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PRAGMATIC NIT TOURNEY STARTS 2ND ROUND TONIGHT

Billed as the oldest postseason tournament in college basketball, the NIT also is the most pragmatic. It is bottom line conscious, and the bottom line in basketball boxscores is the attendance.

While the rival NCAA sets the sites for sub-regionals, regionals and Final Fours years in the advance, the NIT does it game-by-game, adjusting the schedule based on geography and attendances.So when a crowd of just 4,810, smallest ever in Tennessee's 24,535-seat Thompson Boling Arena, showed up for the victory over Alabama-Birmingham in the NIT opener, that meant the Volunteers (19-14) would hit the road for the second round. They'll be in Charlottesville, Va., tonight against Virginia (16-13), which defeated Villanova in its first game.

Texas Christian (23-10) played its NIT opener at home in Daniel-Meyer Coliseum and drew 5,907 against Long Beach State during spring break, not bad in a building that holds just over 7,000. Coach Moe Iba was so gratified that he thanked the crowd after the game. The NIT was not impressed and sent the Horned Frogs to Purdue (17-14) for tonight's second round after the Boilermakers attracted 11,335 in 14,123-seat Mackey Arena for their first round victory over Butler.

Washington State (22-10) and New Mexico (19-12) both opened the NIT with victories at home. The Cougars drew 4,003 for Minnesota in a 12,000-seat arena and the Lobos beat Louisiana Tech before more than twice that many, 8,669, in The Pit, a far larger building. Their second round game will be in Abuquerque.

In other second-round games tonight, it will be Manhattan (24-8) at Rutgers (16-14), Kansas State (16-13) at Notre Dame (15-14) and Florida (17-12) at Pittsburgh (18-15). The second round concludes Tuesday with Rhode Island (21-9) at Boston College (17-13) and Utah (21-10) at Arizona State (19-13).

Winners advance to the third round Wednesday and Thursday, also at campus arenas. The NIT semifinals will be held Monday, March 30, at Madison Square Garden, with the championship there on Wednesday, April 1.

The road holds no particular terror for some teams. TCU, for example, won 12 games away from home this season, so playing in hostile territory doesn't scare the Horned Frogs.

"The road has become more of a home, really," Michael Strickland said. "We're used to going on the road, playing hard and surprising some people."

And even though it almost always plays well at home, New Mexico did lose five straight in The Pit early in the season. Later, the Loboes compensated for that by winning 12 straight at home.

The catch-as-catch-can nature of the NIT schedule makes it difficult to figure the tournament.

"In the NIT, you have all tough games," Tennessee coach Wade Houston said. "You don't have a No. 1 seed paired against a No. 16 seed, like the NCAA. There's no games where the matchup is a disparity."

In other words, don't look for Duke against Campbell in this tournament.