Cal, which in early February seemed to be a lock to receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. It came close, but missed an NCAA at-large bid and will be relegated to the NIT.
The Bears' consolation prize for being one of the First Four Out of the NCAA is a No. 1 seed in the lesser tournament.
The Bears will host Cal State-Bakersfield (22-9) on Tuesday night at 8:15 in their NIT opener . If the Bears beat the Road Runners they will host the winner of the game between Colorado State and Charleston. As a No. 1 seed the Bears will play at home unless they reach the semifinals, which will be played on New York's Madison Square Garden. The other top NIT seeds are Syracuse, Illinois State and Iowa.
Of course our goal was to be an NCAA Tournament team and we fell short there,"¯ head coach Cuonzo Martin said in a teleconference call Sunday night. "It is certainly an honor and a privilege to play in the NIT."
Martin, who at one time made disparaging remarks about the NIT, has seemingly changed his mind. "You owe it to your players, you owe it to your team to play in the NIT. We have some young guys who need to continue to play and grow and get better."
After losing to Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinal Friday, the Bears finished with a 21-12 record (10-8 in regular season conference games) and an RPI of 53. That was quite a reversal from the way things looked on Feb. 8 after the Bears routed Arizona State in Tempe for a fifth consecutive victory that pushed their respective records to 18-6 and 9-3 with an RPI in the 20s. 'NCAAs Here We Come¯,' or so the Bears thought.
But five losses in the last six conference games created a hole that even tournament wins over Oregon State and Utah could not dig the Bears out of. Cal defeated four teams that made the NCAA field, South Dakota State, Princeton, UC Davis and fellow Pac-12 member USC. But they had only two wins over teams with an RPI in the top 50. Thus the comedown on Sunday.
They were in a position to beat Oregon, Arizona and Virginia at home, and hanging on to any one of those would probably have earned the Bears an NCAA bid.
"Our guys were very disappointed of course,"¯ Martin said. "And that's the challenge now, to get guys ready to play a game on Tuesday night. It goes with the territory. It's a trade. It's a long season and you do whatever you need to do to be successful and we came up short. Disappointed, but we have to move forward."
Whether the Bears will be moving forward with Jabari Bird is still unknown. Martin said he had no update on the senior guard's condition. Bird sustained a concussion when he took a nasty fall in the loss to Oregon Friday night.
Martin again deflected questions about the internet rumors linking him to job openings at Missouri and Illinois.
"For me, the most important thing is being at Cal and coaching the basketball team. That's the most important thing,"¯ he said. "We'll deal with those other things when it gets to that point. But right now the most important thing is the basketball game on Tuesday night."
Those rumors just won't go away, but that is all Martin is saying right now.
Cal has made seven prior appearances in the NIT, the last in 2014, Mike Montgomery's last season as head coach. The Bears defeated Utah Valley and Arkansas before losing to SMU in the quarterfinals. In 1999 they won the NIT championship.
This will be Martin's fourth NIT appearance as a head coach. His 2011 Missouri State team made it to the second round. At Tennessee the following year, his Vols also reached the second round and in 2013 went out in the first round.
The NCAA has used the NIT to experiment with rule changes, and this year there will be five new ones on trial. Instead of two 20-minute halves, the teams will play four ten minute quarters. The NCAA is an organization notorious for not saying what it means, so those four periods are not called "quarters" but are officially known as "segments." The second segment of each half will start with 9:59 on the clock.
Team fouls will reset at zero at the end of each segment. Teams will be limited to four personal/technical fouls per segment, with each additional foul automatically resulting in two free throws (no one-and-one).
Should there be overtime, teams will have three personal fouls before the two-shot bonus. Finally, the shot clock will be set at 20 seconds if the ball is inbounded in the frontcourt.
Tickets for Tuesday night's game will be made available to the general public on Monday at 2 p.m. Season ticket holders and donors will have a presale opportunity starting at 9 a.m. and last until noon on Monday. All season ticket holders will be placed in the same seats as their season tickets as long as they purchase tickets in the same price level as their season tickets.