NEW YORK -- Nobody was more disappointed than Xavier coach Skip Prosser when the Musketeers, despite 21 victories, were not invited to the NCAA tournament.
His immediate reaction after he first saw the 64-team field on television earlier this month was: "I'm baffled a bit."Three NIT victories later, Xavier (24-10) plays Clemson (19-14) Tuesday night in the semifinals at Madison Square Garden. By beating Toledo, Wake Forest and Princeton on the road to the NIT's final four, Prosser and his players are feeling a lot better about themselves.
"I cannot say enough how grateful we are to be here," Prosser said Monday. "I've never been through this before. But I talked to coaches who have been in a situation where they should have gone to the NCAAs and didn't. And to a man, they said the NIT was a great experience, especially if you get to New York."
In the other semifinal, California (20-11) plays Oregon (19-11) in a matchup of Pac-10 foes.
Now that the Musketeers are here, they hope to become the second Xavier team to win the NIT. The 1958 version also won the tournament.
But first comes Clemson, trying to build for next season with a strong showing in the NIT.
"I think coming to New York will be a springboard for the future," Tigers coach Larry Shyatt said. "It was also important for them to get another road win before coming here."
Clemson, which will have a slight height advantage up front, is looking for its first postseason championship of any kind since winning the Southern Conference 60 years ago. The Tigers earned their trip to New York by beating Georgia, Rutgers on the road and Butler.
The Cal-Oregon matchup marks the third meeting between the teams this season. The Ducks won the first two.
"Throw out the first two," said Bears coach Ben Braun, whose team reached the semis with wins over Fresno State, DePaul and Colorado State. "Pride is on the line. Now we have a chance to play for an NIT championship."
Oregon coach Ernie Kent says the Bears may have the emotional edge, but the previous games were far from blowouts. Oregon won 71-69 in overtime in Berkeley on Jan. 2, then won 93-82 in the regular-season finale in Eugene.
Tonight's winners play for the NIT title on Thursday night, preceded by a consolation game.