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It’s a No. 3 NIT seed for CU Buffs men’s basketball, first-round date at home against Seton Hall

Colorado players, including J'Vonne Hadley, right, and KJ Simpson, third from right, celebrate during the Pac-12 Tournament first round against Washington at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday. (Powers Imagery)
Colorado players, including J’Vonne Hadley, right, and KJ Simpson, third from right, celebrate during the Pac-12 Tournament first round against Washington at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday. (Powers Imagery)

In a season marked by impressive highs and dispiriting lows, the Colorado men’s basketball team will have one final opportunity to prove itself.

On Sunday night, the Buffaloes were selected for the 32-team National Invitation Tournament, receiving a No. 3 seed and a first-round date against Seton Hall at home on Tuesday night (9 p.m., ESPN2). The Buffs initially were listed as a No. 2 seed, but a CU source confirmed all the No. 2 seeds and No. 3 seeds were inadvertently flipped during the tournament field reveal show on Sunday night.

Colorado has never faced Seton Hall. The winner will play the first-round winner between second-seeded New Mexico and Utah Valley. If the Buffs and Lobos win, CU would travel to Albuquerque for a second-round game on either Saturday or Sunday (March 19).

It is the 13th NIT selection in program history and the fifth in 13 seasons under head coach Tad Boyle. CU, which lost at home against St. Bonaventure in the first round of the NIT last year, will make just its second back-to-back appearances in the tournament (also 1998-99, 1999-2000).

The Buffs reached the NIT Final Four at the end of Boyle’s first season at CU (2010-11) and reached the quarterfinals in 2019. The Buffs lost in the NIT first round in 2017 at Central Florida.

Boyle said the status of starting guard KJ Simpson, who has missed the past three games after contracting mono, will be reevaluated on Monday.

“It’s an opportunity for a good experience. It’s an opportunity for young players to grow and continue to develop,” Boyle said. “It’s an opportunity to gain respect on a national stage. And it’s an opportunity to build for the future, which is what we need to use this as an opportunity to do. I look at Xavier, who won this tournament last year, and now they’re a three-seed in the NCAA Tournament. And they’ve got a lot of the players they had on that team back. I’m excited that we’re in it.”

The Buffs have been awaiting their postseason fate since their time at the Pac-12 Conference tournament came to an end on Friday in a quarterfinal-round loss against UCLA. Despite falling to 17-16 overall, the Buffs’ NET ranking has been on sturdier ground than their record throughout the season, thanks mostly to early-season, neutral-floor wins against Tennessee and Texas A&M. That strength of schedule led to a surprisingly high seed for the Buffs, who were settled mostly between a No. 4 seed and a No. 6 seed in most NIT projections.

While the Buffs went just 1-8 against the Pac-12’s four entrants in the NCAA Tournament — UCLA, Arizona, USC and Arizona State — several of CU’s nonconference opponents ultimately enjoyed strong seasons. Grambling State, Yale, Southern Utah and Boise State all fit that description. CU was ranked 69th in the NET on Sunday.

“I guess I am a little bit (surprised),” Boyle said. “I was expecting to be traveling rather than hosting. The one thing you just don’t know about with the committee is if they’re going to put more emphasis on good wins versus bad losses. Obviously I think they probably went with the former, because we had some really good wins in nonconference.”

Pac-12 rival Oregon received one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NIT alongside Oklahoma State, Clemson and Rutgers, the top seed in CU’s region. Washington State also received an NIT berth as a No. 4 seed.

In the NCAA Tournament, Arizona and UCLA both received No. 2 seeds, with the Bruins likely having been eliminated from contention for a No. 1 seed after losing to the Wildcats in the Pac-12 title game on Saturday night.

Both teams will play in Sacramento on Thursday. Arizona, the No. 2 seed in the South Region, will face Ivy League tournament champion Princeton. UCLA will take on UNC Asheville. USC is a No. 10 seed and will play Michigan State on Friday in Columbus. Arizona State, which received one of the final at-large bids, was relegated to one of the First Four/round of 68 games on Wednesday against Nevada. If the Sun Devils win, they will be the lone Pac-12 team appearing in the first round games at Denver’s Ball Arena.