The postseason NIT holds its "final four" every season in MoMo Jones' hometown, and the UA freshman guard wants nothing to do with it.
Extra games, extra practices, the interest of UA coach Sean Miller and a trip to New York for the Harlem product are all part of the upside of a potential NIT berth. But it still doesn't measure up in Jones' mind to the real goal.
"It would benefit us as a team going into next year but at the end of the day that's not what we came here to do," Jones said. "We didn't come here saying, 'Oh, we gotta go to the NIT.' Nobody looks forward to going to that."
At 13-13 overall, the Wildcats' chances to avoid it by slipping in the NCAA tournament are slim. Here are their three options for late March:
1. No. 26
It's still possible that the Wildcats extend their nation-leading NCAA tournament appearance streak via two methods.
How: UA gets in either by winning the Pac-10 tournament and capturing the accompanying automatic bid, or by finishing the season so strongly as to somehow penetrate the NCAA bubble for a third straight season.
For example, the Wildcats could win all four of their regular-season games and reach the finals of the Pac-10 tournament before losing.
That would put them at 19-14 overall, with a strong strength of schedule and a strong late-season push that included a second win over California - if the Wildcats can somehow start turning it around with a win tonight.
But: It's unlikely that UA wins six straight games or even three straight in the league tournament, because the Wildcats have proven inconsistent all season. While they are deep, there's no guarantee Nic Wise's banged-up lower body can hold up for a three-day Pac-10 tournament run nor that center Derrick Williams won't get in foul trouble at least once.
The bottom line: "We've just gotta bounce back," Jones said. "The next four games are very crucial. We have to win the Pac-10 tournament to make the NCAA tournament and I think all of our dreams are to make it to the tournament. So we've just gotta continue to work hard and hopefully, we can make a run at it in the Pac-10 tournament."
2. The (maybe) Not Interested Tournament
Both Jones and Williams said they wouldn't want to accept an invite from the NIT, which pits 32 teams at home sites for three rounds and then sends the semifinalists to Madison Square Garden.
"No sir," Williams said.
But Miller is a fan of the event, citing the NIT's new non-political approach toward running the event. Since being purchased by the NCAA in 2005, the NIT now invites any regular-season conference champions not invited to the NCAA (usually six or seven) and fills the remaining at-large spots using much the same criteria that the NCAA tournament selection committee does - Sagarin ratings, RPI, strength of schedule, etc.
The teams are seeded 1-8 and the higher seed has an option to host for each of the first three games. In the past, teams would often "earn" home games based on how many tickets they could sell.
"We've tried to make this a real basketball event again, instead of the made-for-TV reality show it had become," said former NCAA selection committee chair C.M. Newton, who now heads the NIT selection committee.
How: While the NIT does not have a rule against allowing teams with sub-.500 records, it never has invited one. So UA might want to make sure it finishes at least at .500.
That means the Wildcats would have to either win three of their final four regular-season games, split the four and win the first round of the Pac-10 tournament or go 1-3 in the last four but reach the Pac-10 tournament final by winning two games in Los Angeles."It will be difficult for us to make it," Miller said of the NIT. "We're going to have to finish strong."
But: Miller would have to convince his team that playing for college basketball's consolation prize isn't a bad thing.
"When you look at some of the fields the last couple of years, it's mind-boggling some of the teams that have been in it," Miller said. "It would be quite an honor for our team knowing what we have and how far we've come."
The bottom line: The postseason "is what college basketball is all about. … Postseason games have a great environment and there's a lot at stake - you lose, you're out. That type of environment is good for a young group. And we have that."
3. Pumping iron
Even if the Wildcats finish under .500, their name value, strength of schedule and ability to sell tickets could make them a target for the College Basketball Invitational.
That third-tier event, run by the Coaches-vs.-Cancer marketers, invited Oregon State last season despite its 13-17 record (and the Beavers went on to win it).
"I'm obviously a huge fan," OSU coach Craig Robinson said. "I was kind of a poster boy for getting the extra practice time and it turned out to be really beneficial."
How: Although a spokesman for the CBI declined to specify criteria for entry, the UA would probably just need to win one game the rest of the way to get in. That would give them 14 wins, more than the Beavers had last season against a softer schedule.
(There's also another event known as the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, but that one focuses solely on teams outside of the BCS conferences, according to organizer Joe Dwyer.)
But: Um, Miller isn't interested in the CBI.
"It's more important for us to start lifting weights," Miller said.
Because of that sentiment, UA's acting AD, Rocky LaRose, said she has already informed the CBI that UA isn't interested.
"We want to do what he feels is in the team's best interests," she said.
Even Robinson can relate.
"There is sort of a fatigue factor of having so long a season and not being in the NCAA tournament," Robinson said. "For some folks that is a hard pill to swallow. At Princeton (where Robinson played under Pete Carril), coach Carril wouldn't let us go to the NIT. We'd get invited but wouldn't go. He wanted (the NCAA tournament) to be the goal."
The bottom line: "We just owe it to the fans," Williams said. "They had (the NCAA tournament) for 25 years and I don't think it should end right now just because we have new coaches, new players and we're a young team. I don't think we should go out like that, especially because it's Nic's last year. I know he doesn't want to go out like that."
On StarNet: Follow the Cats through the home stretch of the Pac-10 season on Bruce Pascoe's blog: go.azstarnet.com/pascoe
• What: Arizona at California
• When: 7 p.m.
• TV: ESPN
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM