UVA to participate in 2012-13 Preseason NIT

By making the NIT Preseason Field, UVA has a chance to play at Madison Square Garden. Maybe Tony Bennett could teach the Knicks to play defense while he's in town?

While it's been rumored to be true for months, CBSSports confirmed that Virginia will be a part of next season's Preseason NIT. The tournament, which is actually now officially known as the "NIT Season Tip-Off," is one of the most well-known and well-publicized early-season events. Virginia will be one of four host schools and then, if all goes to plan, will advance to play in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Here is CBS's list, confirming 12 of the tournament's 16 participants:

Host Teams: Michigan Wolverines, Pittsburgh Panthers, Kansas St. Wildcats, Virginia Cavaliers

Others: Fordham, Bowling Green, Delaware, Fairfield, Cleveland State, Lamar, Robert Morris, North Texas

The tournament will divide the 16 teams up into four pods, which will be hosted by Michigan, Pittsburgh, Kansas State, and Virginia. Each of the 4 teams in UVA's pod will be guaranteed 2 games in Charlottesville (with the two first-game losers matching up in the second round), and the school that emerges will move on to the semifinal round in New York. In the past three years, 11 of 12 host schools have advanced to that stage, including last season's ACC representative, Virginia Tech. The semifinal winners will play for the championship, while the losers will square off in the third-place game. Our home games will take place early the week before Thanksgiving, while the semifinals and finals will be on the day before and day after the holiday, respectively (the 21st and 23rd, if you are marking your calendar now).

To clear up any potential confusion, this is the "good" NIT, not the postseason one that an indignant Seth Greenberg and Virginia Tech often end up in. Both tournaments were purchased by the NCAA in 2005, and it is unclear why they insist on continuing to run two events called "National Invitation Tournament."

From UVA's standpoint, it will be vital to avoid an upset in the first two rounds in Charlottesville. The team was dogged by a weak out-of-conference schedule this past season, and the benefit of moving on to play two quality teams (and have two chances for quality wins) can't be underestimated. Additionally, missing out on the chance to play in The World's Most Famous Arena would be a tough pill to swallow for players and fans. To top it off, the alternative of hosting two more "consolation games" that weekend against cupcake-y teams at JPJ will be....little consolation. (Teams who don't make the second stage at MSG are divided into groups of three to play a round robin at campus sites).

Moving on from "doom and gloom" scenarios, Wahoo fans should be pretty excited about being a part of the Preseason NIT field. The past three seasons, the team has sputtered at times in tournaments in Cancun, Maui, and the Virgin Islands. Players may have enjoyed their island getaways, but watching the team lose games in tiny gyms on choppy online feeds hasn't been much fun at all - the Cancun tournament in 2009 was actually played on a floor laid down in a hotel ballroom. While these island tournaments may serve as team-building activities or allow Mike Scott to win video game championships, (here is a picture of the hardware) they are a tough place for college athletes to focus and play at elite levels. In other words, the Garden will be a better venue.

Though schedules are still largely unreleased, what we can piece together about Virginia' 2012-2013 schedule seems promising. We'll see 18 regular season ACC teams for the first time in history. Out of conference, UVA will head to Richmond to take on Old Dominion in the Governor Holiday Hoops Classic, host Tennessee to kick off a home-and-home, rematch George Mason on the road, and travel to Wisconsin-Green Bay. The Hoos are in line to play next year's ACC/Big 10 Challenge game on the road; a date with Bo Ryan and Wisconsin seems to be the most likely matchup, and it's also one that could reach a record-low number of possessions.

All games will be seen on the ESPN family of networks: UVA's regional games will be on ESPNU or ESPN3 and the semifinals on ESPN2, while the final and third-place matchup get top-billing on ESPN.

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