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Ducks dig in to play NIT waiting game.

Byline: Bob Clark The Register-Guard

If it seems questionable whether Oregon with a 14-13 overall record will really interest the NIT, consider this: A year ago the Ducks were 14-11 before the Pac-10 tournament, where they split two games, and received a bid from the NIT.

And remember this: In the past two season, the NIT fields have included five teams that had .500 records, either 14-14, 15-15 or 16-16 when they were selected.

Plus, there is this: Two years ago, a San Diego State team that was 15-13 was not only in the NIT, but played host to a first-round game.

Yes, it's possible the Ducks couldn't qualify for the Pac-10 tournament but still might make the NIT, which will announce its 40-team bracket on Sunday after the NCAA Tournament is revealed.

`We hope they'll look at us, but I think we're on the outside looking in,' said Dave Heeke, an associate director of athletics at Oregon. `They like to (play) games here because it's been profitable for them in the past. It's a matter of where we fit in.'

The Ducks have sent in a bid to play an opening game in McArthur Court, with an estimated attendance of 8,000. Tickets would be priced at $23 for reserved seats, $15 for general admission and $9 for UO students. The NIT requires that the price for reserved seats be at least $2 more than a school charges for the regular season, necessitating Oregon's rise from the $21 charged during the season. If students didn't use their normal allotment, those seats will be sold as general admission tickets.

The date and time of the game wouldn't be known until Sunday night, but a game at McArthur Court probably would be Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

`It's always a quick turnaround, but we've done it enough times that we're ready,' Heeke said.

Oregon played its first two games at home in the NIT last year, and averaged 8,274 though both began at 9 p.m. and were televised. That team had Luke Jackson closing out his career, and he put on a performance for the ages in the first round in leading the Ducks to a victory over Colorado.

Whether this Oregon team, which lost 10 of its final 13 games, would be a similar draw in the NIT is open to some question.

`They like our venue and that we've produced well in the past,' Heeke said of NIT selectors. `The fact our team hasn't had the best season and we were still drawing well at the end of the season speaks well for us. Our people have supported the program, and the NIT knows that.'

It's likely to come down to how many teams in the West are of interest to the NIT, and how many of those are viable locations to host games.

Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen, `assuming' that four league teams - Arizona, Washington, UCLA and Stanford - are in the NCAA field, said, `I think Arizona State, Oregon and Oregon State all ought to be attractive (to the NIT). They've had good years, good non-conference records, and the conference has been so strong, so I believe there's every opportunity.'

ASU is 18-12 entering the Pac-10 tournament, while OSU is 16-13. The Beavers were 8-10 in the Pac-10 to place fifth while ASU tied for sixth at 7-11 and Oregon tied for eighth at 6-12. Washington State (12-15) and California (13-15) aren't eligible for the NIT because they don't have at least .500 records, and for either to reach that they would have to win the Pac-10 tournament, which would lead to an automatic berth in the NCAA field.

At 14-13, Oregon wouldn't be an unusual choice for the NIT.

`One game over (.500) is fine,' Hansen said.

The NIT took a .500 team last year in Villanova at 16-16, and had seven other teams with 13 losses, though all had also won at least 15 games. The NIT field two years ago included Georgia Tech at 14-14 along with three teams at 15-15 in Virginia, Villanova and Temple. Also in the 2003 NIT was Georgetown at 15-14 along with four teams that each had 13 defeats.

The NIT often looks past records to name familiarity of a school, and the ability to sell tickets to games.

As Hansen pointed out, NIT officials `love it when they get a good crowd because that's how they make their money. It will help Oregon get home games, too, and Oregon State probably has a chance to host as well and two or three (rounds) into it, they'd probably match them up.'

Register-Guard sports editor Ron Bellamy contributed to this report.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 8, 2005
Words:782
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