Norse "Excited" for NIT Match-Up with Louisville on ESPN
Northern Kentucky has only been eligible for the post-season at the NCAA Division I level for two seasons.
And in both seasons, the Norse have clawed their way on to the national stage with first-round match-ups against Kentucky's top powerhouse programs.
Last season, NKU made an unlikely run through the Horizon League tournament and clenched a bid as #15-seed in the NCAA Tournament, where the Norse battled #2-seed Kentucky till the final moments, losing by 9.
This time around, Northern Kentucky won the regular season Horizon League title, but found itself on the wrong end of a March upset when it fell against Cleveland State in the conference tournament's opening round in Detroit.
But winning the regular season title automatically qualified NKU for the National Invitation Tournament. The Norse are a #7 seed and will play against #2-seed Louisville, a program whose fanbase feels jilted by the NCAA selection committee for leaving the Cardinals out of the Big Dance. This is a UofL team that saw the NCAA come down on it hard before the season began - pulling the 2013 national title banner from the KFC Yum and the departure of Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino - got smacked again by drawing a ticket to the second-tier national tournament.
But for the Norse, there is nothing second tier about it. Appearing in the storied NIT - against one of the sport's all-time great programs - is the culmination of a hard-fought season, and a 15-3 record in conference play that brought the regular season Horizon League trophy to Highland Heights.
"We're excited to get back to playing. We're certainly excited to be playing the in the post-season against a great team like Louisville," said NKU head coach John Brannen. "Anytime you get the chance to play in the post-season this time of year when most teams are at home, it's a great opportunity."
"It's a chance to play post-season basketball," said NKU junior Drew McDonald. "I mean, not every school in the country is playing right now. A lot of schools are done. So, just to have the chance to play a post-season tournament, and the NIT is a really prestigious tournament, with thirty-one other really good teams in the tournament, I know there were a lot of other schools that got left out, and what we've done all season allowed us to do this. Our regular season being conference champs allowed us to be in a great tournament."
As the higher seed, Louisville will host Tuesday night's game. The 7 p.m. match-up will be broadcast on ESPN.
Despite being separated by just 100 miles, NKU and Louisville have never officially met on the hardwood, but the Cardinals came to Highland Heights, Kentucky, to open BB&T Arena against the Norse on Nov. 8, 2008 and NKU helped UofL open the KFC Yum! Center on Oct. 31, 2010.
The River City News will be at the KFC Yum Center for Tuesday night's game.