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It’s not the NCAAs, but CIT still valued reward for Vandals

Don Verlin has taken Vandals to five postseason tournaments. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Don Verlin has taken Vandals to five postseason tournaments. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – It doesn’t have the prestige of the NCAA Tournament, or even the College Basketball Invitational that the University of Idaho played in last year. But the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament affords the Vandals something that men’s basketball coach Don Verlin holds in high regard.

An opportunity to keep playing.

Idaho (18-13) hosts Stephen F. Austin (18-14) Wednesday night at 8 at Memorial Gym in the first round of the CIT. This is UI’s fourth appearance in the 26-team event that’s been around since 2009 and fifth postseason bid in Verlin’s nine-year tenure.

“Anytime you go to the postseason, it’s a reward for a good season – no matter where it is,” he said.

Of the 351 programs in NCAA Division I, less than half – 142 – are playing in the NCAAs, NIT, CBI or CIT. Verlin, of course, would love to be preparing the Vandals for their first NCAA tourney game since 1990, but he’s also done the math.

The Big Sky Conference, like the WAC and Big West, is a one-bid NCAA league. Meanwhile, the NIT takes regular-season conference champs that didn’t make it to the Big Dance and mostly high-major programs as at-large selections.

“And so, well, where do you play?” Verlin said. “And that’s why these tournaments are set up is these are the tournaments for us. There’s 26 in this one and 16 in the other (CBI), so there’s 42 slots for midmajor-type teams, low-major-type teams that had a good year.

“You know, I think it’s all in how you look at it. I think it’s a great deal for programs like us to have an opportunity to carry on when you’ve had a good season.”

Idaho paid $38,500 for the right to host tonight’s game. With students on spring break, the crowd in the Vandals’ secondary venue – Cowan Spectrum has already been torn down inside the Kibbie Dome – could be small. But after traveling for the last two regular-season games and the WAC Tournament, Verlin said it didn’t make sense to send UI on the road again.

Stephen F. Austin, located in Nacogdoches, Texas, appeared in the last three NCAA Tournaments before losing coach Brad Underwood to Oklahoma State. The Lumberjacks play in-your-face pressure defense and have six players who score at least 8.1 points per game but no one who averages more than 11.6.

The winner advances to face a yet-to-be-determined team in the second round. The CIT reseeds after the opening round.

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