It's incredible,” Toole said. “It shouldn't be hard to get the team prepared. It's going to be a crazy, crazy event.”
Robert Morris junior guard Karvel Anderson tweeted: “This can't be real. Wow, this game bout to be crazy.”
Velton Jones tweeted: “Really? Why can't I breathe right now?”
Because Robert Morris won the Northeast Conference regular season, the Colonials earned an automatic berth in the NIT if it didn't win the conference tournament.
Robert Morris (23-10) played in the NIT in 2008, losing at Syracuse, 87-81.
Kentucky, Southern Mississippi, Alabama and Virginia received the No. 1 seeds in the tournament.
Calipari, 54, was born in Moon. He was a Pitt assistant coach (1985-1988) and head coach at Massachusetts, Memphis and Kentucky.
Following their stunning 69-60 loss to Mount St. Mary's in the conference semifinals on March 9, the Colonials didn't practice for three days. Toole, his staff and players needed time away from the court to recover from the loss.
“We're not over it, but we're dealing with it,” Toole said. “I felt the team competed well at practice Thursday and Friday and then again on Sunday.
“There are only 100 out of 350 teams that play Division I basketball getting a chance to continue in either the NCAA tournament or the NIT. We have to take advantage of the next opportunity we face. If we're going to be in the tournament, why not try to compete at your best.”