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‘Great thing to keep playing’: UNLV men receive NIT bid

Updated March 19, 2024 - 7:17 pm

The UNLV men’s basketball team plays on.

The Rebels on Sunday were selected to the 32-team National Invitation Tournament. They will travel to No. 2 seed Princeton for a first-round game at 5 p.m. Wednesday that will be streamed on ESPN+.

“It’s a great thing to keep playing, something this group really wants to do,” UNLV coach Kevin Kruger said. “Obviously, everyone wants to win a few more games and be in the NCAA Tournament, but from where we started to how we have played over the last few months, these guys want to keep going and competing and being around each other. They’re having fun being in the gym every day.”

It’s the first postseason appearance for UNLV since 2013 and its first NIT game since 2009. The Rebels have won 10 of their last 13 games.

Princeton (24-4), the regular-season Ivy League champion, was upset by Brown in the conference tournament. But the Tigers have plenty of postseason experience.

All five starters were on the side that advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAAs last year, upsetting Arizona and Missouri along the way.

UNLV might have a small advantage in preparation. Princeton still runs some of the same concepts as Mountain West member Air Force.

The Tigers — who have enjoyed their winningest season since 1997-98 — are just a lot better than the Falcons.

UNLV (19-12) was seeded fourth in its conference tournament before falling to San Diego State in overtime of a quarterfinal matchup.

The winner of Wednesday’s game meets the winner of No. 3 seed Providence against Boston College.

“We know (Princeton) is an incredible program and is used to winning,” Kruger said. “They share the ball really well and play incredibly hard. We know we have our work cut out for us. We have to enjoy the challenge and a quick prep and figure out what we need to do to go win a road game.

“The good thing is that it will be two programs excited to play and have another game. Two groups that will compete.”

It’s an NIT field that saw several teams opt out of competing, including St. John’s, Oklahoma, Memphis, Indiana, Pittsburgh and Mississippi.

“I think the most important thing is the teams that are here,” Tim Duncan, chairman of the NIT selection committee, told ESPN2. “There are some that opted out and did it for whatever reasons they might have, but the most important thing is that I think we have the best field we’ve ever had. There are a lot of teams interested in being in the NIT and we’re excited to see them.”

At least one ESPN analyst, former Indiana coach Tom Crean, believes Princeton will win it all.

“I loved them last year and have loved them all year,” Crean said. “I’m banking on (Princeton coach) Mitch Henderson having his team riled up. … They’re incredibly skilled, they shoot the ball, they can put five people on the floor that can not only score but can make decisions.”

The NIT semifinals and final are scheduled for April 2 and 4 at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Contact Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @edgraney on X.

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