As seven men’s basketball programs opt out of NIT, Gophers had ‘zero consideration’ of turning it down

Seven men’s college basketball programs said they would not RSVP if asked to play in the National Invitational Tournament.

But not the Gophers, they jumped at the chance to continue their season.

Minnesota will end a four-year postseason drought in a first round NIT matchup against Butler at 8 p.m. on Tuesday in Indianapolis.

“There was zero consideration,” head coach Ben Johnson on the possibility they would pass on playing in the NIT. “We were hoping for this.”

But Indiana, St. John’s, Memphis, Syracuse, Mississippi, Pittsburgh, and Oklahoma said no thanks to being in the 32-team NIT. The opening of the NCAA transfer portal on Monday appeared to be a main reason for bailing.

St. John’s coach Richard Pitino said his team will start to “prepare for next season.” The Sooners said it was for the “well-being of our student-athletes.”’

The Hoosiers said they would not play in the NIT last week during the Big Ten tournament at Target Center, turning their attention to recruiting and roster management.

“This thing (the portal) is going to come very quickly,” Indiana coach Mike Woodson said after Friday’s 93-66 quarterfinal loss to Nebraska. “We’ve got to be in a position to do our due diligence and our homework on these players.”

Johnson said this year’s postseason experience will be a dry run for his program, which has aspirations of making the NCAA tournament next year.

“It gives you a way to figure out a way to structure it for years to come,” Johnson said. “(The portal) is not going anywhere. It’s a perfect way for us to navigate this new space.”

Both preparing a roster for next season and playing in the current postseason can be done at the same time, Johnson insisted.

“There is enough time in the day, if you are organized,” Johnson said. “You can deal with the portal, and deal with taking calls and deal with players on your team. I’m a firm believer we can find time.”

Johnson said he asked players if they wanted to compete in the NIT, and the answer was a resounding “yes.”

“Our guys wanted to. They really expressed that they were excited to keep playing,” Johnson said. “I think they know this could be a good building block and momentum swing for us leading into the spring and summer, and next year.”

Former Indiana, Marquette and Georgia head coach Tom Crean blasted the teams that opted out.

“There’s no question about it, I would want to coach,” Crean said Sunday on ESPN2. “I would want to develop my team. You’ve got bigger staffs than you’ve ever had. There’s plenty of time for the portal. There’s plenty of time to talk to recruits. There’s plenty of time to negotiate NIL deals.

“There’s not plenty of time to play. There’s not plenty of time to get your players on the floor and give them a chance to get better. There’s not plenty of time for guys to continue to play that may never get to play again, and that to me is absolutely ridiculous.”

Crean said it’s fine if players want to opt out of postseason games. College football has been dealing with that in bowl games for years. But the games should go on.

Johnson also mentioned a few times Monday how the Gophers were picked to finish dead last, 14th, in the Big Ten Conference in the preseason and how they proved those pundits wrong with a ninth-place finish with a 9-11 record in league play.

There appears to be a chip on their shoulders motivating them, too.

“I don’t think any of us have forgotten that,” Johnson said. “When you are picked last and you don’t have many expectations of you or of us as a program, to be able to play in a reputable national postseason tournament, our guys are excited to go play.”

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