The Cavaliers and Huskies were among the 16 teams picked for the first College Basketball Invitational, a postseason tournament that hopes to one day challenge the NIT for the best teams left out of the NCAA tournament -- but for now is relegated to No. 3 status.
The CBI announced its field early Monday, about five hours after the NIT made its choices and long after the NCAA selection committee trumpeted its bracket, giving a total of 113 teams a reason to return to practice.
"Any time you have the opportunity in postseason to continue playing, as a coach that should excite you, as a player that should excite you and as a fan that should excite you," Virginia coach Dave Leitao said.
The Cavaliers (15-15) will play host to Richmond in an opening-round game Tuesday, with the winner playing either Old Dominion or Rider. Washington (16-16) will welcome Valparaiso on Wednesday, with the winner of that game playing either Nevada or Houston.
"If you're not in the 'Big Dance' and you want to keep playing, a tournament like this is great," said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, who didn't expect an NIT bid.
The tournament is staged by the Gazelle Group, which runs several early season tournaments. But while spots in those events are coveted for their exposure and the upper echelon of programs they often attract, organizers found it challenging to fill out a third postseason tournament.
At least a handful of teams declined to participate, said Gazelle Group president Rick Giles, who had hoped to dangle enough incentives in front of teams like Ohio State and Florida to populate his bracket.
"We were surprised that a few teams had given us indications that they wanted to play and wanted to continue playing even if they didn't make the NIT, and when they didn't make the NIT for whatever reason changed their minds," he said.
Giles thinks some schools were pressured by the NCAA to play in the NIT, which it has owned since 2005 as part of a settlement that ended a four-year legal fight between the parties.
"We're pleased with the field we have," Giles said. "We offer a choice, an option, and everybody makes a certain choice. The NCAA puts tremendous pressure on its schools to pick the NIT versus the CBI, so we're not sure they were able to make a free choice this year."
The teams were chosen along the same criteria used by the other tournaments, putting a premium on overall and conference records and late-season play. But it didn't use a committee or secret ballot, instead offering invitations to what the Gazelle Group believed were the most intriguing and deserving teams -- even those with sub-.500 records like Cincinnati.
"Obviously we are excited to be playing in the postseason," said Bearcats coach Mick Cronin, whose team finished 13-18 after six straight losses. "Our kids are excited for the opportunity to represent UC again on the floor and will make the most of this experience."
The tournament is single elimination at campus sites through the semifinals, where the teams will be re-seeded, with the championship series a best-of-3 affair with the higher seed playing at home in the first game and, if necessary, the third.
With the exception of the championship series, every round of the tournament will go head-to-head against games scheduled in the NIT. At least 11 CBI games will be televised by Fox College Sports, and organizers hope the remaining games will be picked up by local affiliates.
"Richmond finished fourth in the Atlantic-10 and the teams ahead of them made the NCAA tournament," Giles said. "A team like Ohio has some great wins under their belt. We think we have a good field geographically as well as competitively."