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NIT big for Minnesota, SMU

NEW YORK — Richard Pitino received text messages from all three of his signed 2014 recruits after Tuesday night’s thrilling 67-64 overtime win over Florida State put the Gophers in the NIT championship game.

He could tell they were excited.

The Gophers (24-13) hope a championship game win tonight over Southern Methodist (27-9) would lead to an NCAA tournament berth next season, but the opportunity for Pitino to showcase his basketball team on national television is just as important.

Tonight’s game at Madison Square Garden will be televised on ESPN2 and is drawing extra attention because of the coaching matchup between a former New York Knicks coach, SMU’s Larry Brown, and the son of another, Rick Pitino.

“You know, any time you play on national TV, you play on ESPN, you’ve got, you know, a legend like Bob Knight doing the (color analysis), you’re in the Garden, it’s good for your program,” Pitino said.

The exposure, the first-year Gophers coach said, is crucial for recruiting. Before this season, Pitino was selling an abstraction because few players had seen his 2012-13 Florida International team play in his only other season as a head coach.

“Now they see it,” he said. “So either they are going to like it and they are going to want to be part of it, or they are not. But exposure is the best thing for a program when you’re trying to build it.”

SMU, which beat Clemson 65-59 in Tuesday’s semifinals, arguably was the biggest NCAA tournament snub, but the Mustangs were getting exposure because of Brown, a hall of fame coach who won a national title at Kansas in 1988 and an NBA championship with Detroit in 2004. He already has lured five-star recruit Emmanuel Muiday to Dallas.

“He gives us a chance to be great, and this whole experience gives us a chance,” Brown said. “I know Richard is building something at Minnesota in a phenomenal league, and I’m sure the success he’s having is going to help him recruit terrific players.”

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