Question: will Dave Gavitt ever play in Peoria? Answer: not if Dick Versace is doing the booking.

Three days after Versace's Bradley team was bypassed for the NCAA basketball tournament by Gavitt's selection committee, the Bradley coach was still fuming.

"It was clearly a miscarriage of everything that was right and just," said Versace, whose team will play American University Thursday night in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. "I've had some unfortunate things happen to me before in my life. I've always overcome them. I just want to make the team overcome them."

American (21-8) was involved in a similar situation last season when the Eagles won 24 games and failed to get an at-large bid. AU went to the NIT and played with little gusto in a first-round loss to Toledo. Syracuse, another team shunted to the NIT after winning the Big East Conference tournament, played as if it had something to prove and made it to the final, losing to Tulsa.

"Will they play like us?" said AU Coach Gary Williams. "Or will they play like Syracuse?"

Versace is unsure how his Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champions (21-10) will play Thursday in the 9 p.m. game (WEAM-1390) at ancient Robertson Field House, a former airplane hanger. The victor will play the winner of Friday's St. Peter's-Syracuse game.

AU guard Ed Sloane, who has started every game this season and is the team's second-leading scorer, will not start because of what Williams described as "a team thing." Williams said there are certain things "you have to do" in preparation for a game. But the coach said he expects that Sloane probably will play 35 minutes.

"In all honesty, the disappointment lag was tremendous," Versace went on to say. "I wouldn't call it a disappointment lag. I'd call it a humiliation lag, because we were really humiliated by the process."

"Off the way we practiced Tuesday, we're going to take it as a challenge," said Marvin Meador, a reserve guard. "Nobody's dwelling on the past."

If the Braves are ready to play, they will be tough for American to handle. Bradley is a big, quick team that handles full-court pressure well. The Braves defeated St. Joseph's, which plays a brand of basketball similar to American's, by 14 points in the Palestra. They also defeated 11th-ranked Tulsa by three points.

Bradley has won 16 of its last 20 games and Versace starts a 6-9, 6-8, 6-8 senior front line led by forward Michael (J.J.) Anderson, who is quick, with a good outside shot. Only two other Missouri Valley Conference players have scored more career points--Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird.

The other front-court starters are David Thirdkill, whose defensive play has earned him the nickname, "Sheriff," because "when he guards them, he locks them up," and 225-pound Don Reese at center.

AU center Juan Jones will discard the face mask he has been wearing since suffering a broken cheekbone Feb. 6, Mark Nickens has almost fully recovered from a groin injury and point guard Gordon Austin is returning to normal from a bruised hip.