'Bama, UMass hoping to use NIT as springboard

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - The last time Alabama made the National Invitation Tournament, the Crimson Tide went on a run that proved a springboard for future success.

The Tide went all the way to the NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden with a freshman-heavy lineup in 2001, and Mark Gottfried's next team started a five-year string of NCAA tournament appearances.

Alabama (20-and-11) is a long-shot for a repeat performance. The fifth-seeded Tide won't have home-court advantage when it starts the NIT tomorrow night at Number Four seed Massachusetts (23-and-8), and is plagued by injury problems.

But Gottfried does hope his team can use the tournament to build for next season.

For the Minutemen, making the NIT is a step forward not backward. U-Mass hasn't made the postseason since going to the NIT in 2000.

U-Mass shared the regular-season Atlantic Ten title with Xavier, but lost in the first round of the league tournament to Saint Louis.

Alabama was in the hunt for a share of the Southeastern Conference Western Division title until the league's final regular-season game, a loss to Mississippi State. The Tide fell to Kentucky in the SEC tournament's opening round.

Both teams are hoping for better luck as the N-I-T kicks off.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)