BIRMINGHAM — On the surface, having the biggest tournament in college basketball just down the street might be difficult for a team whose plan was to be one of the 68 participants.

Andy Kennedy, whose UAB basketball team is living that scenario, looks at it differently.

“I think there’s great energy in the city for basketball,” said Kennedy, whose team plays an NIT Round of 16 game against Morehead State on Sunday at Bartow Arena. “You like basketball. I like basketball. I think it’s great. If I was (Houston coach) Kelvin Sampson, I wouldn’t be happy. But everybody else (should be happy).”

Kennedy was in Legacy Arena at the BJCC on Thursday morning to support his good friend and former boss, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins, during the NCAA Tournament first-round game against Maryland. Huggins was in Bartow Arena Tuesday night during UAB’s NIT first-round win over Southern Miss.

“I typically wouldn’t do that,” Kennedy said. “I typically wouldn’t do that, but because Bob Huggins, my boy, came to my game, I went to his game. I left before the Alabama game because we had practice. I think it’s great. I saw the mayor, it’s great for the city, and Saturday is going to be on fire.”

Coming to terms with not making the NCAA Tournament wasn’t easy for a UAB team that played so well over the final part of the regular season and the first two games of the Conference USA Tournament. The Blazers lost to FAU in the C-USA Tournament championship game on Saturday night, flew back on Sunday and found out their NIT assignment on Sunday night.

Kennedy gathered his team to chat after hearing they were in the NIT.

“I was really forthcoming with guys,” Kennedy said. “I told them we’ve really had a tremendous year. We’re sitting here with 25 wins. Did we meet all our goals? We did not. But (we’ve) had a successful season. It should be reflected upon as a successful season. You don’t want the last game that you play. Obviously, FAU, we didn’t play to our best. Everybody has a bad taste in their mouth. You don’t want to compound that, not ready to play and losing the first round of the NIT at home. That would be beneath what you established this year. Thankfully, they responded to that.”

On Wednesday night, the Blazers found out a second-round NIT home game was a possibility after No. 8 seed Morehead State upset No. 1 seed Clemson. As a No. 4 seed, UAB had the first option at choosing to be the host team. Doing that opposite of what’s going on at Legacy Arena on Saturday could have been perplexing.

“When we found out we were playing at home (against) Morehead, (NIT officials) gave us a little flexibility, which I was surprised,” Kennedy said. “They asked our preference (of day), and I said, ‘Man, let’s just stay away from Saturday.’ I didn’t want to get in the way. We can’t compete with that, nor should we even try. Thankfully, they gave us Sunday.”

So, the Blazers and Morehead will tip it off on Sunday at 2 p.m. with the quarterfinal opponent already known for the winner. Michigan, the No. 3 seed, travels to play No. 2 seed Vanderbilt on Saturday with tip scheduled for 11 a.m. The winner of that game will play host to the UAB-Morehead State winner.

Kennedy said his team is excited for the opportunity.

"Now, the message is the same," Kennedy said. "We want to protect home, we want to get to the next round, and we still can compete for a championship. I've been to three NIT Final Fours. One, as a player, I was part of Coach Bartow's first NIT Final Four run back in 1989. I was part of two of them as a coach at Ole Miss. Once you get past the first round and even sometimes the second round and you look up and there only 20-25 teams still playing college basketball, you get excited again about the opportunities of doing something that would be remembered."

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