Air Force is taking the Kevin Bacon approach to the postseason – it just wants to dance.
“We’ll go anywhere,” coach Dave Pilipovich said Thursday.
While the NCAA Tournament isn’t going to happen, the Falcons (17-13) would gladly accept their first invitation to the NIT since a run to the semifinals in the nation’s secondary event in 2007.
The Falcons haven’t played in the NCAA Tourney or the NIT in the past six years.
With a résumé that includes an 8-8 regular-season record in the nation’s top-rated conference (by RPI) and victories over New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State, not to mention Boise State, the Falcons would certainly seem worthy. There’s really only one terrible loss on their list – the 74-69 setback at Nevada (RPI No. 159) on Feb. 9, a game in which Air Force led by 10 points late in the second half. The only other loss to a team not in the RPI’s top 100 came at Fresno State (No. 135) on March 2, but anyone who looks closely would see that was not a bad loss. The Bulldogs, a young team that added a key transfer late in the year, sandwiched a close loss at Colorado State and a convincing win at UNLV around their home win over Air Force.
From what we’re seeing, it looks like the Falcons are a virtual lock for the NIT, with the only question whether they will be seeded high enough to host a first-round game Tuesday or Wednesday.
The wait hasn’t been fun for Air Force, particularly for its seniors. Todd Fletcher tweeted “Get us to the NIT” on Friday, with Taylor Broekhuis following with “Hate this waiting game tomorrow needs to hurry”
The Falcons will learn their fate today, likely unofficially before the NCAA’s Selection Show and officially shortly after.
Now, what Air Force might be able to do once it is in the NIT field remains to be seen. Leading scorer and rebounder Michael Lyons is finished for the season with a knee injury, a monstrous blow for the team. Still, the team should be able to compete against most teams that fall short of the NCAA bracket.
…and wouldn’t it be fun if the Falcons meet up with Kentucky in the coming weeks? That would be quite the contrast – a team loaded with players knowing they were signing up for a one-year run vs. a team full of players knowing they were signing up for four full years and another five years of active duty for their country beyond that.