George Mason fails to earn an NIT berth


George Mason Coach Paul Hewitt: “I started to feel uneasy the last few days with all the regular season champions getting knocked out. It seemed there were two every day.” (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)

George Mason was passed over by the National Invitation Tournament, a victim of 11 regular season conference champions failing to earn an NCAA tournament berth and dropping into the NIT field.

The Patriots’ chances were “a flip of the coin, at best,” Coach Paul Hewitt said Sunday night after watching the 32 teams unveiled.

First-place teams that failed to win their league tournaments filled automatic slots in the NIT, including Drexel, George Mason’s partner in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Bucknell (Patriot), Akron (Mid-American) and Savannah State (Mid-Eastern Athletic) were among the other NIT automatic qualifiers.

“I started to feel uneasy the last few days with all the regular season champions getting knocked out,” said Hewitt, who had a 24-9 record in his first season at George Mason. “It seemed there were two every day.”

Washington, Tennessee, Seton Hall and Arizona received No. 1 seeds. The tournament will begin Tuesday and culminate March 27-29 at Madison Square Garden.

George Mason passed on the opportunity to enter either of the third-tier events, the CollegeInsider.com Tournament and College Basketball Invitational. Both require teams to pay entrance fees in order to host games, a structure “financially not in our best interests,” Athletic Director Tom O’Connor said.

The Patriots participated in the CIT two years ago and drew only 2,000 fans for a home loss to Fairfield.

George Mason lost to Virginia Commonwealth in the CAA semifinals March 4 and, with a soft nonconference schedule and few quality victories outside league play, the Patriots were not in contention for a second consecutive at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.

Hewitt loses three starters to graduation: forwards Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison, and guard Andre Cornelius.

Meantime, American University will participate in the CIT, a 24-team event featuring teams from mid- and lower-level conferences. The Eagles (20-11) will host Buffalo (19-10) on Wednesday at Bender Arena.

In their respective league tournaments, both teams lost in the semifinals to the eventual champion: AU to Lehigh in the Patriot League, Buffalo to Ohio in the Mid-American Conference.

CIT teams must pay a $30,000 fee to host a game. Away teams have a portion of their expenses covered. The past champions were Old Dominion (2009), Missouri State (’10) and Santa Clara (’11).

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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