Cats miss out on NCAA Tournament, will play Robert Morris in NIT Tournament Tuesday

Kentucky guard Ryan Harrow after the University of Kentucky men's basketball game vs. Vanderbilt University during the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. on Friday, March 15, 2013. Harrow, a leader on the team, was emotional after the loss. UK lost 64-48. Photo by Genevieve Adams | Staff

By David Schuh | @DSchuhKernel

dschuh@kykernel.com

For the 10th time in school history and just the second time since 1991, the UK men’s basketball team is headed to the National Invitational Tournament.

The Cats failed to hear their named called Sunday during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on CBS, becoming the fifth reigning national champion to miss the tournament, and the first since North Carolina went to the NIT in 2010.

During the NIT Selection Show later Sunday night, the Cats were named the No. 1 overall seed in the second-tier postseason tournament.

They will face Robert Morris on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Because Rupp Arena will host second- and third-round NCAA Tournament games, the Cats will travel to Robert Morris, based just outside Pittsburgh.

The game will be at the Charles L. Sewall Center, which holds 3,056 fans — despite the Cats’ right to host the game as the higher seed.

A statement released late Sunday by UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy said due to the NCAA Tournament games at Rupp Arena, there would be “limited staff availability to properly host a game at Memorial Coliseum.”

Peevy said should the Cats advance to the second and third rounds, those games would take place at Rupp Arena.

It will be the first NIT appearance since Billy Gillispie’s final season in Lexington in 2009, and UK head coach John Calipari’s first appearance since 2005 with Memphis.

“I’m really disappointed we didn’t make the NCAA Tournament but we are going to use this time to make us better,” Calipari tweeted Sunday night. “We had our chances, but I’m not going to stop. It’s a great lesson for the future of our program and a humbling experience for me as a coach.”

After beating Florida at home on March 9, many believed the Cats would likely get a bid to the tournament. But an early exit in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals at the hands of 10 seed Vanderbilt changed that feeling drastically.

UK never had control in the 64-48 loss to the Commodores in Nashville. The Cats held a lead just one time, a one-point advantage five minutes into the game.

Vanderbilt shot 47 percent from behind the arc, with five buckets from deep in the first half helping Vandy to a 14-point halftime lead that never fully depleted.

The loss was particularly difficult for sophomore guard Ryan Harrow.

“It’s on me. It’s all my fault,” Harrow said, fighting back tears. “I let everybody down.”

Harrow was 2-of-15 from the field with four turnovers and one assist.

“I’m just disappointed and I feel horrible for my teammates. They deserved to win because they worked so hard,” he said. “If I would have played well, we would have won.”

The loss ultimately dropped UK below the level of fellow bubble teams heading into Selection Sunday.

The final four at-large teams in the NCAA tournament field were Middle Tennessee, Saint Mary’s, Boise State and La Salle.

“The difference between Middle Tennessee and some of the other teams … was their ability to win on the road,” Mike Babinski, the Chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, said to CBS on Sunday. “Watching (UK) play these last couple of weeks without (freshman center) Nerlens Noel … they were unable to take their show on the road. They lost by double digits to four teams that aren’t in the field.”

Louisville, Kansas, Indiana and Gonzaga are the No. 1 seeds in the four regional brackets, with the Cardinals taking the No. 1 overall seed after winning the Big East Tournament on Saturday night.

The SEC received three bids, with Florida (No. 3 seed), Missouri (No. 9 seed) and Ole Miss (No. 12 seed).

Three SEC teams made the NIT field: UK, Alabama (No. 1 seed) and Tennessee (No. 2 seed).

UK has won the NIT twice, in 1946 and 1976. The Cats lost in the title game in 1947.

If they were to win their first three games, they would make the NIT Final Four, which is held annually at Madison Square Garden in New York City.