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Adras relishes postseason berth, even if it’s the CIT

It happened on Tuesday. I heard it with my own ears.

Jimmer Fredette was tying his shoes. The NCAA selection committee was hoping Thursday would hurry up and get here. Three guys who used to be Big East tournament officials were wondering if the Patriot League had any openings. Gus Johnson was going berserk.

A guy on SiriusXM Radio Channel 3,014 said Santa Clara had beaten Northern Arizona 68-63 in the CIT.

This piqued my interest for two reasons.

First, Mike Adras, the Las Vegas native who coaches Northern Arizona, is one of my top three basketball people of all time, behind Meadowlark Lemon and Gabe Lewullis, the Princeton kid who slammed the backdoor on Ed O’Bannon and UCLA in 1996.

Second, I had never heard of the CIT.

I had sort of heard of the CBI, the College Basketball Invitational, for teams not good enough to play in the National Invitation Tournament, or NIT, if you’re Colorado or Saint Mary’s. Or maybe it was CSI that I had heard of.

Anyway, after Gary Sinise and Marg Helgenberger picked 16 teams for their tournament, there were still a lot of midmajor teams that had pretty good seasons that wanted to keep playing. So the CIT — CollegeInsider.com Tournament — was created, giving 24 more teams a reason to put off spring break in Lake Havasu, Ariz. I think this happened like two or three years ago.

Adras said he had heard from the CIT people — Las Vegan Riley Wallace is the tournament chairman — a few weeks ago. He didn’t mention this lovely parting gift to his players, who were still entertaining visions of beating Northern Colorado on its home floor and crashing the NCAA Tournament as a 15th seed. But the Lumberjacks lost, 73-70.

Half of Adras’ players were already bound for Lake Havasu when he made plans on like, 10 minutes’ notice, to travel to Santa Clara, because this is how things are usually done in the Big Sky Conference, where it snows a lot.

When Adras got the call from the CIT folks, it wasn’t snowing. But it was Sunday, and the travel agency in Flagstaff was closed.

No joke, that’s what he said.

Adras, whose team nearly beat Arizona at McKale Center and finished 19-12 with an RPI of 152 — Indiana was 192 — was pleased the Lumberjacks would get to play one more game. It was like a bowl game, only without a pie-eating contest the night before. And without a neutral site.

On the flip side, the CIT essentially charges $30,000 to host a home game, much too steep for NAU to even think about breaking even.

So instead of white uniforms, the Lumberjacks wore their navy blues. And instead of Lake Havasu, Adras promised to take his players to Las Vegas for spring break.

The layover at McCarran airport on the way to the Bay Area was like 20 minutes.

Speaking from Salt Lake City where he was probably trying to close the deal on some 6-foot-3½-inch forward whom Weber State didn’t want, Adras said the CIT trip wasn’t all for naught.

In fact, it was enlightening. He and his players found Jesus in Las Vegas.

Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, the pro poker player, was on NAU’s flight.

THREE UP

■ Biggest upset of March Madness so far: Bud Light "Here We Go" Hack Job spot over E*TRADE baby ad featuring Peppers the cat. Honorable mention: Morehead State over Louisville.

■ Best line of March Madness so far, from eTruesports.com: A crowd outside CBS headquarters in Manhattan demanding the return of former college basketball TV announcer Billy Packer was dispersed without incident by the NYPD on Friday morning. "Neither of them had their hearts in it," a patrolman said.

■ Five Las Vegans are hooping it in the women’s NCAA Tournament. Ashley Gayle (Bishop Gorman) is a junior forward at Texas; Aaryn Ellenberg (Bishop Gorman) is a freshman guard at Oklahoma; Lindy La Rocque (Durango) is a junior guard at Stanford; Italee Lucas (Centennial) is a senior guard at North Carolina; Monique Oliver (Cheyenne/Long Beach, Calif., Poly) is a sophomore forward at Rutgers. All are starters. None is nicknamed Jimmer.

THREE DOWN

■ The most damning news from this investigation into the Fiesta Bowl’s finances and political dealings is already in: John Junker, the game’s executive director, makes an annual salary of $600,000. I wonder if he has considered selling his blazer to a tattoo parlor?

■ If there’s one guy in the NCAA Tournament who should consider playing H-O-R-S-E for a small salad instead of a Big Mac and fries, it’s Joshua Smith, UCLA’s 305-pound freshman center. If there’s a second guy, it’s probably Verne Lundquist.

■ One way to sum up the Rebels’ NCAA Tournament effort: They and 63 other teams were good enough to receive a first-round bye. Another way to sum it up: Not even Gus Johnson could have made the Illinois game sound interesting.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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